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Book Author: Lawrence Block

HIT ME by Lawrence Block: Book Review

It can’t be easy to make a hired killer, an assassin, a sympathetic character to the reader.  But Lawrence Block has been doing it for more than twenty years.

Hit Me is a collection of several short stories following Keller, now known as Nicholas Edwards.  He and his wife Julia have relocated from New York to New Orleans with their toddler daughter Jenny, and Keller thought he was out of the killing business permanently.

In the first story he gets a call from Dot, the woman who gives Keller his assignments, asking about his interest in going to Dallas to eliminate a man.  Dot, like Keller, thought she had retired from the business, but when she reentered it she phoned Keller to find out if he too has had a change of heart.  It seems he has, as his formerly flourishing rehab business in the Crescent City has slowed considerably due to the economic downturn.  In addition, Keller has been planning on traveling to Dallas to attend a stamp collecting auction.  When Dot hears this she calls the coincidence “the hand of Providence.”  Well, I suppose that’s one way of looking at it.

Hit Me takes Keller all over, from New Orleans to Dallas to New York City to an ocean liner in the Caribbean to Denver to Cheyenne and finally Buffalo.  It seems that the business of killing people is as remunerative as always, especially for a man who knows his work.

Of course, Keller’s victims are always unpleasant people, although it may be a stretch to say that they all need to be killed.  But a man has to do what a man has to do, doesn’t he?

In the third story in the book, “Keller at Sea,” Keller’s wife Julia becomes an accomplice in her husband’s line of work.  She has obviously suspected something about what he does when he’s away from home, and now it has become clear to her.  But as she tells him, “I know what you do, and I don’t entirely know how I feel about it, but I don’t seem to mind.  I honestly don’t.”  Keller obviously picked the right woman to marry.  And help him she does.

Lawrence Block is an incredibly prolific author.  Although he has written only four previous novels featuring Keller, he is the author of eighteen Matt Scudder novels, ten Bernie Rhodenbarr mysteries, eight Evan Tanner books, four featuring Chip Harrison, plus stand-alone novels, short stories, books for writers, and a memoir.  And that’s not the complete list of his works.

I read in a recent article that Mr. Block is contemplating retiring from the writing profession.  Let’s hope he, like his protagonist Keller, has a change of heart.

Spending the day with a hit man may seem like a guilty pleasure, but a pleasure it is.  Lawrence Block’s writing grabs you and doesn’t let you go.  You certainly wouldn’t want to meet Keller on a professional basis, but in a book he’s fascinating.

You can find out more about him at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Reads blog at this web site.

A DROP OF THE HARD STUFF by Lawrence Block: Book Review

In 1994 Lawrence Block was named a Grand Master, the highest award given by the Mystery Writers of America. Agatha Christie was the first recipient, and others include John D. MacDonald, John LeCarre, Sue Grafton, Graham Greene, and this year’s recipient, Sara Paretsky.  Pretty good company to be keeping.

Block’s latest book is A Drop of the Hard Stuff, the seventeenth in the Scudder series.  It takes the reader back to the first year of Matt Scudder’s hard-won sobriety.

Scudder was a New York City policeman until a bullet he shot while chasing a suspect ricocheted off a wall and killed a little girl. Shortly after that, Scudder left his wife, two sons, and the police department.  He moved into a single room in a Manhattan hotel and tried to drink himself to death.

The first few books in the series take place during the time Scudder is drinking heavily and experiencing blackouts.  Eventually, after a number of tries, he pulls himself together and joins Alcoholics Anonymous and lives “one day at a time,” as they say in A.A.  At this point in time he has been sober for years.  A Drop of the Hard Stuff begins when Scudder and his friend Mick Ballou are talking over old times.

Scudder tells the story of his meeting up with a boyhood chum from The Bronx, Jack Ellery.  As Scudder sort of drifted into becoming a policeman, Ellery sort of drifted into becoming a criminal.  Ellery had been drinking for many years, and as he told Scudder, he never got into trouble when he was sober, only when he was drunk.  He’d been imprisoned several times but never did major time.

Now Ellery is out of jail, and he’s achieving sobriety through A.A.  One of the steps in the program is making amends, going to the people you hurt or injured when you were an alcoholic and asking them how you can make it right. Ellery is jumping ahead to the Eighth Step before he’s done all the previous steps, trying to make amends, and he has a list of all the people he’s wronged.  But the responses from those people aren’t what he’d hoped, and one of them wants him dead.

Block is an incredible writer.  I was caught from page one.  He has a way with dialogue that makes the reader think she’s/he’s part of the conversation in the book.  And some of his sentences simply jump out of the page at you.  Scudder, in remembering a new suit he’d bought years ago when he was still married:  “I’d bought the suit to impress…my wife had admired that suit, and so had my girlfriend.”

The Matt Scudder series needs to be begun, if not from the first novel, at least as close to the beginning as possible.  Otherwise the struggles Scudder has with alcohol can’t come across in a meaningful way, and his victory over drink won’t be as important to you as it should be.  You’ll find yourself rooting for him to overcome his dependence on alcohol, angry when he slips, and cheering him on when he succeeds.  But you know that every day is a struggle for him, and seeing it from the beginning heightens its impact.

Lawrence Block has written several other series as well as stand-alone novels, books for writers, and a memoir.  He’s a truly gifted author in every genre, but I like his Matthew Scudder books the best.

You can read more about Lawrence Block at his web site.