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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.
Published: Random House Publishing Group an imprint of Random House Publishing Group on
ISBN: 9780345490827
List price: $9.99
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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.more
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.more
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.more
This book is a pretty quick read. It started off very slow for me, but there was something about it that kept me just interested enough that I didn't abandon it. There were some quirky things going on that held out real promise. I was halfway through before it really hooked me, though. Once there, it was quite interesting.I'd give the last part of the book 4 stars, but it was somewhat rushed - too little, too late to really make the book a good one. The main character finally develops into a person that I could begin to identify with. Until that time, part of the problem was that I really didn't care about anyone or anything in the book. A mild distaste for all involved was my prevailing emotion. So 1 star to the first half for almost turning me off. By the end of the book, I was hoping for more, though. This is a book about animal rights & the ethical treatment of animals. There wasn't anything in the book that I didn't already know nor was the discussion of the morality of our civilization new to me. Still, it sneaks up on the subject in an unexpected way. 3 stars for the overall theme.The characters were neat. They were different, not cookie cutter good & bad guys, but quirky individuals who were trying to get by & their morals were as confused as most people. I thought they could have been fleshed out better. Too much is 'told' about them as they're introduced, not developed into the story. The central character develops from a real loser into someone who will make it a little too fast & far for me.The POV is interesting, but also had a big flaw, IMO. It's told from one kid's POV & he says that after it was all over, he could fill in a lot of what happened by his research into the matter. I found that unbelievable on a couple of levels. Without writing a spoiler, I can't discuss it, so I'll just say I had to suspend my belief on this point & it was OK. Still, it could have been handled better, I think.It was an interesting read, but I won't be keeping it to read again. I doubt anyone else in the family will be interested in reading it, either. The book was hyped to me, I think mostly because of the Animal Rights angle - not reason enough, IMO. It's OK & I think 3 stars overall is as generous as I can be. 2.5 is closer to the mark.more
Imagine your name is Lem Altick, you have just graduated high school and you're out selling encyclopedias trying to earn enough money to send yourself to Columbia University, it's been a long day of knocking on doors at the trailer park while the hot Florida summer sun beats on your back, you've been talking for hours to get the couple sitting across the table from you to the point where they are writing you a check for the deposit. Then an assassin walks in the door behind you and shoots both of your customers in the forehead. The assassin doesn't put a bullet in you as you might expect. Evidently it's an assassin with ethical standards, standards which evidently don't extend to not manufacturing evidence to convict you of murder if you become a problem. Imagine then that your problems have only just begun.With an eccentric assortment of characters including corrupt cops and crack dealing encyclopedia salesmen, numerous plot twists, and a mix of pro-veganism/animal rights themes stirred into the pot, the Ethical Assassin is a diverting summer read with some genuinely funny bits. There were a couple of bits of the novel that I didn't think worked very well, one being a minor sub-plot about a creepy pedophile. My biggest problem was the novel’s conclusion on “why we send criminals to prison". It’s mentioned no less than three times as if it was of thematic importance, yet it would have been a better book if it had never been mentioned at all. I didn’t agree with it and I couldn’t connect it with the events of the novel.On the balance however, the book is engaging and entertaining. Everything works to provide a fun and darkly-comic ride.more
A young teenager, selling encyclopedias door to door, gets caught up in assassination, drug sales, and animal abuse. In spite of murder and mayhem, this is a very funny book. The assassin turns out to be a very committed animal rights activist and gives a compelling defense for his actions. This book could turn you into a vegan! I really enjoyed it.more
If Carl Hiaasen books irritate the hell out of you, this is not the book for you. (I just cannot stand getting moral lectures from assassins/terrorists.) I sorta knew this going in, so it was hard going at times. The protagonist (who is NOT the assassin) is wonderful, and has the witty banter you expect from David Liss. It was great to see that Liss can write a coming-of-age story - not everyone can write a convincing and likable teenager.more
I thought this was a fun book in spite of the serious subject matter (primarily animal abuse and organized crime, with a few other things on the side). There's just something bizarre and funny about a door-to-door encyclopedia sales kid getting commandeered by an assassin.Once or twice I felt like the author was putting the story on hold for the animal rights discussions, though, rather than working them in more smoothly.I had trouble getting very attached to the characters. I wouldn't quite go so far as to say they were flat or lifeless, but they were missing a certain something.Overall, I liked it well enough, although I wouldn't go out of my way to recommend it.more
A little silly, but I liked the lessons in ideology, animal testing and vegetarianism.more
David Liss writes his first relatively contemporary mystery, which is also about animal rights ethics and encyclopedia sales. If you would like this book, that sentence alone should be enough to grab your attention. I would probably have liked this book more had I not heard David Liss speak about it, and reveal how much of the encyclopedia-selling aspect of the book is his personal experience. I know that authors use bits of their lives for inspiration, but it takes me out of the story to know for a fact when I'm reading the author's memoirs.more
A departure from Liss' other novels. Set in 1980's Florida, features a pig farm, rednecks, and a Jewish door-ro-door encyclopedia salesman. Did I mention the murder? Funny but can get a bit preachy (Liss himself is an admitted vegan.) Read his other novels first.more
