Thursday, January 19, 2012


The late, great Donald Westlake was the undisputed King of the "Comic Caper Novel"... and his books about unlucky master thief John Dortmunder form probably the only truly and consistently "laugh out loud" mystery series in publishing history. I suppose the fans of these stories will always have their favorites, and mine remains the 1974 classic JIMMY THE KID.

Here is a good description of the main character from the "THRILLING DETECTIVE" website:

"The thing about Dortmunder is that he's a genius, a certifiable criminal mastermind. He's also the world's unluckiest crook -- no matter how careful his schemes, no matter how brilliant and elaborate and intricately plotted, right down to the (almost) last detail, something always goes wrong. No wonder Dortmunder, already a two-time loser, is plagued by worry. And it doesn't help that his usual co-horts are, uh, more than a little eccentric. And not exactly the brightest Crayolas in the box."

In this entry Dortmunder and his gang have been inspired by a real crime novel, CHILD HEIST, actually written by Westlake himself under his Pseudonym Richard Stark as part of the famous hard-boiled Parker series! They use the novel-- acquired by one of the inept gang members during a prison stretch-- as a kind of a guidebook, attempting to follow it step by step and commit their crime in the same smooth, professional way that Parker does. Westlake has a great deal of fun with his Stark "alter-ego" in this novel, and even includes a few actual excerpts from CHILD HEIST, which are uniformly followed by Dortmunder and gang’s bungling attempts to imitate it.

Nothing [of course] goes quite as planned, and DW derives a great deal of amusement out of actually damaging the mystique of his Stark "self" by repeatedly pointing out how many things just happen to go Parker’s way in fiction... and what would inevitably happen if things were just a little more real and different.

This book on the whole is VERY amusing-- I guarantee you will laugh out loud several times-- and a couple of moments (such as the actual kidnapping in particular) are extremely funny. Folks who aren’t familiar with Westlake’s classic series are in for a real treat if this is their introduction, and Dortmunder fans who have missed it somehow should acquire a copy ASAP!.

Highly recommended. PEACE. 

[An artists conception of the Dortmunder gang]

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