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The Ethical Assassin: A Novel Paperback – January 30, 2007

3.5 out of 5 stars 73 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Liss (A Conspiracy of Paper) recycles familiar conventions—drug dealers, missing money, an innocent hero mixed up with bad guys—but salvages his novel from banality with a few quirky touches. In sticky south Florida of August 1985, Lem Altick, a 17-year-old door-to-door encyclopedia salesman, witnesses the murder of two potential customers in a mobile home. Fearing he'll be fingered for the crime—or worse, that he's next—Lem establishes a wary relationship with the likable killer, Melford Kean, who is either a violent psychopath or an animal rights vigilante fighting agribusiness. Lem must also watch out for Jim Doe, the corrupt, redneck police chief who saw Lem at the trailer on the night of the crimes. Lem's paranoia heightens when he learns of Doe's connection to his employers at the encyclopedia sales company, which turns out to be a front. While Lem repeatedly skitters away from danger as he gathers clues that reveal a web of corruption, he finds time to fall for fellow bookseller Chitra and to undergo a political awakening under Melford's tutelage. Liss provides enough entertainment to keep the pages turning, but this hybrid of a thriller and a coming-of-age story doesn't quite succeed as either. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Readers expecting another historical thriller from Liss in the manner of A Conspiracy of Paper (2000) and The Coffee Trader (2003) are in for quite a surprise. Moving from Arturo Perez-Reverte territory to the very different world of Carl Hiaasen, Liss delivers a contemporary ecoterrorist romp shot through with elements of the absurd. It begins with a 17-year-old Jewish encyclopedia salesman working door to door in a South Florida trailer park (Is the absurdist angle apparent yet?). Lem Altick is saving money for college by tricking poor people into buying supermarket encyclopedias, but he gets more than he bargained for when an assassin with "Warholishy" hair saunters into a trailer where Lem is about to close a deal and efficiently kills the two would-be encyclopedia readers and then engages Lem in a chat about his favorite Shakespeare play (Lem is partial to Twelfth Night). It only gets weirder from there, as Lem finds himself a sort of comrade-in-arms with the ethical assassin, whose real purpose seems to be raising havoc with some distinctly unethical pig farmers. There's also a sicko small-town sheriff lurking in the wings, having apparently wandered into the action straight out of Jim Thompson's Pop. 1280. The jump from financial chicanery in seventeenth-century London to redneck craziness, South Florida style, seems daunting, but Liss sails across the abyss unscathed. Be careful to whom you recommend this: the Perez-Reverte crowd may not be amused, but Hiaasen's homeboys will feel right at home down in the muck with a gang of evildoing pig farmers. Bill Ott
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; Reprint edition (January 30, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812974549
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812974546
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #308,023 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

David Liss is the author six novels, most recently The Devil's Company. He has five previous bestselling novel: A Conspiracy of Paper, winner of the 2000 Edgar Award for Best First Novel, The Coffee Trader, A Spectacle of Corruption, The Ethical Assassin and The Whiskey Rebels. In 2008, at the United Nations Convention against Corruption in Bali, Indonesia, he was named an Artist for Integrity by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. No one is really sure why he should receive this honor or what it means, but it very possibly makes him the Bono of historical fiction. David Liss's novels have been translated into more than two dozen languages. He lives in San Antonio with his wife and children. Visist his web site at www.davidliss.com.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
David Liss, so accomplished in his previous forte, the historical fiction, has penned a highly entertaining contemporary thriller that borders on the absurd in a style similar to Carl Hiassen.

The story evolves in the relating of the experiences of 17 year old South Floridian, Lem Altick. Lem, a bright and perceptive young man had been accepted to Columbia University. Circumstances arose which left him $30,000 short of the tuition required. He was attempting to make money by selling encyclopedias door to door, with a mostly motley crew presently canvassing the vicinity of Jacksonville.

