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

4.0 out of 5 stars 194 customer reviews
Book 1 of 5 in the Keller Series

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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: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (194 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #210,516 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
My favourite crime writer is Raymond Chandler. That is mainly because before being a crime writer, he's "just" a writer. An author. Someone who produces real literature, one of those things that don't need a label, be it "crime" or "thriller" or "suspense". I must confess that I didn't know Lawrence Block until a few days ago, when Hugh Howey (him again!) posted a message advocating everyone to go and read Hitman. Of course I did, because I always follow the master of the Wooliverse, and after a few pages I knew I had added a precious element to my own little pantheon of writers. Lawrence Block is not a crime writer, he's "just" a writer.

And that is mainly because Lawrence Block doesn't write "crime" either, he writes books, meaning he has got style and a "little music" of his own, something that hooks you instantly and leaves you no choice but to read on. I read here and there that some reviewers had trouble with the fact that the main character, Keller, is a hitman. Though it's true that usually main characters are heroes, people you WANT to identify with, Block's main character may actually be disturbing because you CAN identify with him: he's got issues, doubts, thoughts, and even a sense of morals. And you MUST like him, because he's hilarious and human.

The construction of the book is original: each chapter is a new mission for Keller, yet there are connections between the stories, and the reader gets to know him better, and to love him more and more. Not in spite or because of the fact that he's a killer, just because he is loveable. And maybe because, behind the entertaining aspect of his adventures, the humour and the style of Block's prose, one can find something deeper.
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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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