After a full-length novel starring John P. Keller (Hit and Run, 2008), Block retreats to the form he prefers for his peripatetic hit man’s outings (Hit Parade, 2006, etc.): a cycle of loosely linked stories.
Times are tough for Keller. The squeeze in the real estate market has hurt the rehab construction business he and his partner, Donny Wallings, run in New Orleans, and there’s his family to think of: his wife, Julia, who knows about his past even though he married her as Nicholas Edwards, and their daughter, Jenny, who’s too young to know a thing about Daddy. So, when a phone call from his old scheduler, Dot Harbison, offers him a job in Dallas just as he’s wondering how much he can afford to bid on a rare postage stamp he’s got his eye on in the same city, he accepts with scarcely a ripple, and he’s back in business again. Like the four commissions that follow, this one, the best of the five, seems simple but is rife with unexpected complications. Once he’s hit his stride, and the target, Keller is ready to take out a Catholic abbot who got caught selling black-market kidneys, a wealthy informant headed for the Witness Protection Program, and in the longest and most intricate of these tales, a Denver stamp collector whose house burns to the ground with him inside before Keller can make his move. But can he break his own moral code and kill a likable 14-year-old philatelist whose scheming relatives have their eyes on his trust fund? “Keller’s Obligation,” the one serious letdown here, ends as it must but not in a way that’s going to please the hit man’s legion of fans.
As usual, the most perceptive insights here depend on the interplay between what’s said—endless discussions of early postal variations—and what’s pointedly left unsaid time after time.