One of my go-to websites is Do The Math, the pianist Ethan Iverson’s blog. Not only is it essential reading for jazz musicians, especially pianists, but Iverson’s a prolific reader and, like myself, happy to share his thoughts. I’ve read a few of his recommendations over the years, including Ready Player One, so I read a recent post of his, celebrating the author Lawrence Block’s 80th birthday, with interest.
Block is a crime writer who’s written as many lead characters as he has nom de plumes. The character that caught my eye in Iverson’s blog was that of Keller, a hit man. The first in Block’s Keller series is unimaginatively, or is it imaginatively (as I can’t think of any other books with the title!), titled Hit Man (1998), (320 pages).
Hit Man is a collection of ten short stories, each of which stands by itself, but are sequential and related. So if you’re not a fan of short stories, don’t fear as this might as well be deemed a novel. Keller’s a New York-based hit man who drops everything at a phone call to travel wherever it is he has to ply his trade. But what does a fictional hit man do when not doing hits or in fact when he’s on the job? How do you explain your random travels to your neighbours or your dog walker? What do you say to your analyst? What if, in the process of staking your intended victim, you get to like them? What if you shoot the wrong person or have two jobs where the two clients are each other’s victim? Hit Man’s the place to the find the answer, or, an answer!
It’s a well written book with a normal, well adjusted human at its centre. Only this human is a hit man. Keller is portrayed as a normal guy who just happens to kill people for a living. He’s not portrayed as a sociopath and I guess some might have an issue with this, i.e. the normalisation of killing. Perhaps one of the reasons why we don’t see Keller as a cold-blooded killer is that we’re not really exposed to detailed, gruesome descriptions of the murders. And, for me, I guess this is the point. If you wanted to read that then you could read American Psycho or countless other books. If you want to read a book about the day-to-day life of a hit man then Hit Man’s your book. There are four other books in the series and I suspect I’ll be reading the second before too long.