Hit Man: Keller, #1 -- Lawrence Block
From Hit Man:
He hadn't met the man, but he knew his name. Even if he wasn't sure how to pronounce it.
The man in White Plains had handed Keller an index card with two lines of block capitals hand-printed.
"Lyman Crowder," he read, as if it rhymed with louder. "Or should that be Crowder?" As if it rhymed with loader.
A shrug in response.
"Martingale, WY," Keller went on. "Why indeed? And where, besides Wyoming? Is Martingale near anything?"
I picked that excerpt mostly because it was an early example of Keller's habit of playing with words and of Keller's habit of talking to himself even when he's having a conversation with someone else. (Although I'm pretty sure that all of his on-screen conversations with the man in White Plains were one-sided.)
What it doesn't highlight is his relationship with the inimitable Dot. Or how he feels about dogs. Or how he deals with therapy*. Or the aspects of his job he actually enjoys (figuring out how to off someone without becoming a suspect, let alone seen, caught or killed -- he views it as a kind of puzzle). That excerpt doesn't have any wonderful lines like:
Around nine that night Keller wanted a drink, but he didn't want to have it in the company of adulterers and their favorite music.
Here's another one:
"Then the son of a bitch joined a gym," she said, "and he wound up leaving me for his personal trainer. He wadded me up and threw me away like a used Kleenex."
She didn't look like the sort of person you'd blow your nose on.
The book is chock-full of wonderful funny little bits like that, but it never ever feels like Lawrence Block is throwing out one-liner after one-liner. Everything flows and is perfectly integrated into the storyline(s), and even though the book is in the third person, somehow it feels like it's in Keller's voice. Like if Keller was writing a story about a guy named Keller who was a hit man, that's how it would read. I don't know how Block did that. But I love him for it.
There's plenty of sex and violence, but most of it is off-screen, and what little isn't never struck me as graphic or even remotely gratuitous. And there's surprisingly little profanity. Maybe that's because the stories -- they were written (and originally published) as short stories** -- are more about Keller and Who He Is than about Keller and What He Does.
What all of that amounts to is this: I have a new love, and he is a stamp-collecting assassin.
*That was my favorite story. And Josh liked the one with the dog best.
**I read it straight through in one sitting, though -- it reads like a novel in installments.
Book source: My local library.