Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Welcome Back, Keller

Of all the characters that Lawrence Block has created, my second-favorite (after Matthew Scudder) is John Paul Keller, philatelist and hit man. Keller orginially appeared in a series of short stories that were published in Playboy and other magazines. Later, some of the stories were collected in Hit Man, and since then Keller's adventures have been chronicled in three other books. This is the fifth in the series.

Keller had earlier attempted to retire. He had moved from New York, his long-time home base, to New Orleans. There he became Nicholas Edwards, acquiring along the way a wife and fathering a young daughter. As Edwards, Keller created a business rehabbing houses that had been damaged by Hurricane Katrina. But then the Great Recession hit New Orleans along with the rest of the country, and the rehabbing business dried up to virtually nothing.

Keller is not destitute by any means. After a long and successful career as a hit man, he has off shore accounts, after all. But he is accustomed to a certain lifestyle which is now crimped by the lack of income. In particular, he has a growing stamp collection that is expensive to maintain.

Fortuitously, he receives a call from Dot, the woman who used to give Keller his assignments back in New York. Dot has also retired and moved to Sedona, Arizona. She's grown bored, though, and has gone back into business, scheduling hits. She wonders is Keller might be interested in an assignment.

He is. And thus begins a series of jobs that will take Keller to a variety of cities and even on a cruise as he carries out his appointed duties. Often, he is able to work in stops at stamp conventions and dealers, growing his collection with the money he is now earning.

It's all a great deal of fun and Keller is a very engaging character. He is, by turn, wistful, melancholy, reflective and playful. Even though is is an assassin for hire, he has his own moral code and he remains true to himself. The addition of a wife and child make him an even more interesting and well-rounded character, and it's great to have him back. My only regret about the book is that I liked it so much I devoured it over the course of one afternoon and evening, rather than taking the time to savor it over several days.

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