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Hit Man (Keller) Mass Market Paperback – February 5, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

A man known only as Keller is thinking about Samuel Johnson's famous quote that "'patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel'... If you looked at it objectively, he had to admit, then he was probably a scoundrel himself. He didn't feel much like a scoundrel. He felt like your basic New York single guy, living alone, eating out or bringing home takeout, schlepping his wash to the Laundromat, doing the Times crossword with his morning coffee... There were eight million stories in the naked city, most of them not very interesting, and his was one of them. Except that every once in a while he got a phone call from a man in White Plains. And packed a bag and caught a plane and killed somebody. Hard to argue the point. Man behaves like that, he's a scoundrel. Case closed." But Lawrence Block is such a delightfully subtle writer, one of the true masters of the mystery genre, that the case is far from closed. In this beautifully linked collection of short stories, we gradually put together such a complete picture of Keller that we don't so much forgive him his occupation as consider it just one more part of his humanity. After watching Keller take on cases that baffle and anger him into actions that fellow members of his hit-man union might well call unprofessional, we're eager to join him as he goes through a spectacularly unsuccessful analysis and gets fooled by a devious intelligence agent. We miss the dog he acquires and loses, along with its attractive walker. Like Richard Stark's Parker, Keller makes us think the unthinkable about criminals: that they might be the guys next door--or even us, under different pressures. For a small selection of the many Blocks in paperback, try Coward's Kiss, A Long Line of Dead Men, The Sins of the Fathers, Such Men Are Dangerous, and especially When the Sacred Ginmill Closes. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

For some years now, Block's been chronicling the adventures of fatalistic hired assassin J.P. Keller. Now Block (The Burglar in the Library, p. 912, etc.) has revised and collected ten stories showing Keller doing what he does best. As he sallies forth from his First Avenue apartment to one American city after another at the behest of the old man in White Plains, Keller ponders whether he can kill a man he's grown to like, mops up after hitting the wrong target, serves as cat's-paw for killers initially more clever than he is, and agonizes over which of two clients who've paid to have each other killed he's going to have to disappoint. In between his methodical executions, he also checks out real estate in Oregon, consults a therapist, takes up stamp collecting, wonders if learning more about flowers would enrich his life, buys earrings for the woman who walks his dog, and worries how much of a commitment he can make to either the woman or the dog. It's the combination of the many things Keller ruminates about and the many things he tries not to (``This is the wrong business for moral decisions,'' the old man's secretary admonishes him) that gives him his melancholy fascination. Is the result a novel or a cycle of stories? Block's ravenous fans--delighted to see at least three masterpieces (``Keller on Horseback,'' ``Keller's Therapy,'' and ``Keller in Shining Armor'') gathered in one volume--won't care any more than Keller would. -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Keller (Book 1)
  • Mass Market Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: HarperTorch; Reissue edition (February 5, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 038072541X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0380725410
  • Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 0.9 x 6.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (175 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #336,653 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

