What do I do, just talk? And you’ll write down what I say? All right, just give me a minute to gather my thoughts.
Well, hello. I’d like to begin by wishing a happy birthday to Abraham Lincoln, and a successful publication day to my son, Lawrence Block.
That’s okay? You don’t mind playing second fiddle to our 16th president?
I’d say it’s a pretty good birthday for Mr. Lincoln, with the movie doing so well, so I’ll keep the focus on my son’s book. The title, as you probably know, is Hit Me, and it’s his fifth book about Keller, who is one of my favorite characters.
So you’ll forgive me if I kvell a little.
You’ll also forgive me if I don’t endow this blog post with the inflection of a stereotypical Jewish Mother. While I may be both those things, that’s not all I am. I was Phi Beta Kappa at Cornell, I was a capable pianist and a skilled amateur painter. After Larry’s father died I took a course and became a librarian, and my weekly Story Hour was a hit. So excuse me if I don’t sound like some old bat out of a Sholem Aleichim story. That was never my style.
As I was saying, I’m very fond of Keller. When my son sent me the manuscript of the second book, Hit List, I called to tell him my reaction. “I kept worrying that something bad was going to happen to Keller,” I said. “That he was going to get killed. And I thought, Why should I care? He’s a murderer himself, that’s what he does for a living. But I like him.”
I gather a lot of people react that way. They care for Keller even though they think they shouldn’t. A Guilty Pleasure, you might say, but isn’t that the best kind?
Hit List was the last Keller book Larry sent me. The last book of his I read was a Scudder novel, Hope to Die. I read it in manuscript, and a little while after that I took my last breath, sixteen days after the World Trade Center towers came down, and a week after my 89th birthday. Then a month or two later Hope to Die landed briefly on the New York Times bestseller list, the first time that happened for one of his books.
So I didn’t get to read Hit Parade or Hit & Run, not in the sense of sitting in a chair and turning the pages. And in that sense I haven’t read Hit Me, either, so rather than tell you what I thought of it, I’ll do my kvelling by quoting a couple of reviews:
You probably already know what Marilyn Stasio wrote two days ago in the New York Times Book Review, but here’s a taste of it: “Aside from their ingenious methodology, what makes these amuse-bouches so delectable are the moral dilemmas Block throws up to deflect his philosophical antihero from a given task. Any assassin might hesitate to murder a child, but only Keller would ponder the ethics of killing someone whose premature death would rob a prostitute of payment for her professional services.”
According to James Reasoner, “Nobody writes a better sentence than Lawrence Block. There’s also a lot of stuff about stamp collecting, and even though I have zero interest in that subject, Block makes it fascinating anyway. The addition of Keller’s wife Julia, who knows what he really does for a living, has made him a deeper and more sympathetic character, which if anything makes the contrast between his home life and his professional life even more interesting. You can’t help but like Keller, even when you know maybe you shouldn’t. This is a fine book and I really enjoyed it….Highly recommended.”
The Seattle Times says, “Don’t fret that Keller’s former trade means this book is overly violent — he’s a reflective soul and a dedicated family man whose second-greatest passion is his stamp collection. Plus, Keller’s knack for erasing people never interferes with his weakness for wordplay and quirky tangents. (Block, like his creation, has never met a pun he doesn’t like.)”
This is from a starred review in Library Journal: “Verdict: In the fifth entry in the Keller series, the appealing antihero with his own moral code continues to dig into the motives of his distant employers and make his own decisions about who deserves to die. But stamp collecting is more than just a secondary theme here, and Block’s discourses about the history behind stamps are vivid enough to pique the interest even of those not at all inclined toward the hobby. Master mystery writer Block is at the top of his form here.”
Larry collected stamps when he was a boy. My brother Jerry showed him his own boyhood collection and that got him interested. And my aunt Nettie, secretary to the president of Trico Corporation, saved him the stamps from all the company’s international mail. So that’s where the stamps come from. I don’t know about the killing…
Another starred review, this from Booklist: “It’s easy to imagine Block grinning as he reinvents his always fascinating character…Hit Me is a delightful change of pace.”
And Publishers Weekly hung a star on their review, too, and wrapped it up like this: “At times casually ruthless in snuffing out targets, Keller is also honest and ethical in his business dealings. A final assignment involving a child suggests that Keller may even play an unfamiliar white knight role, hopefully in the near future.”
My Son the Writer. Nu, what are you waiting for? So buy his book!
There, a little touch of the Jewish Mother at the end, because they expect it. That’s okay, isn’t it?