Lem had apparently struck gold in a foul smelling trailer park known as Meadowbrook Grove. He was giving his best sales pitch to a sketchy looking couple named Karen and Bastard when suddenly someone bursts into the trailer and dispatches the couple with two gunshots to the head. This was Lem's startling introduction to the "ethical assassin", the bleached blonde, ghoulish looking Melford Kean.

Kean wishing to assure Lem's silence planted clues that would implicate him should Lem squeal. Kean, a rational psychotic was unwilling to harm Lem and recruited him to help him cover his tracks concerning his actions. We soon learn that Melford is a fervent animal rights activist and vegetarian. All through their interactions, Melford tries to sway Lem to his particular ideology.

Meadowbrook Grove, it turns out, is a separate principality governed by corrupt mayor and police chief Jim Doe, who had set up the trailer park as a speed trap. The mullet coiffed, dentally challenged Doe is also a front man for the local enterprises ensconsed in Meadowbrook Grove owned by Miami Vice attired, borderline pedophile B.B. Gunn.
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Format: Hardcover
Many people have commented on how this could be something that Carl Hiaasen could've penned, and I couldn't agree more. Set in Florida in the mid eighties the book begins with a seventeen year old encylopedia salesman named Lem Altick who, while pitching his product to a couple, witnesses their brutal slaying. Their assassin turns out to be a charming, intelligent guy whose agenda, or more appropriately 'mission', reveals itself later in the book in a didactic (to the point of bashing you over the head) way. However, before this, the book is ripe with a madcap plot and cast of off the wall characters that flavor Hiassen novels including, an oversexed redneck sheriff, and the surviving half of Siamese twins. The book is genuinely funny, and even though the shady dealings that are going on are not that unique, his characters are.
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Format: Paperback
I too am a huge fan of David Liss's writing, and I love his two Benjamin Weaver books. This book is as different from these as possible. For one thing the setting is 1985 Florida, not some much earlier historical time in Europe. For another, this book has a different storyline altogether. It chronicles one wild weekend in a 17-year-old Enclopedia salesman's life when he gets on the wrong side of the law, and on the right side of a strangely ethical assassin. Poor Lem doesn't know what he has gotten himself into when two potential customes are shot right in front of him. The book kept my interest, and it was actually quite funny, but somehow it fell short at the denouement stage. The book is certainly worth reading if only for the sheer fun of it, and its probably as bizarre as fiction can get. But I can't help hoping that Liss will get back to a much earlier time in history with his next book.
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Format: Hardcover
David Liss is full of surprises. His first three novels --- A CONSPIRACY OF PAPER, THE COFFEE TRADER and A SPECTACLE OF CORRUPTION --- are probably best classified as historical suspense thrillers, taking place in the 17th and 18th centuries in Europe. His new work, THE ETHICAL ASSASSIN, is much more modern in time and closer to home in space. Set in the 1980s in South Florida --- inland, not coastal --- Liss presents a tale of triple crosses and unforgettable, realistic characters in a narrative that, despite stumbling in a couple of spots, is riveting and addictive.

THE ETHICAL ASSASSIN, perhaps more than anything else, is a dark coming-of-age novel, THE CATCHER IN THE RYE for the post-Vietnam generation. Lem Altick is a recent high school graduate somewhere between a nebbish and a class president. His grades could get him into Columbia but are not quite good enough for financial aid; he made the track team, and while never finishing first in an event, he never dragged the team down. Altick's stepfather, a somewhat shadowy figure who we meet only in flashback, is half-in and half-out of his life. While he isn't quite comfortable playing the role of dad, he somehow gives Altick what little good advice he has to get him through life. Regardless, however, he isn't about to put Altick through school.

Several thousand dollars behind the tuition eight-ball, Altick becomes an itinerant encyclopedia salesman in south Florida, trolling the trailer parks and not-quite downtrodden neighborhoods in search of parents interested in investing in their children's education. Consistent with his life in general, Altick is a little unsure of himself but is pretty good at his job.
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