Hit and Run
by Lawrence Block
Review by Don Metzler
Harper Mass Market Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780060840914
Date: 01 July 2009 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
J.P. Keller stared at the television screen, stared at the picture of himself, big as life, on CNN. The sound was on, and somebody was saying something, but he couldnít take it in; it was all he could do to look at his own unfortunate face and the caption under it.Itís not that there wasnít a kernel of truth in that statement. Keller indeed was a killer. By profession, he is a hired assassin of the highest order -- an extremely efficient and well-paid hit man. The trouble was that the killing that was being credited to him by CNN, the murder of the high profile governor of Ohio, was not Kellerís handiwork. Well, that was part of the trouble. The main problem lay in the fact that Kellerís photograph had been broadcast on national television, for all the world to see. Suddenly, he is no longer the anonymous face-in-the-crowd, which has been his biggest advantage in overcoming the inherent dangers of his chosen profession.
It doesnít take a rocket scientist to figure out that Keller has been set up. In a Des Moines, Iowa motel room, waiting day by day for the go-ahead on a contract killing (a job that was to have been Kellerís last before taking an early and well-deserved retirement) it now becomes obvious that he was lured here for a completely different reason. He was to be the fall guy, the patsy, for a well planned political assassination. And, now that his face has been broadcast all across the nation, where can he hide?
Keller drives to the airport and swaps the license plates of his rental car for those on an identical vehicle that he finds in the long term parking lot. Hopefully, it will be days before the substitution is detected. Then he hits the road for New York, although he is unsure what he expects to find there. His apartment will undoubtedly be under police surveillance, and Dot, his best friend and business go-between has, according to news reports, been murdered in her White Plains home.
Thus begins an odyssey that will take Keller all across the Midwest, mostly by various back roads, and eventually land him in New Orleans.
Hit and Run is yet another hit for Lawrence Block, one in a long and impressive string of hits. The action is fast and furious, the prose is crisp and colorful, and Blockís wry sense of humor serves as a magnet to draw the reader in. The characters, as always, are fun, funny and lovable. In fact, the great allure of Blockís writing lies in his ability to make the reader identify with a character who should be, in any sane world, completely repugnant to us. J.P. Keller is a murderer, a hit man for hire, who over the years has coldly dispatched dozens of people against whom he held no personal grudge. They were simply a job to be done. Yet somehow, through the magic of Blockís writing, we the readers find ourselves sympathizing, even empathizing with this man. We identify with Keller, and we root for him to find a way out of his predicament. When Keller guns down an elderly gas station owner who is about to blow his cover, we are convinced that the killing is justified.
And this has consistently been one of Lawrence Blockís great talents. In the Bernie Rhodenbarr series, we found ourselves rooting for another career criminal, a bookseller who happens to also be a part-time burglar. Now in the Keller series, a professional hit man becomes our hero.
Bernie the Burglar and Keller the Killer? Coincidence?
Hit and Run is a great read.