"Hit Me" (Mulholland Books), by Lawrence Block
When we last left Keller, Lawrence Block's killer-for-hire anti-hero, he was on the run after being framed for a political assassination in the 2008 thriller, "Hit and Run."
Now, five years later, we find living him living in New Orleans with a new identity, Nicholas Edwards. He's got a charming new wife named Julia, who knows about his past, and daughter Jenny makes three. Instead of poisoning, strangling, or shooting people, he's making a living rehabbing and flipping houses.
But the economy being what it is, there's not much of a market for houses these days, so Keller is spending a lot of time hanging out with the family and working on his stamp collection. So when his old murder broker, Dot, gets in touch about a job, he's ready to get back into the game.
What Keller likes about the work is the meticulous planning that goes into each hit, so in the early chapters, that is what Block dwells on. The kills themselves are anticlimactic, each carried out with swift efficiency and without remorse.
But as Block gets deeper into the story, the planning, too, takes a back seat to the killer's obsession with his hobby. Keller spends most of his time and energy attending stamp shows, bidding at stamp auctions and negotiating the sale of a seductive widow's extensive collection. In the last third of the book, his profession seems almost an afterthought.
In the hands of a lesser writer, the philately passages would be insufferable, but Block makes them interesting in their own right as well a window into the soul of a hit man who can dispatch innocent bystanders without remorse but won't cheat on his wife and insists on being scrupulously honest in the buying and selling of collectible stamps.
Bruce DeSilva, winner of the Mystery Writers of America's Edgar Award, is the author of "Cliff Walk" and "Rogue Island."