Saturday, April 17, 2010

Good to the Last Page by guest blogger Steven Head


-Donald Westlake 1933-2008

Reveiw by guest blogger...Steve Head.

I just finished Donald Westlake's final book, Get Real, featuring the fan favorite, criminal John Dortmunder and his crew. Westlake passed away on New Years 2009. Living into his mid-70's he may have left behind enough books to fill LaDeDa, especially if you include the foreign translations. He wrote under his own name as well as Richard Stark, Tucker Coe, Samuel Holt, and Edwin West and most of his books are set in New York City. His first book, The Mercenaries, was published in 1960 and he went on to write as many as four books a year. The pen names were needed to combat the natural skepticism one man could produce so many books.

In Get Real he was able to find a good use for reality TV, as a backdrop for the gang to pull a heist. Over the course of the 278 pages we get to know Doug Fairkeep, the reality TV producer for Get Real productions, a subsidiary of ... of ... of ... Doug takes a ride in a cab driven by the mother of Stan Murch, wheelman for the Dortmunder gang, who shares more about her son and friends than Stan or the gang like. But for Doug the idea of a reality show about a gang of crooks is too good not to pursue.

Despite reservations the five member gang decides to go along with the idea, showing them planning and executing a heist, all the while planning on a bigger job. Of course there are problems along the way, the introduction of a stooge which is quickly detected by the gang, threats by management to shut down production for the types of reasons one would expect when working with criminals. Like fake names and social security numbers and disappearing property. These problems are overcome as long as the gang thinks there is a job to pull. But when the gang comes to believe the planned target is a dead end they walk.

Of course, the story ends with them pulling the job off, and somehow everyone parts on friendly terms. And that is what makes Dortmunder and his unintentionally comic gang so special. They are not the violent bunch like Tony Soprano and his boys. And they do not work and live in a dark underworld like Vachss' Burke. They are guys with wives and girl friends and apartments, with no interest in working for wages, looking for a way to make money, getting themselves out of sticky situations that make you laugh. And like most workers they have a hang out, and a lingo, and a series of problems and skills connected to their work.

Get Real also looks at the mechanics and problems of reality TV as well as international commerce and the need to pay bribes. From the successful show that falls apart when the groom of a planned wedding announces he is gay to the ploy to get a suitcase full of cash past a police inspection point. By the end of the book you feel like you know 5 crooks as well as 5 ordinary people and their scams and games and lives.

If you are a mystery fan and have not tapped into Donald Westlake you can set a goal of reading his books, and just hope you live long enough to finish them all.


The Heart-A-Rama flags are flying here at LaDeDa which means I am tired, nervous, and grateful. Tired because I can't sleep after rehearsal. Random songs from the show pop into my head uninvited, and they get me mulling over the things I should have added to my shows but didn't...leading me to an internal discussion that perhaps I am not suited for show biz. Nervous about my cast. Are they having fun, or have I been too cranky? Did I give them enough direction to feel secure? Will they get the audience reactions they are hoping for? Grateful to Steve for sending me another wonderful review on a day that I am too tired and nervous to put together a sensible thought.
*****The beast went in for a tune-up and haircut last week. Here she is, looking pensive.