He lifted a chocolate-brown fedora from its shelf and presented it to Keller, who placed it on his head. The salesman took hold of the brim, tilted it this way and that way, and stepped back, beaming. “Seven and three-eighths,” he announced. “You could get away with seven and a quarter or seven and a half, but why make do when it’s as easy to have a hat that fits you perfectly? Have a look.”
Keller checked his reflection in the mirror, and there he was, same old Keller, except that he was wearing a hat. “The classic fedora,” the salesman said. “A true classic with a noble pedigree. The name comes from the title of a play that Victorien Sardou wrote for Sarah Bernhardt in 1882. The divine Sarah played the Princess Fedora and wore a hat quite like yours. And while I don’t doubt she looked spectacular in it, I’d say you’d give her a run for her money. Not everyone can wear a fedora, you know.”
“It takes a certain je ne sais quoi,” the man said. “A soupçon of joie de vivre. One must be at ease in a fedora, as you are so clearly at ease in yours.” Oh, brother, Keller thought.
commentary: Oh brother indeed. Keller Keller Keller what a problem you are. Lawrence Block’s finest creation is a thoughtful, interesting man with a wide range of interests and knowledge: he is funny and kind, and you feel he would be excellent company. The trouble is his job: he is a contract killer. He kills for money, nothing personal about it, and Block is a dangerous man because he almost makes you think that is acceptable…
“It’s not as though I enjoy killing. As soon as it’s done, I do everything I can to put it out of my mind.”There’ve been a lot of Keller short stories, and a couple of novels: I did a post on Hitman here. This is the most recent work, a long short story or short novella. Keller, now a family man, goes to Illinois to chase down an unfaithful wife and her lover. (He travels on The Train They Call the City of New Orleans, which had me hearing that song in my head all day). He does his job, but then (like a Hydra) the jobs multiply as a result of his actions. As ever, we see everything through Keller’s eyes, and are privy to his thoughts. It is clever and witty and well-plotted, though one of the final deaths was underplayed in my view. And it is a very strange feeling of discomfort the tales give, as you worry about the morals and philosophy of a serial killer…
“Erasing the memory.”
“As well as I can. But—”
“You want to do it,” she said, “because it’s who you are.”
“A man who kills people.”
I was interested to find that white vans, and white van men, had the same connotations in Illinois as they have in the UK. And the wife in the case was called Melania: imagine that.
Fedoras are always of interest round here, and not just because of my friend Sergio, who blogged as Tipping My Fedora (although the blog is quiet now, there’s plenty of archived posts to read…). A while back I investigated the origins of hat and name, as briefly outlined above: my post – triggered by a Helen McCloy book – gives more details.
I was tipped off to Keller’s Fedora by my friend Col at Col’s Criminal Library.
The intriguing noir novel The Red Right Hand by Joel Townley Rogers features another important hat, this time a Stetson, but it is the same size as Keller’s fedora, seven and three-eighths.