August 30, 16.20pm
The fact that the central character in Lawrence Block's latest is a remorseless hired gun who kills with ruthless efficiency and a (mostly) clear conscience means that a lot of readers aren't going to like Hit Parade too much.
Keller, making his third appearance following his debut in 1998 in Hit Man, is not somebody you'd want to meet down a dark alley - well, not if you were his latest job anyway - and the business of trying to empathise with this man who criss-crosses the US with murder in mind is a little difficult to get into at first.
Keller doesn't agonise over the morality of his work - as I first expected he would - merely over whether it offers good long-term prospects for such a career are promising. (In Hit Parade he is most often pre-occupied by the fact that in a post 9/11 world, flying cross country to his jobs has become difficult, thus necessitating lengthy car journeys).
And once you get used to these ideas, the Hit series is strangely entertaining, laugh out loud funny in parts, and Keller, if not an appealing character becomes a fascinating study in normalcy. (Much like many of my acquaintances, he worries about his finances and his commute - rather than the fact that he has just strangled an aging golf enthusiast or "helped" a baseball player choke on his own vomit).
The Keller series started out as a series of short stories - Hit Man was presented very much in that fashion - and that spirit lives through into Hit Parade, which has no particular narrative running through it from start to finish but merely follows Keller from job to job. What little continuity there is, comes from occasional diversions - usually in the form of conversations between Keller and his sarcastic agent Dot - about whether Keller should pack in the killing/get another dog/buy more precious stamps.
Hit Parade is an easy and extremely entertaining read - with the wit and air of jollity of the Burglar series rather than the pathos of the Matthew Scudder books that one might expect - and the reason for that is simple: Block is an outstanding writer who has a great facility with words. On his own site Block mentions a friends, Donald Westlake, a long friend and writer of whom he says: "the man has never written a bad sentence."
I haven't read all Block's stuff, but I've read a lot and in my experience the same compliment could be applied to his own work.
Hit Parade is easygoing, enjoyable and disarmingly funny. As long as you can leave your ethical hang-ups at the front page, you ought to like it.