Read all 12 reviews

Reviews

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.more
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.more
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.more
This book is a pretty quick read. It started off very slow for me, but there was something about it that kept me just interested enough that I didn't abandon it. There were some quirky things going on that held out real promise. I was halfway through before it really hooked me, though. Once there, it was quite interesting.I'd give the last part of the book 4 stars, but it was somewhat rushed - too little, too late to really make the book a good one. The main character finally develops into a person that I could begin to identify with. Until that time, part of the problem was that I really didn't care about anyone or anything in the book. A mild distaste for all involved was my prevailing emotion. So 1 star to the first half for almost turning me off. By the end of the book, I was hoping for more, though. This is a book about animal rights & the ethical treatment of animals. There wasn't anything in the book that I didn't already know nor was the discussion of the morality of our civilization new to me. Still, it sneaks up on the subject in an unexpected way. 3 stars for the overall theme.The characters were neat. They were different, not cookie cutter good & bad guys, but quirky individuals who were trying to get by & their morals were as confused as most people. I thought they could have been fleshed out better. Too much is 'told' about them as they're introduced, not developed into the story. The central character develops from a real loser into someone who will make it a little too fast & far for me.The POV is interesting, but also had a big flaw, IMO. It's told from one kid's POV & he says that after it was all over, he could fill in a lot of what happened by his research into the matter. I found that unbelievable on a couple of levels. Without writing a spoiler, I can't discuss it, so I'll just say I had to suspend my belief on this point & it was OK. Still, it could have been handled better, I think.It was an interesting read, but I won't be keeping it to read again. I doubt anyone else in the family will be interested in reading it, either. The book was hyped to me, I think mostly because of the Animal Rights angle - not reason enough, IMO. It's OK & I think 3 stars overall is as generous as I can be. 2.5 is closer to the mark.more
Imagine your name is Lem Altick, you have just graduated high school and you're out selling encyclopedias trying to earn enough money to send yourself to Columbia University, it's been a long day of knocking on doors at the trailer park while the hot Florida summer sun beats on your back, you've been talking for hours to get the couple sitting across the table from you to the point where they are writing you a check for the deposit. Then an assassin walks in the door behind you and shoots both of your customers in the forehead. The assassin doesn't put a bullet in you as you might expect. Evidently it's an assassin with ethical standards, standards which evidently don't extend to not manufacturing evidence to convict you of murder if you become a problem. Imagine then that your problems have only just begun.With an eccentric assortment of characters including corrupt cops and crack dealing encyclopedia salesmen, numerous plot twists, and a mix of pro-veganism/animal rights themes stirred into the pot, the Ethical Assassin is a diverting summer read with some genuinely funny bits. There were a couple of bits of the novel that I didn't think worked very well, one being a minor sub-plot about a creepy pedophile. My biggest problem was the novel’s conclusion on “why we send criminals to prison". It’s mentioned no less than three times as if it was of thematic importance, yet it would have been a better book if it had never been mentioned at all. I didn’t agree with it and I couldn’t connect it with the events of the novel.On the balance however, the book is engaging and entertaining. Everything works to provide a fun and darkly-comic ride.more
A young teenager, selling encyclopedias door to door, gets caught up in assassination, drug sales, and animal abuse. In spite of murder and mayhem, this is a very funny book. The assassin turns out to be a very committed animal rights activist and gives a compelling defense for his actions. This book could turn you into a vegan! I really enjoyed it.more
If Carl Hiaasen books irritate the hell out of you, this is not the book for you. (I just cannot stand getting moral lectures from assassins/terrorists.) I sorta knew this going in, so it was hard going at times. The protagonist (who is NOT the assassin) is wonderful, and has the witty banter you expect from David Liss. It was great to see that Liss can write a coming-of-age story - not everyone can write a convincing and likable teenager.more
I thought this was a fun book in spite of the serious subject matter (primarily animal abuse and organized crime, with a few other things on the side). There's just something bizarre and funny about a door-to-door encyclopedia sales kid getting commandeered by an assassin.Once or twice I felt like the author was putting the story on hold for the animal rights discussions, though, rather than working them in more smoothly.I had trouble getting very attached to the characters. I wouldn't quite go so far as to say they were flat or lifeless, but they were missing a certain something.Overall, I liked it well enough, although I wouldn't go out of my way to recommend it.more
A little silly, but I liked the lessons in ideology, animal testing and vegetarianism.more
David Liss writes his first relatively contemporary mystery, which is also about animal rights ethics and encyclopedia sales. If you would like this book, that sentence alone should be enough to grab your attention. I would probably have liked this book more had I not heard David Liss speak about it, and reveal how much of the encyclopedia-selling aspect of the book is his personal experience. I know that authors use bits of their lives for inspiration, but it takes me out of the story to know for a fact when I'm reading the author's memoirs.more
A departure from Liss' other novels. Set in 1980's Florida, features a pig farm, rednecks, and a Jewish door-ro-door encyclopedia salesman. Did I mention the murder? Funny but can get a bit preachy (Liss himself is an admitted vegan.) Read his other novels first.more
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