Hit Man, Lawrence Block.
Hit List, Lawrence Block.
Hit Parade, Lawrence Block.
Lawrence Block is one of the smoothest, most engaging writers I have ever read. And he has managed to create multiple series that feature characters who are so distinct and unusual that it boggles the mind that one man could have spawned them all. I’ve been a fan of Block’s Matthew Scudder series, about an ex-New York City cop turned reluctant and informal private eye, and his Bernie Rhodenbarr series, about a NYC bookseller whose main gig is being a burglar. Both of these series are excellent and markedly different from each other. Scudder is fairly noir and a bit grim, but with flashes of humor. Bernie is pure lighthearted comedy with an occasional touch of seriousness.
I have never read the Evan Tanner series, about a thief who because of a war injury cannot sleep. And until last month, I had never read the John Keller series, about a strangely likable professional killer. Now that’s changed, and I’m hooked on another Block series.
I’ve seen Block do a reading in person, and he was just as engaging and unassuming as you would expect from this writing. I don’t remember what questions were asked of him in the Q&A afterward, but I’m pretty sure no one asked him the question that is uppermost in my mind after reading the first three books in this series: How on earth do you conceive of a protagonist who is a professional hired killer, and how do you make him a character that the reader will happily root for? It’s mind-boggling, really, but that’s exactly what Block’s done.
The format of this series is a bit different. The books, especially the first (Hit Man), are essentially collections of short stories or novellas. That’s not to say that there is no character development or continuity from one story to the next, but they are pretty self-contained. In the later books, there is more of a single plot line running through the entire book but they still have some elements of the episodic nature of the first.
I have two more books to read in the Keller series, and I am delaying reading them for a while as I want to stretch out the experience. Once I’ve read Hit and Run and the newly released Hit Me, however, I have a feeling I’ll be turning toward the Tanner series to see if Block can go a perfect 4-for-4 in creating great series. I wouldn’t bet against him.