Monday, September 04, 2006

Book-A-Day #48 (9/3): Hit Parade by Lawrence Block

This is the book I figured I get through on Wednesday and Thursday, but time constraints (I couldn't read at lunch Wednesday, Thursday or Friday, and then it was the weekend) stretched it out much longer than that.

This is a classic fix-up (made up of at least six stories originally published elsewhere, but presented unblushingly as a novel), and the third "novel" in the Keller series. Keller is a high-priced hit man, and our sympathetic protagonist. (Block is one of the few writers who would try to write a series about a hit man without dropping into black comedy or melodrama, and one of even fewer who could actually pull it off.)

I wonder about the genesis of this series. Block wrote an essay some years ago (I don't think it was the one about dividing mysteries into cats and no-cats, but it could be; I haven't been able to dig it up with a quick search) where he mused about mystery protagonists with "codes" and said something like
"I've read one mystery series about a detective who's obsessed with his code; he has long discussions with his girl friend about it. I don't have a code myself, and I don't know anyone who does. Often I don't know if I'd do something until the opportunity comes up and I either do it or don't do it. I think most people are the same way."
The Keller series reads to me like Block's exploration of that idea -- that you don't know what you'll do until you have to do it. The reader follows Keller though his various jobs (all of which, of course, involve killing people for money) and through the complications of each job -- not complications in the Richard Stark sense (as in more people that need to be killed), but complications about what Keller himself is comfortable doing, and what he can do. I wouldn't want to say Keller is a portrait of the "banality of evil," since I don't think that's Block's aim, but it's somewhere in that neighborhood: a portrait of what one man can find himself doing, step by little step, and still like himself.

The series started with Hit Man and continued in Hit List, and any reader interested should do the same. And I'll highly recommend them: Block is not only one of the smoothest and most readable writers today in any genre, but the Keller books are some of his best work; it doesn't hit you over the head, but I think you'll, like me, start thinking about what you will and won't do.


Christopher said...


We seem to have similar tastes in mystery novels. I have always been a big fan of Block. I particulary like the Keller books but haven't read the newest.

I really like series that try to do something different. I often argue with many of my so called literate friends that they are missing some of the best fiction about the torments of the human soul by not reading some of the better mystery writers.

I would take an Ian Rankin book over almost anything out there when it comes to showing the depths of the human condition. Although, that really sounded corny.

Anonymous said...

I like these a lot, too! I didn't know there was a new one out. Thanks.


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