Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Reader's Diary #375- Lawrence Block: Hit Parade

Keller's most recent victim? My inner-snob. I called him Johann and he died a most pleasant death.

Keller, for those of you who don't know, is the hitman of Lawrence Block's John Keller series: Hit Man, Hit List, Hit Parade and Hit and Run. And Block is the author of over 50 books. With titles like that and those sorts of numbers, you'd be correct in guessing that Block is popular amongst the trade paperback crowd.

Obviously a bit of a hack, right? Well, maybe, but an entertaining hack.

As a series of short stories, I was wildly amused with Keller and his trials and tribulations as a contract killer. Keller, who was looking to retire, but needed money to support his expensive stamp collecting, calls up his... booking agent...Dot and basically tells her to bring it on.

It's partially the chemistry and dry humour between Keller and Dot that make the book so funny. In one of my favourite scenes they discuss what is to become of a killer pit-bull now that Keller has done away with its dominatrix owner:

"He'll get sent to the YMCA," he said, "and when nobody adopts him, which they won't because of his history, he'll be put to sleep."

"Is that what they do at the YMCA?"

"Is that what I said? I meant the SPCA."

"That's what I figured."

The book isn't perfect, of course. I had issues with the title (I know he was keeping with a theme, but it has nothing to do with popular songs at all). I also thought it a bit strange that the first three stories had to do with sports (baseball, horse racing and golf) leading me to believe that the book would have a sports theme, but with the exception of a story towards the end about basketball, didn't go that route. And occasionally I felt that Keller tried too hard to head off any psychoanalysis of Keller by having him reflect on several occasions on how he differed from your average sociopath.

Still, that he could actually make me somewhat root for the bad guy was no small feat. I've never been a fan of mafia movies or shows, not understanding why people would find such despicable people entertaining. So, how could Block convince me to follow the stories of a hitman? I'm not entirely sure, but I think it helped that I never got to know the victims all that well. Sometimes he suggested that they weren't that nice (as was the case with the aforementioned dominatrix), and other times they were potentially fine people (or at least no worse that the average), but Keller was the focus, their lives were only scratched superficially. It's okay if I don't know them? That's unsettling, isn't it?

Perhaps that's where the book gained the most points with me. Any book that makes me think can't be all that bad. It made me consider my own capabilities. Of course I could never kill (whew!) but what else? I only had to check out my recent review of Patricia MacLachlan's Sarah, Plain and Tall to see how not knowing a victim makes it easier to be cruel. Critic as murderer? Heck, I didn't even get paid.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Lawrence Block has been a favorite of mine for eons. His Burglar series is pretty good too. And Matt Scudder. They've made a couple of movies from his books.

I am unduly fond of one liners.