Keller is a hit man who finds his life turned upside down when a job means more than the one allotted death...
Keller, the protagonist of this smoothly integrated story collection, is a gun for hire. Every so often a mystery man in White Plains, N.Y., calls him through an amiably efficient assistant, Dot, and arranges for him to go somewhere and, for a fee, kill someone. Block, author of the Matt Scudder and Bernie Rhodenbarr mysteries, describes Keller's labors with an absolute minimum of flash and gore. A quiet, thoughtful man, Keller is very good at his job, but it gives him a great deal of time for reflection. In the opening story, "Answers to Soldier," Keller goes to a little town in Oregon in pursuit of a man who seems perfectly harmless and decent and gets to wondering what it might be like to settle there, perhaps marry the waitress in the little restaurant where he takes his solitary meals, buy a home. He meets and takes a fancy to other women along the way; at one stage acquires a dog (and an attractive dog-walker to care for the animal while he's away on his "business" trips); and eventually takes up stamp collecting as a hobby. On one occasion, he kills the wrong man and has to set things to rights; on another, client and victim are the same person; when Keller decides to go into analysis, it doesn't end well for the analyst. The stories are ingenious, constantly surprising and, because of the startling originality of the idea, oddly unsettling. All Block's narrative skills, and his matchless ease with off-center conversations, are on display, and the collectionwhich contains both previously published and unpublished storiesis a splendid way to get a Block fix while awaiting the next Rhodenbarr or Scudder. (Feb.) -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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February 05, 5573
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Excerpt from Hit Man by Lawrence Block
Answers to Soldier
Keller flew United to Portland. He read a magazine on the leg from JFK to O'Hare, ate lunch on the ground, and watched the movie on the nonstop flight from Chicago to Portland. It was a quarter to three local time when he carried his hand luggage off the plane, and then he had only an hour's wait before his connecting flight to Roseburg.
But when he got a look at the size of the plane he walked over to the Hertz desk and told them he wanted a car for a few days. He showed them a driver's license and a credit card and they let him have a Ford Taurus with thirty-two hundred miles on the clock. He didn't bother trying to refund his Portland-to-Roseburg ticket.
The Hertz clerk showed him how to get on I-5. Keller pointed the car in the right direction and set the cruise control three miles an hour over the posted speed limit. Everybody else was going a few miles an hour faster than that, but he was in no hurry, and he didn't want to invite a close look at his driver's license. It was probably all right, but why ask for trouble
It was still light out when he took the off ramp for the second Roseburg exit. He had a reservation at the Douglas Inn, a Best Western on Stephens Street. He found it without any trouble. They had him in a ground-floor room in the front, and he had them change it to one a flight up in the rear.
He unpacked, showered. The phone book had a street map of downtown Roseburg, and he studied it, getting his bearings, then tore it out and took it with him when he went out for a walk. The little print shop was only a few blocks away on Jackson, two doors in from the corner, between a tobacconist and a photographer with his window full of wedding pictures. A sign in Quik Print's window offered a special on wedding invitations, perhaps to catch the eye of bridal couples making arrangements with the photographer.
Quik Print was closed, of course, as were the tobacconist and the photographer and the credit jeweler next door to the photographer and, as far as Keller could tell, everybody else in the neighborhood. He didn't stick around long. Two blocks away he found a Mexican restaurant that looked dingy enough to be authentic. He bought a local paper from the coin box out front and read it while he ate his chicken enchiladas. The food was good, and ridiculously inexpensive. If the place were in New York, he thought, everything would be three or four times as much and there'd be a line in front.
The waitress was a slender blonde, not Mexican at all. She had short hair and granny glasses and an overbite, and she sported an engagement ring on the appropriate finger, a diamond solitaire with a tiny stone. Maybe she and her fianc ' had picked it out at the credit jeweler's, Keller thought. Maybe the photographer next door would take their wedding pictures. Maybe they'd get Burt Engleman to print their wedding invitations. Quality printing, reasonable rates, service you can count on.