Friday, August 25, 2006

Book: Hit Parade, by Lawrence Block (2006)

Block has created his share of memorable characters – see Scudder, Matthew. He introduced professional assassin John Keller in the 1990 short story ‘Answers to Soldier.’ To quote the eminently wise James Reasoner, Block “puts words together about as well as anybody in the business.” But he outdid himself with ‘Soldier.’ It is, in its way, damn near perfect, and I couldn’t estimate how many times I’ve read it, trying to figure out how he did it.

You’d think, then, that I’d love the Keller books. The first, Hit Man, was a collection of semi-linked shorts leading off with ‘Soldier.’ As individual pieces the stories are dandy, but they didn’t coalesce into a narrative. Hit List was a novel, and the rare Block that left me cold.

But Block is so good – and ‘Soldier’ so powerful – that I pounced on the third Keller outing. And I’m glad I did. It’s a strange hybrid of the two earlier books, linking shorter tales that this time do come together in a cohesive whole.

The centerpiece, the novella ‘Keller’s Adjustment,’ is a 9/11 story that’s also about Keller’s midlife crisis. The other stories vary in tone from the jet-black farce of ‘Keller the Dog-Killer’ to a bone-chilling coda. It took me a while to warm to Keller in long form, but Hit Parade does the trick. Still, if you want a proper introduction to the man, track down ‘Answers to Soldier.’ You won’t regret it.