Saturday, August 3, 2019

Keller, a Professional Hit Man, Finds Big Trouble in This Excellent Novel from Lawrence Block

As I'm sure I've said before, after Matthew Scudder, my favorite of the characters created by Lawrence Block is Keller, the affable and otherwise somewhat boring hit man. Keller first appeared in a series of short stories, most of which were initially published in Playboy. A number of the stories were then gathered into the collection Hit Man, which was published in 1999. A year later, Keller returned in this novel, which I've just reread for the first time since it came out.

For those who haven't had the pleasure of discovering this character, Keller lives quietly in New York. He's single and occasionally enjoys a relationship with a woman, but for whatever reason, the relationships don't seem to last very long. He eats out a lot and spends most of his spare cash on his stamp collection. And, every once in a while, he takes the train out to White Plains, where he meets with his agent, Dot, who gives him his next assignment. Then he goes off somewhere and kills someone.

Early in this book, Keller flies off to Louisville to do a job, but even before he can get out of the airport, he has a bad feeling about the whole thing. Of course, professional that he is, he completes the mission, and in the course of things has to change his motel room because of noisy neighbors. Soon after, he discovers that the couple that had been given his original room--a pair of adulterers--has been shot to death in the room. This only feeds Keller's belief that the whole job was jinxed from the start.

When something similar happens at the conclusion of Keller's next job, it's Dot who finally figures out what is going on: Another professional hit man is trying to weed out the competition and he has Keller in his sights. Keller has luckily escaped him twice, but how long will he be able to do so?

Keller is a professional killer and of course, the reader should not be rooting for him. But you just can't help yourself--the guy is otherwise just too likable. He's also very clever in the way he goes about his business, and one can't help but admire that. He's also a good citizen who even does jury duty, without complaining about it. The fact that the Keller stories and novels are so lighthearted also makes it easier to ignore the fact that you're cheering for a killer for hire. Clearly, these stories are not designed to be taken very seriously, but they are great fun and I always look forward to returning to them.


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