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The Ethical Assassin: A Novel by David Liss
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The Ethical Assassin: A Novel

by David Liss

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Lem Altick needs to make $30,000 so he can go to Columbia University and escape from 1980s small town Florida forever. He gets a job selling encyclopedias door-to-door, and turns out to be pretty good at it. And then just as he's closing a sale to a strange couple living in a trailer, the ethical assassin bursts in and, yes, assassinates them. Lem is now on a tortuous quest to not get arrested, not get killed and get out of town. But first he has to make his way through more murders, crooked cops, rednecks, drug dealers, hog farms, a love interest, and animal rights activists.

Some reviewers didn't like this book because they found it had a preachy animal rights agenda, and I agree that that was heavy-handed. However, it's really only in two sections, and they are quite close to the end of the story. This book isn't perfect or without faults. Overall, however, I thought it was a lot of fun, and for the most part, well written. I will definitely look for more books by David Liss in the future.

Recommended for: readers who want to be entertained. One word of caution--there is a slew of extremely slimy and disreputable characters in this story, and as slimy and disreputable people are known to do--they swear and say some shockingly horrible things. This is completely realistic, but I realize that some people just don't want to have those words and images in their heads--no matter how true to life they are. Definitely rated R for bad language. ( )
1 vote Nickelini | May 21, 2013 |
this book wasn't terrible, but it felt like the plot was just a vehicle to support a weighty moral about modern evils and animal rights. I'm sympathetic to the cause but even so, it felt like being lectured by a self-righteous teenager. I think there's an entertaining detective story in there somewhere, so it's not a total loss but I can't really recommend the book. ( )
  elizajanecurtis | Aug 27, 2012 |
Set in the 1980's, Lem Altick has just graduated high school and desires nothing more than to escape the cultural vaccum that is Florida by going to college at Columbia. That Lem is actually a nice guy is pretty surprising given the hand that life has dealt him so far: a deadbeat dad who stopped calling ages ago, a mother so zoned out on pills that she naps all day and only awakens to prepare meals and clean house, and a verbally abusive step-father who has reneged on his promise to help pay for Lem to attend an Ivy league college. Desperate to make money quickly so he can pay his tuition, Lem becomes a door-to-door encyclopedia salesman. If he can just get through this summer, then he might be able to escape his life. But life isn't finished screwing with him yet, not by a longshot.

Lem's carefully constructed plan for his future begins to fall apart when an assassin walks into the trailer where Lem is about to close his last encyclopedia sale for the day. Lem watches in horror as the trailer's occupants, Karen and the aptly nicknamed Bastard, are shot in the head. Now a witness to a murder for which he may be blamed, Lem finds himself mixed up in a tangled criminal web that includes an on-the-wagon pedophile, a rapist town cop, a bikini-clad Siamese twin, and an assassin who is, of all things, ethical and the only person Lem can trust. As Lem and the assassin navigate this world of drugs and animal cruelty, Lem learns more about who he is and what he's capable of than most people learn in a lifetime.

This is messed up stuff and Liss is definitely treading on ground traditionally covered by Carl Hiaasen or Elmore Leonard, so it's no surprise that I enjoyed it. There's a dark comic streak throughout the novel and several witty one-liners (and not so witty; I readily admit that my favorite line may have been "It smelled like the shit that shit shits out its asshole"--sophistication is never an adjective to which I've laid claim). In the beginning of the novel, it's a bit confusing as it changes from Lem's 1st person point of view and moves to a 3rd person examination of some of the other key players, but if you just let yourself give into it, Liss is giving background about characters that will be prominent later. He wraps everything up and doesn't leave a loaded gun in the corner unless someone's going to blow someone else's ass off with it. And that's really all I expect from an author. ( )
3 vote snat | Jul 31, 2010 |
Other than periodic (I think there were 4 in the book) tangent rants about a) how poorly we treat animals (a la Michael Pollan) and b) the U.S. prison system as a failed system, this was a decently paced book with some very funny one-liners. Oh, the ending had another little pro-animal rant thing that I just skipped 'cause at that point I wanted to know what happened.

It's very crass and rude and addresses revolting topics without becoming preachy on these topics (other than as noted above). I.e. there is coverage of rape, pedophilia, murder for hire, crank addiction, and bullying - all without the 'MORAL' being spelled out at the end.

Very nicely done. Though I would really have preferred a bit less pro-animal preaching - particularly at the end - because it interrupted the story's pace. ( )
1 vote crazybatcow | Jun 12, 2010 |
Long car rides.. one of my favorite things in the whole world. an extravagant excuse to burn gasoline, smoke too many cigs, drink excessive gas station coffee, pee on roadside trees, and eat copious amounts of jerky.

also a great time for the AudioBook, something i rarely have time for in daily life due to standard books, music, and other daily things.

on our recent trip to California, we planned ahead. Hitting up the Public Library, we gathered 3 Audiobooks. enough that we would not run out while on the road (and if lucky, would be able to finish at least two in out allotted road time).

we made it through 1 and a half. i will have to find time somehow to finish the second.

~~

The Ethical Assassin has been a bit of a desired read. At goodwill, on multiple occasions, both Jenn and I have picked this book up and perused it, waffling as to whether it is one we should invest 3 bucks in.

Turns out, we should have as it was quite fantastic. if not available at goodwill, we will end up purchasing it at powells or someplace full price.

David Liss spins a tale of Traveling Encyclopedia salesman Lem. He is just out of high school, working to get tuition money for his upcoming deferred stay at Columbia University (New York). He is a virgin in the ways of love. he is a damn fine salesman, working all the angles and soaking up the cash he needs.

the story seems to wander back and forth for a couple chapters, culminating in a solid knowledge of lems fears and mental workings. then two of his customers get shot in the head while he is about to receive their book purchase check. the assassin enters the room, seems like a fairly nice guy on the whole, even whilst ensuring that if Lem talks to anyone, he will become the primary suspect, with evidence against him.

1985 is the time setting, and there are no cell phones, no internet, no modern simplicities or plot crutches. It is is Florida, Hot, sweaty Florida… Katrina and the Waves on the radio, melting peoples brains as much as the sun is.

The core of the tale rests on the word “Ideologies” and how our whole existence is based around the comfort zone that all of society requires. it is well thought out and gets the brain juices flowing at some of the simplified concepts described.

some aspects of the book felt like a commercial for PETA. at points i wished i was a vegetarian, and others an ass kicking ball breaking vigilante. in the end though, i am neither of the above. i ate a double bacon double cheese cheesy double burger (with bacon) last night and i would rather screw than fight.

i would recommend this book highly. it will stick out in my mind whenever i see bacon… or encyclopedias.

mm… bacon…

--
xpost RawBlurb.com ( )
1 vote JasonBrownPDX | Mar 11, 2010 |
Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
Yet, on top of those, author Liss throws in myriad plot twists and shady characters that keep The Ethical Assassin afloat for more than 300 fast-paced pages.
 
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0812974549, Paperback)

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.


From the Hardcover edition.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:44:54 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

"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 to 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 has hatched a plan that will very likely keep Lem from leaving town alive."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

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