Hit List (Keller Series #2)

Hit List (Keller Series #2)

3.7 23
by Lawrence Block

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Keller is a regular guy. He goes to the movies, works on his stamp collection. Call him for jury duty and he serves without complaint. Then every so often he gets a phone call from White Plains that sends him flying off somewhere to kill a perfect stranger. Keller is a pro and very good at what he does. But the jobs have started to go wrong. The realization is slow


Keller is a regular guy. He goes to the movies, works on his stamp collection. Call him for jury duty and he serves without complaint. Then every so often he gets a phone call from White Plains that sends him flying off somewhere to kill a perfect stranger. Keller is a pro and very good at what he does. But the jobs have started to go wrong. The realization is slow coming yet, when it arrives, it is irrefutable: Someone out there is trying to hit the hit man. Keller, God help him, has found his way onto somebody else's hit list.

Editorial Reviews

Our Review
Hit the Hit Man
Keller, the solitary contract killer last seen in 1998's Hit Man is back. Hit Man, a collection of linked stories by Grand Master Lawrence Block, took us deeply into the violent, contradictory life of a remorselessly efficient murderer. In Hit List, the first novel-length Keller adventure, Block expands and deepens his compelling portrait of the man he has dubbed, "the Urban Lonely Guy of Assassins."

Put another way, Keller represents the Assassin as Everyman. He is a quiet, unremarkable- looking fellow who loves dogs, collects stamps, fumbles his way through a series of temporary relationships, and speculates about the forces -- karmic, genetic, astrological -- that have made him what he is. But every now and then he accepts a commission from a matronly, middle-aged lady name Dot, travels to a distant city, and murders a perfect stranger.

Hit List is an episodic, deliberately meandering novel that recapitulates the structure of its predecessor, cutting back and forth between Keller's wildly divergent personal and professional lives. Unlike Hit Man, however, this book has a single, central dramatic device that powers the plot: Keller's discovery that he himself is now the target of an unidentified killer.

Keller, together with Dot, comes to this conclusion gradually, after a number of routine assignments take inexplicable turns. An adulterous couple who inherit Keller's motel room are shot to death. A pair of Keller's prospective victims die prematurely. A small-time thief steals Keller's raincoat and is murdered shortly afterward. Eventually, Dot and Keller piece together the bizarre but undeniable truth: that a fellow "professional" -- known only as Roger -- is busily eliminating rival hit men, in the hope of grabbing a larger share of a limited but lucrative market.

Keller's attempts to elude his pursuer, continue practicing his profession, and, in the end, turn the tables on Roger form the dramatic center of this witty, compulsively readable book. But the real heart of the novel -- its non-dramatic center -- is Block's pitch-perfect rendering of his lethal protagonist's day-to-day life. Hit List is filled with colorful, sharply observed set pieces -- long, circular dialogues between Keller and Dot, an emotional encounter with an overweight astrologer, a funny, surprisingly romantic account of Keller's first experience with jury duty -- that are worth the price of admission all by themselves. Block, like Keller, is a consummate professional: resourceful, reliable, always capable of the unexpected move. The Keller stories constitute a unique contribution to modern crime fiction, and are the clear product of a master craftsman at the top of his considerable form.

--Bill Sheehan

Bill Sheehan reviews horror, suspense, and science fiction for Cemetery Dance, The New York Review of Science Fiction, and other publications. His book-length critical study of the fiction of Peter Straub, At the Foot of the Story Tree, has just been published by Subterranean Press (www.subterraneanpress.com).

