For the past few months, I've been writing about Hard Case Crime titles here and at Guys Lit Wire. But, as is usual for me, I got distracted. Hard Case led me to Lawrence Block, which led me to Keller, and I now I won't be moved from Keller until I've read all of the books about him.
Keller is a hit man. He's good at what he does. He doesn't do it because he's a vigilante (though he has been known to go against the client's wishes if he disapproves), and he doesn't do it because he enjoys it. No, he kills people for a paycheck. At one point, he was actually planning on retiring, but then he re-started his boyhood philately hobby -- so now he has to keep the money coming in so that he can continue adding to his stamp collection.
In Hit List, Keller meets a girl. She introduces him to an astrologist, who tells him that he has a murderer's thumb. Which doesn't sit right with Keller, because, despite his day job, he doesn't think of himself as a murderer. And the idea that his profession could have been preordained bothers him. And after meeting with the astrologist, things feel off. Jobs don't go right, and eventually, Keller realizes that his life is in danger -- someone, for reason or reasons unknown -- wants him out of the picture.
What I love about the Keller books is that they aren't action-packed go-go-go thrill-rides about an assassin. They're books about a smart, slightly odd guy who has likes and dislikes and a job and who goes to jury duty because it's the right thing to do. And I also love his conversations with Dot, the lady who sets up his jobs. This excerpt will give you a brief taste of the awesome that is Keller:
"The cop's black," he told Dot, "and the defendant's white. I don't think I mentioned that before."
"You and Justice," she said. "Both color-blind."
"At first," he said, "we didn't know. I mean, we knew about the defendant, because there he was sitting with his lawyers, and middle-aged white guy with an OTB face and a bad rug named Huberman."
"His rug's got a name?"
"What is this, English class? You know what I meant. His name is Huberman."
"I know what a rug is," she said, "whether it's got a name or not, and I never saw a good one. But what's an OTB face? Off the books? On the button?"
"Off-track betting," he said. "There's a look horseplayers get."
"A kind of woulda-coulda-shoulda look."
"That's the one."
While this one wasn't a collection of short stories like the first one, it still reads like a series of connected vingettes -- due to the pacing, I think that not everyone will take to it, but those of you who do will adore it.
1. Hit Man
Other Lawrence Block:
(cross-posted at Guys Lit Wire)
Book source: My local library.