It takes a hell of a writer to create empathy, never mind, sympathy for a contract killer, particularly one who kills with the regularity and the utter of lack of conscience of Keller, the man who who puts the "hit" in Lawrence Block's Hit and Run.
But as he has proved over an extraordinary career encompassing more than five decades and fifty books, Block is one of the great craftsmen of his trade: versatile, imaginative and constantly engaging.
In Block's large stable of off-the-beaten-track characters, including a gentleman cat burglar and an adventurer who never sleeps - Keller is perhaps the most unusual. He regards his job as just that: a job to be done. Although he knows that what he does is wrong, and certainly illegal, there is no moral dilemma. He is given the target and he fulfills his contractual obligation as quickly and efifciently as possible. And afterwards he will worry about whích stamps he will buy for his burgeoning collection with the fee he has earned, sparing scarcely a thought for the victim or the victim's family.
Keller takes a bit of getting used to. The first book Hit Man - really an aggregation of short stories - and its follow-up Hit List, were interesting enough to read but somewhat bemusing. A likable hitman; murder as a mundane 9-to-5 career. What was this? It all started to make a little more sense with the third in the series, Hit Parade, published in 2006, when Block put a little flesh on Keller's bones and a far more rounded and interesting character emerged.
Hit and Run takes that process many steps further. It's a difficult book to write about without giving away any spoilers, so I'll keep the plot summary brief. Keller is sent to Des Moines, Iowa on a job, but quickly realises he is there to play the role of fall guy for another job but can do nothing to prevent himself becoming the target of a nationwide man hunt that sees him running from his past into an uncertain future.
The trick to making the book work is getting the reader on Keller's side, and Block achieves this with the trademark snappy dialogue of this series and, bizarrely, by trading on Keller's own vulnerability, loneliness and even charm.
It's another wodnerful book from Block: entertaining and compelling. And, yes, a little weird, but that's aprt of its charm.