NB: A version of this post also appears on The Violent World of Parker blog.
Returning to the signed editions after a piece of signed Gavin Lyall paraphernalia, here's a book by a friend and contemporary – not to mention occasional collaborator – of Donald E. Westlake's, collecting – and reworking – a series of short stories starring a self-absorbed assassin...
This is the US first edition/first impression of Lawrence Block's 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 Cecil Court secondhand bookshop 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.
Next up, it's back to the signed ephemera, although in this case, unlike the Gavin Lyall letter mentioned above, the extraordinary piece of paraphernalia under discussion this time is stapled inside a book. Moreover, it hasn't been signed by the book's author, but by the book's publisher and, believe it or not, by a former prime minister...