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The Ethical Assassin: A Novel

3.50  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,191 Ratings  ·  158 Reviews
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 Lem has spent hours pitching to is shot dead before his eyes, and the unassuming young man is ...more
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Published February 28th 2006 by Brilliance Audio (first published 2006)
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May 15, 2013 Amanda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: blog
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 Lem pay ...more
Ben Loory
Mar 30, 2009 Ben Loory rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
it's like elmore leonard giving a sermon on animal rights in the midst of a screening of the maysles brothers' salesman. witty, vivid, fast-moving, vaguely depressing, and fun... with a big ditch full of pigshit & piss...
Aug 07, 2007 Mark rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have never ready ANYTHING from David Liss that I didn't absolutely enjoy. This is his fourth book and I've put nearly every one of them down and said "Man, that was good." This one's a little bit different from his others -- more of a thriller that takes place in a hardscrabble trailer park cum hog farm outside Jacksonville, FL. A 17-year-old door-to-door encyclopedia salesman is just closing his pitch when someone bursts into the trailer and shoots his prospects in the head. BUT, the assassin ...more
Jan 10, 2008 Bethany rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
The title of this book caught my eye, and the corresponding premise was just as intriguing. However, I was disappointed. In reality, the story was a thinly-disguised animal-rights treatise. There were so many great places Liss could have taken the idea of an “ethical assassin” - someone who kills people who do, in fact, deserve to die because they are evil. Instead, the reader receives a language-riddled philosophical discussion about animal cruelty.

I would be interested to read something else b
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 per
Mar 21, 2012 Anachronist rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Can murder be justified, even called the most sensible course of action in some circumstances? Is the life or animals always worth less than the life of human beings? Should cruelty, corruption and greed of big corporations and individuals be condoned just because there’s no better option? What are prisons really for? Young Lemuel Altick will have to find answers to those questions while earning college money as a door-to-door salesman of worthless encyclopedias.

One day, while trying to
Jul 17, 2009 Sherie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is a complete departure from the books that I have read by D. Liss. I felt like I was in the world of Carl Hiaasen with his plastic palm trees, Florida humidity, and sprinkling of wantonly depraved characters, all couched to make one want to hop on a plane and visit every major city in Florida.
That being said, I am impressed that Liss has the ability to go from historical fiction and such protaginists as Benjamin Weaver and take us to mid 80's Florida with Lem Atlick as our schmuck le
Sep 15, 2008 Evelyn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: funny, mystery
Seventeen-year-old Lem Altick is trying to save money for college by working as a door-to-door encyclopedia salesman in South Florida. Things get complicated for Lem when two of his potential customers are murdered during mid-sale and Lem is befriended by their killer--a very ethical, mostly peaceful vegetarian named Melford, who is trying to expose a drug ring and needs Lem's help to do it.

This smart and very suspenseful read has Hiaasen-esque, quirky secondary characters and is very unlike Li
Oct 11, 2008 Bill rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
To make money for college, Lem Altick gets involved with a drug ring under the umbrella of a encyclopedia sales scheme. This book would translate well into a movie....pulp crime all the way. Great writing; you can almost see the main character growing up in a two day period. To stay alive he has to stay one step ahead of:

-2 crooked cops
-1 half of a Siamese twin
-A encyclopedia pyramid sales team
-Residents at a trailer park
-A Don Johnson styled crime boss
-a love interest
-and a violent animal right
Aug 03, 2015 Laurence rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The parts of this book that are clearly about me, skinny Jewish kid who can't help mouthing off to people far tougher than he is, while he's selling encyclopedias in the burning hot summer to make money for college, and wondering when he'll lose his virginity, will find, like I did, that the central character is based on them. The entry of the title character,"The Ethical Assassin" ads a wondrous weirdly existential double toasted-twist to the whole story but, you might wind up wishing the guy w ...more
Jun 09, 2008 Jen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A random selection at the library, and a totally unconventional summer read for me. Very much liked it.
Mar 16, 2009 Marsha rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had read a couple of David Liss' books prior to this one, and while I enjoyed those books, I was apprehensive about reading this one because it didn't fall into the category I was used to reading (historical fiction). However, I should have known better - I loved this book. It kept me turning the pages and I couldn't get through it quickly enough.

