Keller is a regular guy, a solid citizen. He goes to the movies, watches the tube, browses the art galleries, and works diligently on his stamp collection. But every now and then a call from the breezily efficient Dot sends him off to kill a total stranger. He takes a plane, rents a car, finds a hotel room, and gets back before the body is cold. He's a real pro, cool and dispassionate and very good at what he does. Until one day when Dot breaks her own rule and books him for a hit in New York, his home base. She sends him to an art gallery opening, and the girl he gets lucky with steers him to an astrologer. He's a Gemini, his moon's in Taurus...and he's got a murderer's thumb. Then the jobs start to go wrong. Targets die before he can draw a bead on them. The realization is slow in coming, but there's no getting around it: Somebody out there is trying to hit the hit man.
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 serviceable a rival is attempting to corner the market by getting to some of Keller's intended victims first, and clearly has to be disposed of but 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.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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January 31, 2002
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Excerpt from Hit List by Lawrence Block
Keller, fresh off the plane from Newark, followed the signs marked Baggage Claim. He hadn't checked a bag, he never did, but the airport signage more or less assumed that everybody checked their luggage, because you got to the exit by heading for the baggage claim. You couldn't count on a series of signs that said This is the way to get out of this goddam place.
There was a down escalator after you cleared security, and ten or a dozen men stood around at the foot of it, some in uniform, most holding hand-lettered signs. Keller found himself drawn to one man, a droopy guy in khakis and a leather jacket. He was the guy, Keller decided, and his eyes went to the sign the man was holding.
But you couldn't read the damn thing. Keller walked closer, squinting at it. Did it say Archibald Keller couldn't tell.
He turned, and there was the name he was looking for, on a card held by another man, this one taller and heavier and wearing a suit and tie. Keller veered away from the man with the illegible sign -- what was the point of a sign that nobody could read -- and walked up to the man with the Archibald sign. "I'm Mr. Archibald," he said.
"Mr. Richard Archibald "
What possible difference could it make He started to nod, then remembered the name Dot had given him. "Nathan Archibald," he said.
"That's the ticket," the man said. "Welcome to Louisville, Mr. Archibald. Carry that for you "
"Never mind," Keller said, and held on to his carry-on bag. He followed the man out of the terminal and across a couple of lanes of traffic to the short-term parking lot.
"About the name," the man said. "What I figured, anybody can read a name off a card. Some clown's got to figure, why take a cab when I can say I'm Archibald and ride for free I mean, it's not like they gave me a picture of you. Nobody here even knows what you look like."
"I don't come here often," Keller said.
"Well, it's a pretty nice town," the man said, "but that's beside the point. Which is I want to make sure I'm driving the right person, so I throw out a first name, and it's a wrong first name. 'Richard Archibald ' Guy says yeah, that's me, Richard Archibald, right away I know he's full of crap."
"Unless that's his real name."