The Assassin's Handbook is a book on murder, used mainly in a War of Assassins.
In the early millennia after the Butlerian Jihad assassination flourished, although in general was often crude and impulsive, lacking in the finer artistry and subtlety which the master assassins of the later Imperium attained. The accomplishments of these highly skilled professionals must be in large part attributed not only to years of careful refinement of their art, but to the tutelage of such repositories of cunning as The Assassin's Handbook.
The handbook begun as a third-millennium compilation of information on poisons to aid professional assassins. Its authorship is a matter for controversy, but a consensus seems to assign it to Keshas Zhorzh, an assassin employed by House Moritani.
In the fifth millennium, Protector Kelal Djordjevich appointed a committee (5345 AG-5348 AG) of nine professionals (mentats and master assassins) employed by the Great Houses, including the Imperial representative Count Otho Fenring. The professional were to discuss the theory and practice of legalized murder under the rules of the Great Convention and the conditions defined by the Guild Peace. Later the Handbook was ratified by the Landsraad (5359 AG), by which time several of the authors themselves had become victims of the vicissitudes of their profession.
This expanded Handbook was widely circulated and read during the Imperium, held in high regard by mercenaries and master assassins employed by the Great Houses including the Emperor. The Handbook was also used by several training schools for professional assassins
It fell into some official disrepute during the reign of Paul Muad'Dib and the Regency of his sister Alia, although its principles continued to be employed. During the long reign of Emperor Leto II Atreides, the Handbook was officially held to be as contemptible as the profession of assassin. The Imperial guard, the Fish Speakers were ordered to confiscate copies of the Handbook whenever they found it, although privately they were instructed to master its principles. In those times, the Handbook was considered in many ways a symbol of the barbaric world of the stormy history of the Imperium, both in pre-Atreides times and in the days of the Atreides emperors.
- One once belonged to the Harkonnen family and contains many terse and interesting comments on practical matters of technique together with a passage near the end where the author, in a vengeful tone, makes several animadversions on a "Bene Gesserit witch" which is surprising since many of the earlier annotations had remarked on the folly of emotional involvement in the theory and practice of assassination.
- The presence of the initials "T. H." in several places makes the identification of the author as Thufir Hawat, as assassin in the employ of the Atreides House, and later a servant of Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, extremely plausible, as Harq al-Ada contended in a note in House Atreides: A Historical Overview. However, Zhautii Kuuraveer argues in The Art of Legal Murder that such an attribution is too obvious, and puts forward an alternative case for Tomar Haanigan, a contract killer and owner of several bordellos on Silverado where the Harkonnen slave raiders went in search of fresh victims.
- The other copy of the Handbook contains two sets of annotations. Apparently lodged in the Fremen Museum on Arrakis at one time (several of the first set of notes refer to Fremen/DE weapons and rituals), it seems that later during the Duncan Days it was taken elsewhere, and is taken in a museum on Grumman. The second group of notes, much later than the first annotations, discuss the vagaries of feminine warriors, with some obvious allusions to the Fish Speakers.
- Even more curious is the fact that the two sets of annotations were made centuries or even millennia apart, yet there exists a curious similarity between the handwriting of each set. This strange phenomenon has seemed good grounds for some scholars, including Kuuraveer, to credit the notes in this book to two different incarnations of Duncan Idaho.
The manual was divided in four large parts. It was written in a style that was often trenchant and sometimes characterized by a rich sense of irony. A frequent metaphor in the Handbook is that of the Cheops master, and the authors seemed to regard the art of assassination as a profession rather like that of the grand master of Cheops.
The first part was dealing with poisons, like the original version of the book. The various possibilities of chaumurky and basilia receive the greatest attention, kriminon and other poisons valued because of their swift action, and their ability to be disguised. Unlike the others, the zenobia, is given a brief but special eminence in the Handbook.
Not swift nor discreet, Zenobia gives excruciating pain to the victim. The Handbook advises the professional assassin to eschew personal feeling and to approach his work with a suitable objectivity and craftsmanship beyond mere vulgar expressions of personality, but it is also acknowledged that there were some occasions when even the professional using the logical approach (stressed by mentat training) might well find it pleasurable to allow himself some of the enjoyment of personal revenge.
"Any mindless mercenary can commit indiscriminate homicide which will probably rebound upon himself."
As with the poisons, subtlety was recommended. Assassins were instructed to acquire some swordmaster training as a matter of course, and, if at all possible, to develop considerable competence in marksmanship. Of course slaughter with lasguns was discouraged and left to ordinary journeymen whenever possible.
A detailed analysis of the odds for success in given situations where the assassin might be expected to perform his work. The best strategies are evaluated (such as in the instance for murdering guests at a formal dinner), as well as the methods of avoiding swift reprisal.
Much space was given to the problems of infiltrating a ducal palace or launching attacks at public events and ceremonies, especially sporting events.
Here are presented professional standards and rules of prudence.
The rules of the Great Convention and the code of kanly are provided, with numerous suggestions of how these might be circumvented or turned to the advantage of the assassin. A favorite method involves bribing the judges or Imperial representatives at various transactions between the Great Houses. This part shows Otho Fenring's influence.
The use of poisoned swords at single combat was brought up again, and considered are length were the various means of infiltrating the defenses of ducal castles, despite the use of shields and other protections.
This section also presented the conventions and ritual formulas involved in a War of Assassins/DE, from the formal declaration of intent with the Imperial Registrar and the Landsraad Secretariat to the final moment when victory was declared for one side or the other. The Handbook, however, seemed to imply that even such formal wars were best carried out on a small scale and waged with subtlety by experts, rather than becoming engagements involving large groups of soldiers.
A final note at the end of the Handbook concerned the assassin's need for self-protection. An advice is given to learn much of his employer's private crimes, and to store the information in places beyond his reach, with provisions that would allow it to become public in the event of his own death. The assassin was also warned to make himself as valuable as possible to his master, yet never to believe himself irreplaceable.
Most important, the Handbook advised the assassin to respect his profession and to avoid the temptations of political ambition or personal involvement in his work. Many famous assassins found the first easy enough, but most of them were hardly able to avoid the second pitfall.
- ASSASSIN'S HANDBOOK