John Keller first cropped up in Playboy, where most of his exploits were chronicled in Lawrence Block's short stories. In this book, Keller travels the country knocking off people he's paid to knock off, and occasionally makes stops along the way to do some shopping or to look for stamps to add to his collection. And he's always checking in with and talking to Dot, the woman who is his job broker. This is the first true Keller novel—last year's Hit Man was in fact a collection of the short stories in which Keller appeared. The longer form should allow Block to stretch and develop Keller more, but what he does instead is give us more of the same. Much more. If I never read about stamps again, or have to read through another scene where there's a pitcher of tea to get through while characters talk it empty, I'll be just fine. What Dot and Keller figure out is that a hired assassin is out there killing his colleagues, eliminating the competition and raising the price. They attempt to trap the killer—whom they call, affectionately, Roger, though they have no idea who he really is. In the meantime, Keller does get involved with a woman, has his fortune told and spends a lot of time serving jury duty. I loved reading the book but was irritated with its many tangents—it often felt like a short story that couldn't figure out how to stop itself.
—Randy Michael Signor
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
John Keller, whom Block introduced in Hit Man, is a killer for hire, with a difference. He's thoughtful, even broody, tends to take a liking to some of the towns where he goes to do his work, dreams of perhaps settling down in one of them one day and collects stamps in his spare time, of which there's plenty. It's a novel idea, and it carried an excellent group of stories in the previous book. A whole novel about Keller, however, who after all walks a very delicate line between likability and horror, is more than he can readily bear, and, almost unknown in Block's work, there are longueurs here. The plot is wryly serviceable--a rival is attempting to corner the market by getting to some of Keller's intended victims first, and clearly has to be disposed of--but about halfway through a certain unease creeps in and won't let go. For all Block's usual great skill with goofy dialogue (here between Keller and Dot, the intermediary who takes the orders for his jobs), it's difficult to indefinitely enjoy jokes about the violent deaths of a number of people who, for all Dot and Keller know, are harmless, perhaps even good citizens, but whom someone is willing to pay to remove. Apparently mindful of this, Block keeps the killings mostly offstage, or with a minimum of graphic violence. But an affection for Keller is an acquired taste, and here it proves difficult to acquire. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
With Hit List, the usually reliable Block misfires. The character of Keller is back from Hit Man, and he still seems like a normal guy until he gets a call from his boss to complete an assignment. Being a hit man, his job entails killing total strangers. Things start to go wrong, however; it seems that somebody is beating him to his kills. It also seems that this someone is looking to eliminate Keller. What should have been exciting instead reads like a print version of My Dinner with Andre. There are never any direct action scenes; events are merely discussed after the fact. Keller collects stamps, and many pages are devoted to his hobby, which is fine if you collect stamps. But to be honest, collecting dust would be more appropriate for this book. Purchase only if you need all of Block's novels. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 7/00.]--Jeff Ayers, Seattle P.L. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Kirkus Reviews
Fresh from his triumphant star turn in the short-story cycle Hit Man (1998), Block's reflective professional assassin John Keller finally fulfills his fans' dearest wish by getting a novel of his own.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Keller Series , #2
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
4.18(w) x 6.75(h) x 0.96(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Keller, fresh off the plane from Newark, followed the signs marked Baggage Claim. He hadn't checked a bag, he never did, but the airport signage more or less assumed that everybody checked their luggage, because you got to the exit by heading for the baggage claim. You couldn't count on a series of signs that said This is the way to get out of this goddam place.

There was a down escalator after you cleared security, and ten or a dozen men stood around at the foot of it, some in uniform, most holding hand-lettered signs. Keller found himself drawn to one man, a droopy guy in khakis and a leather jacket. He was the guy, Keller decided, and his eyes went to the sign the man was holding.

But you couldn't read the damn thing. Keller walked closer, squinting at it. Did it say Archibald? Keller couldn't tell.

He turned, and there was the name he was looking for, on a card held by another man, this one taller and heavier and wearing a suit and tie. Keller veered away from the man with the illegible signwhat was the point of a sign that nobody could read?--and walked up to the man with the Archibald sign. "I'm Mr. Archibald, " he said.

"Mr. Richard Archibald?"

What possible difference could it make? He started to nod, then remembered the name Dot had given him. "Nathan Archibald," he said.

"That's the ticket," the man said. "Welcome to Louisville, Mr. Archibald. Carry that for you?"

