Synopses & Reviews
Edgar award-winning author of the popular historical novels A Conspiracy of Paper
and A Spectacle of Corruption
, David Liss showcases his amazing versatility with this brilliant new tale of contemporary suspense: a literary thriller set in Florida, where killing is a matter of conscience.
No one is more surprised than Lem Altick when it turns out he's actually good at peddling encyclopedias door to door. He hates the predatory world of sales, but he needs the money to pay for college. Then things go horribly wrong. In a sweltering trailer in rural Florida, a couple whom Lem has spent hours pitching is shot dead before his eyes, and the unassuming young man is suddenly pulled into the dark world of conspiracy and murder. Not just murder: assassination or so claims the killer, the mysterious and strangely charismatic Melford Kean, who has struck without remorse and with remarkable good cheer. But the self-styled ethical assassin hadn't planned on a witness, and so he makes Lem a deal: Stay quiet and there will be no problems. Go to the police and take the fall.
Before Lem can decide, he is drawn against his will into the realm of the assassin, a post-Marxist intellectual with whom he forms an unlikely (and perhaps unwise) friendship. The ethical assassin could be a charming sociopath, eco-activist, or vigilante for social justice. To unravel the mystery and save himself, Lem must descend deep into a bizarre world he never knew existed, where a group of desperate and genuinely deranged schemers have hatched a plan that will very likely keep Lem from leaving town alive.
David Liss skillfully interweaves a gallery of eccentric characters with a multilayered plot characterized by its unpredictable twists and turns. The Ethical Assassin is a brilliant, darkly comic novel that will leave readers in suspense until the very last page.
"Liss (A Conspiracy of Paper) recycles familiar conventions drug dealers, missing money, an innocent hero mixed up with bad guys but salvages his novel from banality with a few quirky touches. In sticky south Florida of August 1985, Lem Altick, a 17-year-old door-to-door encyclopedia salesman, witnesses the murder of two potential customers in a mobile home. Fearing he'll be fingered for the crime or worse, that he's next Lem establishes a wary relationship with the likable killer, Melford Kean, who is either a violent psychopath or an animal rights vigilante fighting agribusiness. Lem must also watch out for Jim Doe, the corrupt, redneck police chief who saw Lem at the trailer on the night of the crimes. Lem's paranoia heightens when he learns of Doe's connection to his employers at the encyclopedia sales company, which turns out to be a front. While Lem repeatedly skitters away from danger as he gathers clues that reveal a web of corruption, he finds time to fall for fellow bookseller Chitra and to undergo a political awakening under Melford's tutelage. Liss provides enough entertainment to keep the pages turning, but this hybrid of a thriller and a coming-of-age story doesn't quite succeed as either." (Mar.) Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[A] murderously funny thriller....Imagine David Lynch's bizarre masterpiece Blue Velvet scripted by Edna Buchanan and Carl Hiaasen. It's a blast." Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"The jump from financial chicanery in seventeenth-century London to redneck craziness, South Florida style, seems daunting, but Liss sails across the abyss unscathed." Booklist
"Readers will enjoy this wild and highly entertaining ride." Library Journal
"Liss' inventiveness at delivering a totally bizarre and completely believable plot continues to win over the reader....The Ethical Assassin eschews predictability with its edgy, intriguing story." South Florida Sun-Sentinel
"[O]utstanding....The Ethical Assassin is as rewarding and thought provoking as his three previous novels, two set in 18th century London, one in 17th century Amsterdam." Miami Herald
"Liss will have to back up and try again if he wants to join the top ranks as a contemporary fiction writer....Liss is enormously gifted, enough that he should return to contemporary fiction at some point. Next time, though, some subtlety might work better." San Antonio Express-News
"Gripping entertainment from the opening pages a terrific read with the page-turning energy of a first-rate thriller, but also far more than that. David Liss has written a genre-bender with more than its share of white-knuckle suspense, vivid characters, and surprising humor." Joseph Finder, author of Company Man
"Hypnotic and addictive storytelling." Lee Child, author of One Shot
"Hilarious, poignant, and laced with paranoia, The Ethical Assassin reads like a Hardy Boys mystery on acid. David Liss pulls out all the stops in this Homeric coming-of-age tale. A vibrant and sweaty page-turner, this book explodes with fresh, memorable characters and a soundtrack I'd like to own." Mark Haskell Smith, author of Moist and Delicious
"All this is great fun, and if Liss is trespassing on Carl Hiaasen's turf, well, who cares? It's a big state. What's more troubling is the heavy-handed moralizing that Liss dishes out in this otherwise comic thriller....Liss is a vegan, and I'm deeply sympathetic to his cause, but while reading The Ethical Assassin
, I was struck by what a shaky soapbox a novel makes." Ron Charles, The Washington Post Book World
( read the entire Washington Post Book World review
From the Edgar Award-winning author of A Conspiracy of Paper comes an engaging and brilliantly constructed thriller set in and around a steamy Florida trailer park during the mid-1980s. In this darkly comic novel, David Liss skillfully interweaves a gallery of eccentric characters with a multilayered plot characterized by its unpredictable twists and turns, leaving readers in suspense until the very last page.
About the Author
David Liss is the author of A Spectacle of Corruption, The Coffee Trader, and A Conspiracy of Paper, winner of the 2000 Edgar Award for Best First Novel. He lives in San Antonio with his wife and daughter, and can be reached via his website at www.davidliss.com.