Few mystery authors have a stable of protagonists as uniformly appealing as Lawrence Block's. Whether Block's taking the reader into PI Matthew Scudder's world of dimly lit bars and basement AA meetings, quirky burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr's used bookstore, or the international hot-spot hangouts of Evan Tanner, the spy who never sleeps, he always provides good company. John Keller, star of Block's 1998 story collection Hit Man, is a typical Block invention: an unassuming, get-the-job-done-and-move-on New York contract killer who collects stamps, does the morning crossword, eats Vietnamese takeout, and falls for the occasional woman.
When Keller gets off a plane in Louisville, ready to do the job he's been hired for, something about it feels wrong from the start. And when two people are killed in the motel room he's just vacated, he realizes he narrowly missed a setup, but can't figure out why. Then he goes to Boston to do another job, and afterwards dines in a coffee shop where another patron has the misfortune of leaving with Keller's raincoat:
The Globe didn't have it. But there it was in the Herald, a small story on a back page, a man found dead on Boston Common, shot twice in the head with a small-caliber weapon.
Keller could picture the poor bastard, lying face-down on the grass, the rain washing relentlessly down on him. He could picture the dead man's coat, too. The Herald didn't say anything about a coat, but that didn't matter. Keller could picture it all the same.
Keller's agent, Dot, puts the pieces--including the death of another contract killer she books occasionally--together and comes up with the seemingly crazy idea that a greedy hit man is knocking off the competition. In between other legit hits, romancing a commitment-shy artist, visiting an astrologer, and a long stint on jury duty, Keller slowly moves closer to the faceless nemesis he and Dot dub "Roger." But it's Dot, the woman of action, who figures out what to do about him. Though Hit List is too introspective to be a caper novel, and too funny to be noir, it's bound to find a rapt audience with fans of both subgenres. After two such engaging books, can Hit Parade be far behind? --Barrie Trinkle
From Publishers Weekly
John Keller, whom Block introduced in Hit Man, is a killer for hire, with a difference. He's thoughtful, even broody, tends to take a liking to some of the towns where he goes to do his work, dreams of perhaps settling down in one of them one day and collects stamps in his spare time, of which there's plenty. It's a novel idea, and it carried an excellent group of stories in the previous book. A whole novel about Keller, however, who after all walks a very delicate line between likability and horror, is more than he can readily bear, and, almost unknown in Block's work, there are longueurs here. The plot is wryly serviceableAa rival is attempting to corner the market by getting to some of Keller's intended victims first, and clearly has to be disposed ofAbut about halfway through a certain unease creeps in and won't let go. For all Block's usual great skill with goofy dialogue (here between Keller and Dot, the intermediary who takes the orders for his jobs), it's difficult to indefinitely enjoy jokes about the violent deaths of a number of people who, for all Dot and Keller know, are harmless, perhaps even good citizens, but whom someone is willing to pay to remove. Apparently mindful of this, Block keeps the killings mostly offstage, or with a minimum of graphic violence. But an affection for Keller is an acquired taste, and here it proves difficult to acquire. 9-city author tour. (Nov.)
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