"Never mind," Keller said, and held on to his carry-on bag. He followed the man out of the terminal and across a couple of lanes of traffic to the short-term parking lot.

"About the name," the man said. "What I figured, anybodycan read a name off a card. Some clown's got to figure, why take a cab when I can say I'm Archibald and ride for free? I mean, it's not like they gave me a picture of you. Nobody here even knows what you look like."

"I don't come here often," Keller said.

"Well, it's a pretty nice town," the man said, "but that's beside the point. Which is I want to make sure I'm driving the right person, so I throw out a first name, and it's a wrong first name. 'Richard Archibald?' Guy says yeah, that's me, Richard Archibald, right away I know he's full of crap."

"Unless that's his real name."

"Yeah, but what's the odds of that? Two men fresh off a plane and they both got the name Archibald?"

"Only one."

"How's that?"

"My name's not really Archibald," Keller said, figuring he wasn't exactly letting state secrets slip by the admission. "So it's only one man named Archibald, so how much of a long shot is it?"

The man set his jaw. "Guy claims to be Richard Archibald," he said, "he's not my guy. Whether it's his name or not.

"You're right about that."

"But you came up with Nathan, so we're in business. Case closed. It's the Toyota there, the blue one. Get in and we'll take a run over to long-term parking. Your car's there, full tank of gas, registration in the glove box. When you're done, just put her back in the same spot, tuck the keys and the claim check in the ashtray. Somebody'll pick it up."

The car turned out to be a mid-size Olds, dark green in color. The man unlocked it and handed Keller the keys and a cardboard claim check. "Cost you a few dollars," he said apologetically. "We brought her over last night. On the passenger seat there you got a street map of the area. Open it up, you'll see two spots marked, home and office. I don't know how much you been told."

"Name and address," Keller said.

"What was the name?"

"It wasn't Archibald. "

"You don't want to say? I don't blame you. You seen a photo?"

Keller shook his head. The man drew a small envelope from his inside pocket, retrieved a card from it. The card's face displayed a family photograph, a man, a woman, two children and a dog. The humans were all smiling, and looked as though they'd been smiling for days, waiting for someone to figure out how to work the camera. The dog, a golden retriever, wasn't smiling, but he looked happy enough. "Season's Greetings . . ." it said below the photo.

Keller opened the card. He read: ". . . from the Hirschhorns--Walt, Betsy, Jason, Tamara, and Powhatan."

"I guess Powhatan's the dog," he said.

"Powhatan? What's that, an Indian name?"

"Pocahontas's father."

"Unusual name for a dog."

"It's a fairly unusual name for a human being," Keller said. "As far as I know it's only been used once. Was this the only picture they could come up with?"

"What's the matter with it? Nice clear shot, and I'm here to tell you it looks just like the man."

"Nice that you could get them to pose for you."

"It's from a Christmas card. Musta been taken during the summer, though. How they're dressed, and the background. You know where I bet this was taken? He's got a summer place out by McNeely Lake."

Wherever that was.

"So it woulda been taken in the summer, which'd make it what, fifteen months old? He still looks the same, so what's the problem?"

"It shows the whole family."

"Right, " the man said. "Oh, I see where you're going. No, it's just him, Walter Hirschhorn. just the man himself."

That was Keller's understanding, but it was good to have it confirmed. Still, he'd have been happier with...

Hit List. Copyright © by Lawrence Block. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Lawrence Block is one of the most widely recognized names in the mystery genre. He has been named a Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America and is a four-time winner of the prestigious Edgar and Shamus Awards, as well as a recipient of prizes in France, Germany, and Japan. He received the Diamond Dagger from the British Crime Writers' Association—only the third American to be given this award. He is a prolific author, having written more than fifty books and numerous short stories, and is a devoted New Yorker and an enthusiastic global traveler.