In this novel, Lem, a college student on summer break, is trying to earn a few extra bucks as an encyclopedia sales man. He turns out to be pretty d
Artnoose Noose
Apr 22, 2008 Artnoose Noose rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: vegans
Recommended to Artnoose by: Moxie Marlinspike
I was pretty intrigued at the idea of this book--- a mystery novel centered around an animal rights assassin. I have to admit that the book was written in a very readable style--- I finished it in two days. Although apparently I was rapt enough to speed read it so I could find out what happens, I was nonplussed by the political content. Perhaps I shouldn't have been. An award-winning novelists writes a book for a mainstream fiction audience--- I can't expect it to be written for me.

That being s
Jul 30, 2007 Mark rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: thriller
I liked David Liss very much for his historical novels and decided to give this a try. It's very, very readable, and is superb at evoking the seamy underworld of small-time criminals in the hot, muggy South, as their lives collide with a young encyclopedia salesman for the summer working in exploitative conditions. I think Liss was trying to go for something special with the title character, but I'm not sure he achieved it. I also think he had a movie deal in mind, and I wouldn't be surprised if ...more
Carl Alves
Lem Altick, a seventeen year old door to door encyclopedia salesman, is an unlikely protagonist in a novel filled with drug deals and murder. He is in the wrong place at the wrong time when he witnesses the murder of two customers in a mobile home. Concerned that he’ll be the next target, he strikes a tentative friendship with the killer, Melford Kean. Kean is also an unlikely killer, an animal rights activist who is a pretty likable person. Also involved in this conspiracy is a corrupt redneck ...more
Weston Moulton
Sep 09, 2015 Weston Moulton rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
To be completely honest, this book was a pleasant surprise. When I first picked up the book I expected it to be about a kid whining about how hot it is outside due to the contents of the first few pages. To my surprise, the book picked up at a rapid, yet understandable, pace. It takes place in the mid 80's in Florida follows a boy named Lemuel. Lem is trying to make money for college when he witnesses the murder of two of his clients. He was at the wrong place at the wrong time, and it causes hi ...more
Nicole Martin
Feb 26, 2008 Nicole Martin rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Nicole by: Yosef
I read this so I could say that I sometimes read fiction. This book is about someone that kills animal exploiters and meth dealers. The book was an easy read and kept me reading (Which isn't too hard- I mean I usually curl up with political theory) but I felt like it took too long to get going. The character are great. I don't know, I can't really judge fiction. It amused me but was slow going- that's why it only gets 3 stars, I would give it 3.5 if possible
Rick Goff
Jan 13, 2014 Rick Goff rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've been meaning to mention a novel Dan loaned me: _The Ethical Assassin_ by David Liss. It's blurbed as a literary thriller. I found it more literary than thrilling. I recommend the novel because it's amusing and readable, and it offers a coherent dissent regarding American low culture and its absurd ethics of heartless consumerism and misery passing. I'll try that again: it's about how the poor, as opposed to the rich, prey on the poor. But it's funny in the telling. I loved the climactic sce ...more
Sue Davis
Mar 29, 2012 Sue Davis rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Why do we have prisons? To turn revolutionaries into murderers. Animal rights. Convoluted mystery with corruption and drugs and encyclopedia salesmen. Did Lem eat a hamburger at he end?
It was well paced, interesting characters, but when, midway through, the developing thriller turns into a sermon on the evils of meat-eating, I started skipping sentences and paragraphs. Maybe one paragraph would've been sufficient if you want to inflict your beliefs on your readers, but several pages worth made me wonder whether it was worth finishing. But I did after avoiding any more preachy text. The ending was satisfying but I'm going out for a Whopper now, just on general principle. I hate ...more
Paul Patterson
Dec 24, 2009 Paul Patterson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Billed as a thriller, dark comedy, perhaps even horror novel, The Ethical Assassin might more accurately be dubbed a philosophical puzzler. Imagine the strange amalgam of these traits: reasonable, compassionate, socialist, feminist, and vegan; now place these within an assassin and terrorist. This is precisely the moral jigsaw confronting Lemuel Altick an encyclopaedia salesman, aspiring Ivy league student and as the novel progresses admirer of the ethical assassin, Melford Kean. The temptation ...more
Jason (RawBlurb)
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
Jan 12, 2011 Lisa rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love David Liss. Every historical fiction book I have read written by him, I have enjoyed immensely. I gave The Ethical Assassin three stars for a few reasons. First let me tell you that again the author expertly weaves an intricate, multi-layered plot with excellent eccentric characters. As with all of his work, it is extremely well written and I can't point out any technical faults.

