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By Lawrence Block

Avon Twilight, PB, $6.99, 340 pp.

Reviewed by Anthony Neil Smith

Larry Block: the mystery field's jack of all trades. You've got Secret Agent Tanner, Burglar Bernie, Private Eye Scudder, and now, collected for the first time, the stories of Professional Assassin Keller. I think it's one of Block's best.

Keller works for a man in White Plains, New York. When he gets a call from the old man's secretary, he makes the trip to the house in order to pick up his assignment, and then he's off to off someone. Most of the stories here follow that pattern pretty much (occasionally, he begins in the middle of an assignment, or we find ourselves in Keller's everyday personal life), but the pattern is fine because of the variations in mood and pitch of each chapter. The plot of the "novel" then, if there really is one, is much more personal. Keller is having an existential crisis. He wonders if his work defines him, if he chose the job or the job chose him. Can he be happy as anything other than a killer? All these thoughts are going on inside (he even goes to therapy!) as he carries out hit after hit. Nothing personal, mind you.

But once this is set down, Block goes further. What if you're not sure you can trust your boss anymore? What if the perfect woman waltzes into your life? Do you tell her everything? Keller's relationships in the novel are fascinating and take the book a step above the reader's expectations.

Okay, maybe it's asking a lot to empathize with a professional assassin. Some readers might think the guy is on the wrong side of the law and morality and therefore doesn't deserve to be humanized. Fine. But I say get over it. This one's worth the trip into the dark corners of Keller's soul. A great book.

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