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Hit List 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 22 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Well written, entertaining, enjoyable, fun characters, light, and didn't leave any loose ends, which I like. That said, this is a story of a hit man and his profession, but the action was all told in past tense, during discussions recounting the events, and very quickly, which never really gave me a feel for the dramatic impact of a 'hit'. The talking between characters, however lovable they may be, got increasingly irritating, and kept going off on some tangent or another, finally getting back to the point, at which point I had already lost interest in what was being discussed in the first place. To be stereotypical, a chick book about a guy theme. If you are a stamp collector, great, otherwise skip half of the book, which will leave you with no action and a lot of gabbing. I don't see myself picking another Block book anytime soon.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Three quarters of the way through this book and I am forced to read something else. Not because the story idea is bad, but just because I can't stand listening (think read) to the two main characters talk anymore!! Now I know why someone wants them dead!
harstan More than 1 year ago

John Keller¿s business requires frequent flyer miles and constant communication with his ¿agent¿ Dot. John relaxes by collecting stamps and dreams of one day settling in the towns and cities he frequently visits. If he ever honestly wrote his occupation on a 1040, John would describe his work as a HIT MAN.

John knows that many of his victims are innocent good people, but employment in the new economy has been booming lately as his skills are in greater demand than ever. However, John has a new problem as someone else is beating him to the hit, hurting his lucrative business that depends on reputation and completing the job, customized to meet the objective of the customer. As an unknown assailant hones in on his consulting services, John concludes that he personally has made the HIT LIST of a rival who plans to shut down John permanently.

HIT LIST contains all the humor and action that readers expect from a Lawrence Block novel. The story line is two parts amusement, two parts gloom and doom, and six parts irony. In spite of his profession and his tendency to languish in self-doubt, John retains a likable charm even if readers wonder why he continues to off decent folks. It is the killing of the innocent that leaves HIT LIST not for everyone, but those readers who relish a dark satirical look at life.

Harriet Klausner

Guest More than 1 year ago
Keller is a great character. The book is not. The story could have been 150 pages shorter and had the same effect. Keller discovers he's being targeted by another hitter, and then for about 200 pages the issue disappears only to become important again in the last few chapters. I liked the idea, I liked the characters, but the story comes up short by Block's insistance upon describing every single minute detail, whether it moves the story forward or not. The story stalls numerous times on conversations and events that have nothing to do with the story. If you want a novel that takes some time to read, this is for you. It's slow and plodding and the pages must be heavy, because I had a hard time turning them at points.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I began riding mass transit again so I could have more time with Keller. I not only read hit man and hit list, I have encourged all of my friends and family to do the same. They enjoyed the books and it's characters as much as I did. I look forward to more about Keller. I hope Lawrence Block has the next Keller book in progress.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is about 'likeable hit man.' It has all the features needed: great dialogue, an insightful character, a plot that keeps you thinking. Larry Block at the top of his form!
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RetrieverJR More than 1 year ago
Great easy read!
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Janus More than 1 year ago
Lawrence Block's Hit List reads something like a strange amalgamation of soap opera and sitcom in print. Block promises us a different kind of 'hired killer' story, and on this he does deliver. Keller is not a Jason Bourne or John Rain, and that is seemingly the problem. Keller is so different from what we've come to accept as the "heroic" assassin, that he feels awkward and uncomfortable to understand. Block pulled no punches in stating that Keller was going through what seemed to be a mid-life crisis, however, in the end he simply came across as neurotic and rather annoying. If you are a fan the genre and also happen to like the t.v. show Monk as well as Nicholas Cage in 'Matchstick Men', then this is the book for you. If you like your assassins tough, enigmatic and devoted, then you had best seek your fix elsewhere.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
This has been the 13th book by Lawrence Block I've read, and by far the worst. After reading 'Hit man', I expected great time with its sequel, but... never-ending, pointless and sterile dialogs, as well as extended descriptions of uninteresting matter and boring situations, made it long time, with nothing great about it. Were it some 150 pages shorter, could have been a good book.