Konrath, J. A. (ed). These Guns for Hire: 31 Stories About Hitmen.

Madison, WI: Bleak House Books, 2006.

Noir crime fiction has made a comeback in recent years, including a flood of stories featuring assassins and killers-for-hire. Hitmen are interesting subjects for fiction because, if they’re successful at what they do, they’re cool, professional, and in control.

Probably they’re amoral — or, at least, not troubled psychologically by what they see as simply their jobs. One of the best-known of this recent crop of killers is Lawrence Block’s Keller, and he’s represented here in “Keller’s Designated Hitter,” one of the four stories that wasn’t written specifically for this fat anthology. Other popular authors who contributed include Victor Gischler, Max Allan Collins, Ed Gorman, and David Morell. All the others are new to me, and several among them are worth checking out in future. I can’t summarize this many stories, except to say that they run the gamut from thoughtful and philosophical to tongue-in-cheek to “gotcha” stories with trick endings. The average quality of the writing is a little above average, which is fair enough, and since they run around fifteen pages each, you can easily dip in as the mood takes you. There are a few which stray rather too far from the rubric; a killing carried out in a panic because of circumstances and without forethought isn’t a “hit.” Neither is a terrorist with a bomb-vest a “hitman,” since it’ll be a very short career and he probably wasn’t paid. But most of the stories hew closely to what one expects from a collection with this title and the variety of approaches is enlightening.

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