He is best known for two long-running New York–set series, 17 novels about the recovering alcoholic P.I. Matthew Scudder and 10 featuring gentleman burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr.
But that’s not all. He has also created other series characters, including 8 novels on Evan Michael Tanner, an adventurer and accidental revolutionary who, as a result of an injury sustained in the Korean War, cannot sleep.
There are five novels in the Chip Harrison series, Block’s salute to Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe. Harrison is a take on Wolfe’s assistant, Archie Goodwin, while his employer, Leo Haig, openly models himself after Wolfe himself, imitating most of his idiosyncracies, such as refusing to leave his residence on business and sending out his associate instead to do the “legwork.”
And then there’s Keller, originally a lonely, wistful hitman who appeared as a semi-regular feature in Playboy magazine in the 1990s. Block’s latest book, which comes out Feb. 12, is Hit Me, in which Keller has retired from his murder-for-hire business, and works rehabilitating houses in New Orleans with his wife and daughter. But old habits die hard, and when the economic downturn knocks out the construction business, a call from his old employment agent, Dot, sets him back on the path.
It’s a strange circumstance when the reader roots for a killer, but Keller is a fascinating counter-example of the genre. How many professional killers are serious stamp collectors as well? The fact that Block himself is a philatelist gives extra depth to the story, including intriguing historical tidbits about long-vanished countries.
Block has won nearly every award it’s possible for a mystery/crime novelist to garner, and was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America in 1994. We spoke with him by phone on Feb. 1.