Reviews by title
Reviews by author
Onyx reviews: Hit
List by Lawrence Block
Keller, the protagonist of Hit Man and its sequel, Hit List, is a contract killer. The kind of person you call when you want to
do away with the boss, your spouse, or anyone else you don't happen to like. No
reasons need be specified. Pay the cash (half in advance, half upon completion
of the job) and that's all it takes.
Hit Man was a collection of short stories, many of which had
previously appeared in different publications. Keller's exploits lend themselves
well to the short story format: Keller gets an assignment, travels to where the
victim resides, scopes out the situation, and fulfills the contract. He has some
adventures or misadventures along the way, but they are tidy little packages. A
reader can take in one or two at a sitting, put the book aside, try something
else and come back to other stories without worrying about losing continuity.
Block stretches Keller to his limits by casting him in a novel. Hit
List is, in some ways, a loose collection of short stories, but there are
continuing threads that must be resolved. The primary one deals with
"Roger," a shadowy character who at first appears to be trying to kill
Keller while he is on assignment and later begins to fulfill Keller's contracts
before Keller has a chance to do so himself.
Keller's boss, Dot, takes the calls, deals with the financial end of the
business and hands out the assignments. Keller's routine is unvaried: he
receives a call from Dot, takes a train out to White Plains where she lives,
gets the particulars and heads for the airport. They exchange playful banter
while discussing the soon-to-be-deceased.
After a few close encounters with Roger, Keller and Dot come to believe that
"Roger" is another hit man, someone who is trying to guarantee himself
a larger piece of the action by eliminating the competition. They concoct a
series of elaborate ploys to unveil Roger and bring him down, but the reality of
the Keller stories varies little. He still ventures off to distant cities and
does his work. He also finds time to visit the local stamp shop, because, in his
off-hours, Keller collects stamps. It passes the hours between being asked to
When Roger changes gears and starts killing Keller's intended targets, sometimes
before Keller even gets off the airplane, the novel unravels a little. Roger is
wildly ingenious in how he commits his murders. In the first instance, Keller
witnesses the crime. Somehow Roger has manipulated a little old lady into
running the victim down. It is never explained how he does this. The crimes
become even more outlandish, including one that is televised across America, yet
Block never gives the reader the satisfaction of finding out how Roger pulls off
these improbable feats. It is one thing for a writer to create a locked room
murder—it is yet another to try to convince the reader that how the crime was
committed is unimportant and not to be explained.
Keller is an interesting character, and Block makes the reader root for this
cold blooded murderer, which is no small challenge. He adds some diversions to
Keller's life—Keller is called to jury duty, thus creating the ironic
situation of a murderer sitting in judgment of a petty criminal—and he throws
a series of eccentric women his way. However, in bringing this character to the
larger stage of a novel, Block emphasizes how much Keller is mostly a one trick
pony better served by a shorter format.
Web site and all contents © Copyright Bev Vincent 2007. All rights reserved.