cover image Hit Man

Hit Man

Lawrence Block. William Morrow & Company, $22 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-688-14179-0

Keller, the protagonist of this smoothly integrated story collection, is a gun for hire. Every so often a mystery man in White Plains, N.Y., calls him through an amiably efficient assistant, Dot, and arranges for him to go somewhere and, for a fee, kill someone. Block, author of the Matt Scudder and Bernie Rhodenbarr mysteries, describes Keller's labors with an absolute minimum of flash and gore. A quiet, thoughtful man, Keller is very good at his job, but it gives him a great deal of time for reflection. In the opening story, ""Answers to Soldier,"" Keller goes to a little town in Oregon in pursuit of a man who seems perfectly harmless and decent and gets to wondering what it might be like to settle there, perhaps marry the waitress in the little restaurant where he takes his solitary meals, buy a home. He meets and takes a fancy to other women along the way; at one stage acquires a dog (and an attractive dog-walker to care for the animal while he's away on his ""business"" trips); and eventually takes up stamp collecting as a hobby. On one occasion, he kills the wrong man and has to set things to rights; on another, client and victim are the same person; when Keller decides to go into analysis, it doesn't end well for the analyst. The stories are ingenious, constantly surprising and, because of the startling originality of the idea, oddly unsettling. All Block's narrative skills, and his matchless ease with off-center conversations, are on display, and the collection--which contains both previously published and unpublished stories--is a splendid way to get a Block fix while awaiting the next Rhodenbarr or Scudder. (Feb.)