At Bouchercon last year, Lawrence Block told me (and a few hundred other close friends) that he let his late mother read one of the Keller stories, and was a bit concerned by how she might react to the main character’s activities. Her response provides the title for this post, which also contains my Amazon review for his latest work — which is also Keller’s.
Just because he kills people for money, it doesn’t make him a bad guy. That’s Keller, the lead character in Lawrence Block’s Hit Man series, and the star of Block’s new novella, Keller’s Fedora. He’s now married and a father, with a new career, but when he is offered an assignment in his earlier vocation, he finds himself on a train to Chicago, armed with the titular chapeau, his wits, and a train station detective novel. A good time is had by all — or at least, all those who survive.
The Keller adventures are pretty straightforward in their way: Keller has an assignment with a greater or lesser degree of difficulty, and he solves it. What makes them work are the characters and the dialogue. Keller himself has a tendency to overthink things, and has a lively and speculative mind, and yes, a creative one. Getting to spend time inside his head as he solves his problems is much of the appeal. While that may not be the most morally uplifting situation for the reader, it’s a great deal of fun. His business manager/handler, Dot, is whimsical in her own way, and the conversations between the two are invariably good for chuckles and full-on laughter. The target/s in this story are sufficiently unpleasant as well — while they aren’t loathsome, the reader doesn’t see their potential departure as lessening the world’s beauty.
One can draw certain parallels between the Keller stories and Block’s well known Bernie Rhodenbarr series. Both series offer us charming, affable criminals who bring us along on their capers. Keller’s activities are more taboo than Rhodenbarr’s, and Keller is correspondingly more solemn, though not offputtingly so. Both have sidekicks (Keller’s Dot and Bernie’s Carolyn) who offer a lot of comic banter. And both are — for this reader, anyway, well worth the investment of time and money.
When I met Mr. Block only mumblety-mumble years ago, he told me he was beginning to think of himself as a retired writer. If this is retirement, may it continue apace.