It's a traveler's feast this month, as three new mystery novels zoom us from L.A. to Venice, from New York to Edinburgh, with assorted side trips to Louisville, Boston and Lake Forest, Illinois. The three central characters in these mysteries are as different as chalk and cheese: a tongue-in-cheek lawyer, a new age introspective hit man and a Scottish cop with a passion for old rock 'n roll.
In Lawrence Block's latest novel, Hit List (audio we travel with anti-hero John Keller to his jobsites across the country. Keller is, on the surface, an average Joe. He's an avid stamp collector, an art buff, a decent guy. On the other hand, he is the last person in the world you'd want to meet on business; for many folks, Keller is the last person in the world they ever do meet, for Keller is a hired killer. On a good day, Keller boards a plane for a distant city, rents a car, locates and dispatches his target, stops off at a local philately shop on the way back to the airport and arrives home in New York in time for Leno. Keller hasn't been having many good days lately. His targets have been dying before he has time to get them in his sights. Keller is no dummy, and he doesn't believe in coincidences; he realizes quickly that the hunter has become the prey. Block blends the grittiness and black humor of his earlier mysteries to give the Keller novels a familiar, yet distinctively piquant, flavor.
Stone Barrington, Stuart Woods' lawyer protagonist in L.A. Dead (audio), is a throwback to the days when private eyes bedded buxom babes, drove Caddy convertibles down the Sunset Strip at sunset and palled around with Mafiosos at Hollywood watering holes. But even the macho must fall, and Stone has fallen hard for Dolce Bianchi. Their wedding promises to be the highlight of the society season. Before the ceremony can take place, though, Stone receives some shocking news. His friend, movie star Vance Calder, has been killed. Calder's wife, who also happens to be the major love of Stone's pre-Dolce life, appears to be the primary suspect. Stone postpones the wedding to fly to Los Angeles to help his former flame in whatever way he can. Naturally, this does not set well with Ms. Bianchi, who brings her considerable powers of persuasion to bear on the situation. When the bullets start flying, Stone has to reconsider his allegiances, forge new alliances and decide which of the lovely ladies he will share his life with (however short it may be). L.A. Deadoffers slick, sexy, fast-paced intrigue, excellent dialogue and clever plotting; a must for Woods fans, and readers of Carl Hiassen, Robert Crais and Richard Prather as well.
Copyright 2000 BookPage Reviews
Kirkus Reviews 2000 July #2
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.Although Keller is a solid citizen who collects stamps, shows up for jury duty, and carries out every hit with consummate professionalism--even if his employer is tactless enough to identify the subject by showing Keller a Christmas card photograph of his family--things don't seem to be going right for him. Narrowly escaping death while he's on the job in Louisville, he returns to New York to accept a contract that feels like an interpolated short story. Continuing on his methodically death-dealing rounds in Tampa, in Boston, in the Chicago suburbs, he takes time out only for casual sex with jewelry-maker Maggie Griscomb and a reading from astrologer Louise Carpenter that reduces him to tears. But little things that go wrong with almost every job make it increasingly clear that he's attracted the attention of a rival hit man who doesn't think the country is big enough for both of them. Don't expect the high intensity produced in the Keller stories by their central irony, the contrast between the hero's lethal profession and his organization-man lifestyle and opinions. Instead, listen for the equally ironic but maddeningly meandering conversations between Keller and Dot, his prim scheduler in White Plains.These conversations, which seem such blather, are blather whose interplay of banality and olympian judgment, as in James M. Cain and Quentin Tarantino, forms the real heart of this modern samurai fable.(Author tour) Copyright 2000 Kirkus Reviews
Library Journal Reviews 2000 August #1
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.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2000 September #1
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. 9-city author tour. (Nov.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.