Review

Hit List (John Keller Mysteries)

by Lawrence Block



America has always
had an inexplicable appetite for the legendary tales of the most
notorious of the criminal world. Books, movies, and television have
seen a proliferation of gangster titles dating from the 1933
Scarface to the popular series "The Untouchables" and the
now-classic Godfather saga. I admit it --- I can't get enough of it
either --- which is why I was so intrigued when Lawrence Block
released his first book, Hit Man, a collection of episodes
in the life of a fictional contract killer. And like everyone else
who read it, I couldn't wait for the return of John Keller in
Hit List. What captures the imagination is Block's
characterization of Keller as an endearing, witty guy who just
happens to kill people for a living. Minor flaw. Even more
remarkable is that he has you embracing this irrational hero by the
time you've hit chapter two.
At first blush, it
would seem that life is pretty simple for Keller: he leaves town,
he does the deed, he comes home. But Keller is the consummate
professional and he has a finely tuned sense of things being just a
bit out of sync on this latest round of assignments. A narrow
escape with death, victims dying before he arrives, the
coincidental deaths of several peers --- all creating a disturbing
chain of events that points to one shocking conclusion: Keller, the
hit man, is on somebody's hit list.
Despite the fact
that Block leaves no doubt that Keller dispatches his targets with
cool precision, there's the inevitable vein of humor that pops up
at appropriate moments to keep the storyline leaning toward a
lighter note. Just imagine --- you're a hit man, stalking your
prey, establishing their routine so you can calculate when to make
your move. Then right before your eyes, your prey attempts to cross
the street and becomes part of the grillwork on some old lady's
car. Keller's befuddlement over this turn of events is trademark
Lawrence Block. Ethically, how can you collect your fee if you
didn't do the job? Never mind that the guy is dead, there's pride
involved here!
Keller, as you
might imagine, is a solitary man whose romantic life is
intermittent and whose friendships are limited. It isn't that he
doesn't exhibit any savoir faire, it's just that intimacy on any
level usually ends up imitating the all-too-appropriate axiom: I
could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you. On the other hand,
his employer, Dot, represents the one consistent relationship in
his life. In fact, their frequent conversations, which serve as the
cohesive thread in the storyline, are suffused with witty repartee
and at times are quite revealing of the undercurrent of human
emotion.
"...I guess I've
just been wondering how much of life is destined and preordained.
How much choice do people really have?...I never set out to be what
I've become. It's not like I took an aptitude test in high school
and my guidance counselor took me aside and recommended a career as
a killer for hire."
Heavy stuff? Well,
maybe, but Block has a limitless gift for creating the
unconventional story and never strays far from the satirical edge.
As in this exchange when Keller has his first indication that
something is amiss:
"You want to know
what it is, Dot? I'm out of synch."
"Out of
synch."
"Ever since I got
off the goddam plane and walked up to the wrong guy. Tell me
something. Why would anyone meet a plane carrying an unreadable
sign?"
"Maybe they told
him to pick up a dyslexic."
"...Never mind.
You know what I just decided? I'm going to cut through all this
crap and just do the job and come home."
"Jesus," she said.
"What a concept."

Whatever
circumstances in his past propelled Keller into a life of crime ---
and we may never really know --- we certainly know where he's
headed. The hit man, and Hit List, are sure to be the talk
of the town, and fans will be clamoring for yet another
installment. Are you listening, Mr. Block?

Reviewed by Ann Bruns (BkPageWC@aol.com) on January 22, 2011

Hit List (John Keller Mysteries)
by Lawrence Block

  • Publication Date: February 1, 2002
  • Mass Market Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: HarperTorch
  • ISBN-10: 0061030996
  • ISBN-13: 9780061030994