Wednesday, June 25, 2008

New Book By A Master Wordsmith!

Keller is a professional hit man. He specializes in paid-to-order death that looks like an accident and has always gotten away without being caught. However, Keller is also a man with a conscience. Not about the people he kills, because that would get in the way of him doing his job. But he dwells on how he spends his life, the people he spends it with, and what life is ultimately all about. That aspect of Keller is the one that I most enjoy spending time with in the books.

Hit And Run is veteran mystery/suspense writer Lawrence Block’s fourth book about Keller. It’s also the first of the four books that’s actually a novel. The previous three books were collections of short stories gathered in a loose novelistic style. Block first published the stories in Playboy magazine and other magazines. Block always threw in a few new stories each volume as well.

I love the characters of Keller and Dot, the woman who brokers the services Keller offers to discriminating and wealthy clients. I look forward to the times they sit and discuss the world and their lives after Keller’s adventures. Despite the lethal business they are in, Keller and Dot appear like people you could meet on the street and engage in an idle chat that would give you something to think about. Each time I closed a Keller “book” in the past, I could think about different thoughts or revelations that Keller experienced in those stories.

Block took his time writing the stories. I can tell how much he enjoyed exploring the characters and themes he developed over the course of bringing Keller and his assignments to the page. Throughout the books, the character and his situation changed. The relationship with Dot altered too, and the two of them became even closers friends than business partners.

Hit And Run changes a lot of things, though. For the first time, Keller’s face is in the news for a murder. The kicker is that Keller didn’t kill the governor of Iowa. He was framed, and he doesn’t even know who did the framing.

The book divides neatly into three acts, though I didn’t notice that at the time I read the book. I started on the novel intending to read just a few pages, just enough to close the book on Keller’s first kill. Instead, Keller never even gets to whack the guy he hired on to kill. By the end of the first chapter, he’s running for his life. Not only are the cops pursuing him, but so are the faceless people he just became the fall guy for.

I read the book from cover to cover. Could not put it down. As I said, the book divides neatly into three acts. The first act is pure adrenaline as Keller doubles back and tries to figure out what to do. Dot is off-line for the first time since forever, and there’s not a single other person in the world that Keller can talk to about his career.

Keller makes it back to New York and his apartment in time to see the story about Dot’s “accidental” death on the television news. In his apartment, he discovers that someone has ransacked his home and taken his stamp collection. Regular readers of Keller’s adventures know that the stamp collection is the one thing that the hit man has allowed himself to care about other than Dot. All the money that Keller once had is also gone – his retirement, etc., because his real name is known to the police and he’s a person of interest.

Act two covers a lot of ground. I enjoyed watching Keller trying to get it together, trying to figure out what he was supposed to do since he’d been cut off from his other life. The sincerity and weight Block brings to his character’s ruminations are dead-on emotionally. In this time when so many drastic changes occur in a person’s life, seeing Keller struggle with the same things is almost cathartic and lends hope.

The relationships Keller builds at this time, not only with others but with himself, are extremely well done. The love story and the resolution of the woman’s sick father was well played. All the characters are vivid and believable. Block even takes time to dig into the problems New Orleans (the city where Keller ends up) faces even now.

The third act, even though it’s predictable in nature to a degree, revolves around Keller’s search for the men that burned him and Dot. It offers some introspection and humorous moments as well, and a lot of tension because I really didn’t know how Block was going to bring everything to a close.

Hit And Run is a game played by a master. Block put me on the ropes even though I was dead tired that night, and he kept me there. The gentle delineation of character, the effortless plot twists and surprises, and the pared-to-the-bone writing infused me with new energy that kept me turning pages till I reached the final one with a mixture of excitement and sadness.

I’d really recommend reading other Keller “novels” before this one, but you don’t have to. But to get all the subtlety Block pulls off with the character and the plot, I think it’s better if you have a passing acquaintance with Keller. This is a great book.

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