51 of 60 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 8, 1999
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I know most of these reviews are off-the-top-of-head remarks, but a few of these people are revealing more about their inability to read than anything else. I finished this book today and was amazed at how Block provided a great mix of entertainment and food for thought. It is more subtle than any other book by Block that I have read, and I guess some of these reviewers are zooming through it too fast to pick up on such finesse. Or maybe they don't care. There is one great passage when Keller, the hit man, goes to a zoo and starts feeling sad but doesn't know why: "It's not that it bothered him to see animals caged. From what he understood, they lived longer and stayed healthier. They didn't have to spend half their time trying to get enough food and the ohter half trying to keep from being food for somebody else. It was tempting to look at them and conclude that they were bored, but he didn't believe it. They didn't look bored to him." Keller goes away "unaccountably sad." I stopped reading and thought about this. What a great way for Block to suggest a number of things about this character: that he sees and grapples with the predatory nature of his world, that he fights boredom, that at some level he seems to desire and fear a contentedness comparable to the animals. The book has clever plotting, sharp dialogue, occasional humor, a rich interconnectedness among the stories, but the insights into the life of the main character deepen the book greatly. It is natural to read a popular, bestselling author rather mindlessly, but this book offers both entertainment and a personality to ponder. It is a book to savor.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By George Webster, Ph.D., VINE VOICE on August 1, 2005
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Some years ago, Lawrence Block wrote a number of pieces for Playboy Magazine, featuring John Keller. Keller lives quietly in an apartment in New York City. He reads the Times, watches TV, eats in restaurants, and does the things that New Yorkers do. But occasionally, he gets a summons to White Plains, where he drinks lemonade with Dot, a witty, fast-talking woman, and receives an assignment. He then packs a bag, flies to a city across the country, and kills someone. Returning, considerably richer, he resumes his New York life until Dot calls again. Now, Lawrence Block has worked the Playboy pieces into an entertaining, yet thoughtful, story of a man whose profession is killing people. The murders are a tiny part of the story. Far more interesting is Keller's unassuming life and his interactions with a pet dog, a girlfriend, and especially with Dot. Much of the book is downright funny, as it smashes the stereotype of a professional killer. Block has put together a story that is not your run-of-the-mill crime tale. It is original, thoroughly enjoyable, and entertaining.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 8, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Keller is a paid assassin, a professional killer, who defies the classic stereotype. Instead, his lifestyle is that of the traveling businessman who is just another Manhattan single male when he is home. He does the Times crossword every morning while sipping his coffee. He has tried therapy and purchased a dog to help him with his growing loneliness. However, the therapy made him even more introspective and the dog left him for his former girl friend. He never cooks (even with a microwave) as he lives on take out or dining out. His lonely existence is only broken by his high paying jobs at various locations around the country. When he is not on the job, he reflects on his life and wonders about his victims' families.
HIT MAN is a short story collection about one of the best characters to arrive on the urban crime noir scene in years. Instead of being a hero, Keller is an anti-hero. The stories are all trademark Lawrence Block: gritty, exciting, and entertaining. However, what makes this terrific book so appealing is that Keller could be the guy next door taking out your sister on a date. To make matters even more interesting, Keller, despite his profession, is a likeable character. Let's hope for more Keller works in the near future. He is fascinating!
Harriet Klausner
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful By John P Bernat on October 7, 2004
Format: Mass Market Paperback
My sister told me to read this book after we talked about a particularly messy divorce in our family. Her premise: with some people, it's cleaner, simpler and even fairer to hire somebody to kill them.

So, maybe the reason I liked this book so much is that I operated from that premise: some people deserve to die, and that utilitarianism overwhelms the obvious moral objection.

And then you come to like and even pity the terrible man who kills for money. Quite an accomplishment for Lawrence Block.

Keller is an introvert who, like many introverts, thinks about the things he sees and the people he meets in strictly his own way. These quirky insights are what engage the reader. And when you find yourself liking a murderer and, maybe even worse, liking his sarcastic boss, something of a literary coup has happened right under your nose.

Quick tip: if you like audiobooks, this one, read by Robert Forster, comes across much better than the sequel, read by the author. Lawrence, leave audio to the pros!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Roger Long on February 20, 2006
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Lawrence Block is just about the best there is in his genre. Only Donald Westlake is in his class, along with Janet Evanovich, on occasion. Block always manages to write a chiller thriller, replete with jeopardy and suspense, while amusing the reader with clever dialogue and comedic asides. It may be hard for the unitiated reader to imagine an excellent book in which the hero is a hired killer, an unremorseful murderer, if you will, but Block accomplishes exactly that. In fact, the murder is almost, but not quite, a sympathetic character.

The plot is almost insignificant here. For the most part, this is not a novel at all but rather a collection of episodes, interspersed with dialogue between the killer (Keller) and his assignment maker (Dot). Block's dialogue is top notch, in this book and in all his others. The characters are engaging and realistic, half crook and half buffoon (Keller is a stamp collector)--as people are in real life. The ambience (New York City, White Plains, and sundry sites where Keller "works") are perfect.

Block follows this up with "Hit List," an equally entertaining sequel. "Hit Parade," third in the Keller series, is due this year. I can hardly wait to re-enter Keller's perverse world of murder and comedy.
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