After sitting on my Amazon wish list for months (maybe more than a year) Lawrence Block’s latest Keller novella “Keller’s Fedora” was once again available in paperback. Because I had some gift card money left over from my birthday and not finding any cycling or exercise stuff I could afford (or didn’t need to try on first) I decided to splurge and get the book. In case you had forgotten, Keller is the paid assassin who is also a stamp collector. In case you had also forgotten, this was the character who got me into stamp collecting in the first place. My girlfriend is grateful that I decided to take up Keller’s hobby and collect stamps rather than take up his career and kill people for a living. I don’t bother arguing with her about which one is more lucrative.
I like the Keller novels and I have read all of them a couple of times. As far as assassins go, I would have to say Barry Eisler’s John Rain character is more interesting, but Keller gets good marks for being rather unique and somewhat less than the perfect killing machine.
Most of the reviews on Amazon focused on the fact that the book was rather short and that the trope of Keller’s fedora was a bit ridiculous. I understand the validity of the first complaint, but not the second. Keller has always been an introspective character who thought about a lot of other things to keep from thinking about his job. Focusing on his choice of hats and whether it made sense or how people reacted to it fit in perfectly with a man who had to occupy his thoughts somewhere. I am not into hats, but the idea of Keller wondering about detectives like Sam Spade and Mike Hammer and their relationship with the fedora seemed like a decent enough idea for me.
The story is vintage Keller and I don’t see it as marking a different path than what came before. Keller the hitman has a lot more to contend with in the new age of computer tracking and internet surveillance, but at least he exists in the real world. The writing is crisp and the scenes develop rapidly. What more can you ask for? I would have liked some more stamp moments, but since the author has moved on from stamp collecting, it is likely that this will feature less and less in future Keller adventures. It won’t go away completely, but I doubt it will occupy much of the story. Kind of sad in a way.
As for the length of the novella, I think this isn’t a bad compromise. Keller adventures were originally short stories and they don’t really need to be 300 pages long. Additionally, with Amazon printing to order, this might be a good way for a lot of books to get made. If you have a digital subscription, wouldn’t you love to read short books by your favorite authors? I could read the whole thing on my commute to and from work. If it gets me more stories by these authors, why wouldn’t that be a good thing?
It cost me about 14 dollars and I think the price point is a bit high, but I am not the one making that decision. It would have been much cheaper to have the electronic version of the book, but I haven’t had much luck with my kobo lately. When the library finally opens for real visitors, hopefully someone there can show me how to borrow books for free.
I enjoyed the book and always like the adventures of Keller.