LB Score: Hit Man by Lawrence Block, signed first edition

NB: A version of this post also appears on Existential Ennui.

Over on Existential Ennui, I’ve been blogging on and off for a while now about some of the signed editions I’ve acquired over the past however many months. Few of the books I’ve showcased thus far have been a good fit for The Violent World of Parker blog, but this latest one definitely is, because it’s by a friend and contemporary—not to mention occasional collaborator—of Donald E. Westlake’s, Lawrence Block, collecting—and reworking—a series of short stories starring a self-absorbed assassin. It’s a U.S. first edition/first impression of Hit Man, published by William Morrow in 1998, with dust jacket art by Phil Heffernan (actually misspelt “Heffernen” on the jacket flap) and overall jacket design by Bradford Foltz, whose recognizably elegant designs have wrapped novels by the aforementioned Donald Westlake (Watch Your Back!, Mysterious Press, 2005) and Dennis Lehane (the Kenzie and Gennaro novels Darkness, Take My Hand, Sacred, Gone, Baby, Gone and Prayers for Rain), among others.

Hit Man is the first of four books—soon to be five; there’s a new one due next year—featuring John Keller, a hired killer in the throes of an extended existential crisis. The stories in this first collection—some of which originally appeared in Playboy—see Keller carrying out a variety of hits, most of which take him from his base of New York to nothing towns that he fantasizes about moving to and settling down in. Keller’s quest to find some purpose in his life also sees him enter therapy (to less-than-satisfactory ends), get a girlfriend (ditto), get a dog (ditto again), and, best of all, in the final story, “Keller in Retirement,” take up stamp collecting (as a book and comic collector, I was especially tickled by some of the collecting minutiae Block works in in that last one). The stories are wryly amusing and in places jarringly violent; you get that same sense of a tale being spun by a master storyteller as you do with Westlake (his capers in particular) or Elmore Leonard (another friend and contemporary of Block’s). I liked the book a lot, and will definitely be back for more.

Hit Man had been on my radar for a while as one to read, so when I saw this copy squirreled away in the basement of a secondhand bookshop in London’s famous Cecil Court a few months back, and furthermore noted this inside:

I snapped it up. On the way back to Lewes from London I tweeted in a smug fashion that I’d just found a signed Lawrence Block book. Quick as a flash, LB tweeted back with, “It’s the unsigned ones that are rare”. Given that there are getting on for 3,000 signed Lawrence Block titles currently listed on AbeBooks, I guess he has a point, but even so: I was chuffed to get hold of a signed first edition of Hit Man, and an American first at that.