Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Hit Man by Lawrence Block

I really couldn't help but like John Paul Keller who is introduced by Lawrence Block in Hit Man (1998). Known simply as Keller, he lives a bachelor's life in New York City. He eats breakfast at a little diner in his neighborhood. He sometimes visits the zoo. He works the crossword puzzle in The New York Times

Keller is such a low-key character it is difficult to remember that he is a professional assassin!  He is not vengeful or hateful, it's just that he has chosen an unusual career path. In each episode or chapter the reader learns a bit more about this somewhat complicated and wistful man. It is never explained in this first book how he came to be an assassin which makes him all the more mysterious.

His contacts for contracts are an unnamed fellow referred to as 'the old man' who lives in White Plains and his assistant Dot. It is Dot who calls Keller to send him on his travels about the country to "take care of things" for the latest client. He likes to picture himself living in some of the towns that he visits. But after the job is finished, he always returns to his apartment in the city to await another phone call.

Lawrence has Keller dispatch his victims in just a sentence or two so for a novel that is made up of episodes about killing there is very little of it that goes on. Mostly we learn how cleverly Keller sets up his victims and how he spends his days in your average motel, eating alone in your average restaurants, and not making himself too visible. 

Sometimes his plans go awry, but he thinks on his feet and somehow the jobs always get done  - just maybe not how he thought they would. 

At one point he begins therapy but that doesn't work out too well for him or the therapist. He and Dot, really his only friend, have pleasant conversations about life over glasses of iced tea or lemonade. At one point she convinces him that he needs to find a hobby and he throws himself into his childhood passion for stamp collecting.  The reader gets quite a lesson in philately pursuits as Keller becomes engrossed in this pastime.

There are three more episodic novels in the series: Hit List, Hit Parade, and Hit Me (that was published this year) and then a full-length novel, Hit and Run. My library has them all in e-book editions which is a hit with me...

I am keeping Keller on my list. I just hope I never end up on his!

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