Hit and Run (2008) by Lawrence Block is the fourth mystery in the John Keller “hit man” series published by William Morrow.
I seem to have an affinity for anti-heroes. Dexter Morgan (Jeff Lindsay): serial killer. Jack Taylor: self-destructive alcoholic (Ken Bruen) and now, John Keller: professional assassin (Lawrence Block).
Of course, there must be some humanity to these guys, right? Something that makes them sympathetic despite their actions being morally reprehensible.
John Keller is a professional hit man and he’s also a passionate stamp collector. He decides to do this one _last_ job in Des Moines before retiring with his millions. The assignment he is given by a client known only as “Call Me Al” has been delayed x amount of times and this sets off alarm bells for Keller; and sure enough, he finds himself set up and on the run when the governor of Ohio is killed during a campaign stop in Des Moines.
Coincidence? Keller doesn’t think so and thus he begins to map his way out of the state without the aided help of his long-time partner, Dot. Running low on funds, his partner MIA and his face plastered on CNN, Keller stays on the run. Much of the book follows him as he tries to figure out what has happened and what to do next while staying two steps ahead of the law.
He ends up in New Orleans thinking it to be a brief stop but finds himself risking exposure when he saves a woman from being raped. The woman he saves, Julia, recognizes Keller but she doesn’t turn him in. In fact she listens to his protestations of innocence and she decides to believe him and aides him in further circumventing the law.
The two hook up romantically after Keller tells her his story. You felt that this was the right time for him to settle down, change direction and Julia was the right woman for Keller and that was the best part of the book quite frankly. It was nice that Keller was seen as just a ‘regular guy’ and his image as a ‘killer” was replaced with a loving and gentle man. It’s like this book had two parts: Keller on the run and then Keller starting a new life which is what he does working with Julia’s brother in the post-Katrina reconstruction effort and settling down with his new love.
The last part of the book has Keller dealing with the people who set him up. We see Keller go from the loving man that Julia knows to the professional assassin that he is and he takes care of business,too. That part of the book was suspenseful and albeit a bit surprising. Keller often comes across as a bit unassuming and unpredictable. I guess that’s what makes him good at his job.
While reading this book, I had no idea what would happen next and so this book gets high marks for that alone. At times it seemed as if Keller’s internal monologue was repetitious and boring and uneventful and I’m sure most readers would interpret it that way. However, if you stick with it, the story is actually pretty good. Sure, I could have spent less time with Keller on the run but it was interesting to read his thought processes and seeing how he survives a nationwide manhunt.
The romantic relationship was a bonus and it was nicely written, too. Here is one my favorite scenes where Julia gifts Keller with one of his favorite subscriptions on collecting stamps. Keller’s stamp collection was stolen and he laments the loss of his childhood passion.
“There’s this shop, it’s not much more than a hole in the wall. Stamps and coins and political campaign buttons. And other hobby items, but mostly those three. Do you know the shop I’m talking about?”
“And I walked in and I didn’t want to buy you stamps, because I thought that probably wouldn’t have been a good idea-”
“You were right about that.”
“But I saw this paper, and didn’t you mention it once? I think you did.”
“I may have.”
“You used to read it, didn’t you?”
“I was a subscriber.”
“And I thought should I get it for him or not? Because I know your stamps are gone, and how much they meant to you, and this might only make you feel the loss more. But then I thought maybe you’d enjoy reading the articles, and who knows, you might even want to, I don’t know, start another collection, although that might be impossible after having lost everything. Then I thought, oh, for God’s sake, Julia, give the little man two dollars and fifty cents and go home. So I did.”
“So you did.”
“Now if it was a really terrible idea,” she said, “just put it back in the bag it came in and hand it to me, and I’ll guarentee you never have to look at it again, and we can both pretend this never happened.”
“You’re wonderful”, he said. “Have I ever told you that?
“You have, but we’ve always been upstairs. This is the first time you’ve told me on the ground floor.”
I haven’t read any of the previous Keller books but I wasn’t lost reading this book so it stands alone quite well. Of course, Keller’s platonic relationship with Dot was already established in here and they get along like an old married couple. I really enjoyed their back and forth and often witty conversations.
I guess when it comes down to it, each of them only had each other and trusted each other. Dot had his back and he hers. However, this last assignment destroyed their lives and in Keller’s case, it reinvented his completely. Was I emotionally invested in Keller’s outcome? Yes, absolutely. I wanted him safe and sound with his stamp collection after everything was over and done.
Keller is a complicated guy and after this last job went bust, life offers him a second chance to redeem himself. The story concluded on a upbeat note and also makes me wonder if this is the _last_ Keller book. I hope not. My grade for this book would be a solid B. There were times I could put the book down and forget it. I wouldn’t say that the plotting made this a compulsively readable book but it was entertaining and rewarding for those who stick with it. Anyway, I’m glad I read it and maybe I will go back and pick up earlier books in the series. My grade, B.