However, I did not like it as well as his other work. First, the language and conversation between some of the
Ron Charles
David Liss has a nose for history. He can smell it hundreds of years away. His debut, A Conspiracy of Paper , and its sequel, A Spectacle of Corruption , reeked of gritty 18th-century London. The Coffee Trader captured the scent of unwashed whores along with the best part of waking up in 17th-century Amsterdam. Now, for the first time, Liss has written a contemporary novel, The Ethical Assassin , set in Florida, but his olfactory sense is as acute as ever. "A putrid miasma whirled and eddied thr ...more
Nov 12, 2013 Jack rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I bought this book because of the Weaver historical fiction mysteries that David Liss has written. I was in an independent book store where I always try to buy something whenever I visit. While this story was clearly not set in 18th century England it looked interesting and I was in a hurry.

I'm very glad I did.

This book is fast moving fun, from one outrageous situation to another. It is not quite a coming of age story, although the main character is a teenager who's just finished high school a
I like the narrator who is a modern day Holden Caulfield dealing with new bullsh-t as a encyclopedia salesperson. I check others' reviews and was rather surprised to see him get low ratings. I think it mostly have to do with the title of the book. Even though protesting animal research or lifestyle of eating only vegetable might be considered ethical, it would be nice if all vegetarians actually follow their ethics in not eating ALL meats, including chickens, and baloney which many vegetarian ar ...more
Dec 30, 2010 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Max Amar-Olkus
Dec 13, 2011 Max Amar-Olkus rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book revolves around teenager Lem Altick who, in need of money for college, takes up selling encyclopedias door to door in florida. One day, he is about to close a sale in the trailer owned by two suspicious characters named Karen and Bastard. Right before Lem gets the check, someone bursts through the door and shoots Karen and Bastard. After the assassin manages to get enough evidence to frame Lem, he promises to keep him out of any trouble if he kept his mouth shut. After hanging around w ...more
Jan 11, 2012 Chris rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
For some reason I'm experiencing Deja Vu in reading this book. It seems like I've read the encyclopedia sales parts before, but the crime boss and crooked cop parts seem new. Does Douglas Coupland or Chuck Palahniuk have a book with a similar theme; my 'spidey sence' tells me I read the similar tale from their genre.

K. Looks like I've read this before, but it was so unmemorable, I completely forgot about it. As I read, I can recall vague plot lines, but, weirdly, only from the Lem and assassin t
Apr 24, 2013 Bill rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: thriller
An Offbeat, Comedic Tale

Liss, D. (2006). The Ethical Assassin. N.Y.: Ballantine.

This wacky novel set in central Florida has a young door-to-door encyclopedia salesman, Lemuel, trying to earn college tuition. While pitching a low-brow couple in their oven of a mobile home, they are murdered before his eyes. The assassin, Melford, is genuinely sorry that Lem was accidentally involved, and takes him out for coffee to explain that they were “bad” people and deserved it; that’s all he can say. Lem an
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I am a novelist living in San Antonio, Texas, though, for the record, I am not from Texas. I just live here. I have four novels published: A Conspiracy of Paper (which won the Edgar Award for Best First Novel) and A Spectacle of Corruption were both national bestsellers. They are set in 18th century London and feature Benjamin Weaver, a Jewish former pugilist, thief-taker for hire. Weaver will be ...more
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