Today is Donald Westlake day on Forgotten Books in order to celebrate what may be the last new novel we get from the master, THE COMEDY IS FINISHED, due out Tuesday. I chose JIMMY THE KID, the third entry in the Dortmunder books, mainly because I haven’t read a lot in this series yet, this being, of course, one of those few. I love Westlake and have posted on quite a number of his novels under his various pen names.
Dortmunder and his gang fancy themselves criminals, but always seem to run into problems as they carry out each job. In this one, Dortmunder gets interupted by one of his men, Kelp, who wants to tell him about his latest idea for a crime caper for the guys. Dortmunder is a little pissed and, at first, is not interested. But Kelp manages to worm his way in. They do need to eat and the last couple of jobs haven’t gone well. Kelp had read a novel by some guy named Richard Stark with his character Parker and thought it might be a good blueprint for their own job. Dortmunder is still reluctant, then finally decides to listen. The name of the novel is CHILD HEIST and the ease with which Parker carried it off impressed Kelp, who thought if they did exactly the same thing, they would get some ransom money worth their time.
The novel alternates back and forth between Dortmunder and crew and chunks of the novel(a non-existent Parker novel though some people look at it as one). Things don’t go as well in real life as in a book, the gang learns. Slavishly trying to follow the book step by step, they grab a kid, twelve year old Jimmy Harrington and soon realize in many ways, he’s smarter than most of them(somewhat reminiscent of O.Henry’s THE RANSOM OF RED CHIEF in my mind), not to mention a pain in the ass. Another thing they realize, real life is not like a novel.
Westlake does these comic caper novels very well, though some folks don’t care for them. I happen to and will pick up other Dortmunders as I get the chance. There’s still a fair amount of Westlake I haven’t gotten to, but am not in any hurry to finish them all. I don’t wish to run out and, other than reissues of some of his early “soft core” possibly, no new ones will be coming down the pipe. Hwe was one of the greats.
For more looks at some Westlakes, and possibly others, check out this week’s FORGOTTEN BOOKS by Patti Abbott over at her blog, Pattinase.