The first time I encountered Lawrence Block’s hit man, Keller, I wasn’t overly impressed.  I finished the book, but Keller just didn’t see to resonate with me nearly as well as other Block characters like gentleman burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr or private eye Matt Scudder.  A couple of years later, I discovered that one of the Keller books, Hit and Run, took place in my home state of Iowa.  That was enough of a reason for me to give Keller a second chance.  This time, he quickly grew on me (much like a fungus).  I became fond of Keller and have read several of the Keller books since then.

Several months ago, Block announced that a new Keller book, Hit Me, would be coming out in February.  I pre-ordered it immediately, so that it would magically appear on my Kindle on the release date.

Then, last week, something appears in my inbox.  An advanced reading copy of the book.  Yes, Christmas came early this year …

Without further ado, let’s get to the book.

Hit Me, like several other Keller books, is broken into a number of shorter works.  In the case of Hit Me, these are five stories: Keller in Dallas, Keller’s Homecoming, Keller at Sea, Keller’s Sideline, and Keller’s Obligation.  While the stories mesh with each other chronologically, they can also be read independently of each other.  The final story ends rather abruptly, leaving you wanting more. 

The People

An important aspect of the Keller books has always been Keller’s relationship with Dot, the woman who lines up work for him.  Although Keller and Dot go long stretches without contact, she often knows him better than he knows himself.  In theory, their relationship is professional.  However, in reality, they are very good friends.  Their phone conversations often drift into fun trivial tangents.  However, other times they discuss the big question: is it morally acceptable to kill people for profit?

In Hit and Run, Keller was forced to abandon New York City.  He ended up landing in New Orleans in the typical “boy meets girl, boy kills girl’s attacker, boy marries girl” fashion.  Keller is now a family man, settled down with a wife and young daughter.  This makes him wonder if it’s time to leave his line of work behind – but he always seems to get drawn back in.  His wife, Julia, is aware of his secret, and she has to figure out what she thinks of a man who kills for a living.  The story Keller at Sea gives us a prolonged look at Julia.

I’m hoping there are many more Keller books in the future.  Keller’s daughter (inverted) Jenny is just three years old now.  At some point in the future, will she learn what her daddy does for a living?  Will she eventually join the family business?   

The Stories

The five stories in the book take Keller away from his New Orleans home to Dallas, New York, an ocean cruise, Cheyenne, Denver, and Buffalo (coincidentally, the author’s childhood home).  The people targeted by Keller’s clients include a wealthy criminal, a prominent member of the clergy, and a fourteen year old stamp collector (Keller wouldn’t kill a kid – would he?).  We also see Keller being seduced – by a lonely widow and a sexy widow-wannabe.  Will Keller give in to temptation, or stay true to Julia (come on, Keller, keep it zipped)?

Although Keller’s moral compass might be a few degrees away from true north, he still does have a basic sense of right and wrong guiding his life.  He always strives to get the job done with a minimal amount of collateral damage.  However, Keller’s killings never go exactly according to plan.  Some little wrinkle always pops up – sometimes organically and sometimes supplied by Dot – and Keller needs to determine the best way to handle it.  Even dream jobs aren’t without their challenges … 

Keller always attacks the situation in a matter-of-fact way.  It’s interesting to see a killer portrayed as a true professional.  Killing someone isn’t as easy as flying to a different city, shooting them in the head, and flying back home.  The killing is only half the job – getting away with it is the other half.  Proper preparation prevents piss-poor performance, as they say.

For those of your who are currently apprentices in the profession, the Keller books are a good way to learn some tricks of the trade.

Block is a master story-teller.  He managed to make even the most mundane details seem interesting.  Why would anyone really care what Keller eats for breakfast?  Well, I would – Keller’s thought process on the topic is pretty interesting. 

In terms of mood, the Keller stories fall somewhere between the Bernie and Scudder books.  Not as lighthearted as Bernie can be at times, but not as dark as the Scudder books can sometimes get.

The Stamps

Many years ago, Keller got into stamp collecting as a way to hide his ill-gotten gains.  The Keller books have always discussed philately.  If you’re a stamp collector yourself, you’re likely to enjoy Keller’s pursuit of various stamps and interaction with other collectors.  You may also learn a few things about geography and history along the way.  The author draws upon his own philatelic experiences for the Keller character.  In fact, Block has published a book about his stamp collecting experiences,  Generally Speaking, which is composed of columns he wrote for Linn’s Stamp News.  If you read Generally Speaking (which I, as a non-collector, found very enjoyable) you’ll note a lot of similarities between Keller and the author.

The killings, however, are purely works of fiction.

Probably.

Verdict

If you’re a Keller fan, definitely pre-order.  These are very interesting Keller tales that show our hero moving to a new phase of his life.  If you haven’t tried the Keller books yet, give Hit Me a chance.  You won’t regret it.
 

 

Leave a comment

Share this article via email

Kosmo is the founder of The Soap Boxers and writes on a variety of topics. Many of his short stories have been collected into Kindle books.

Like this site? Subscribe via RSS, Subscribe via Email, or Follow us on Twitter or Facebook.

The permanent URL for this article is:
http://www.thesoapboxers.com/review-hit-me-by-lawrence-block/