Review

Bad News

by Donald E. Westlake

I
have been reading his books for...well, for a long time, and I
STILL don't know how Donald Westlake does it.
He
is at an age where many individuals are happy just to wake up in
the morning; he wakes up and writes...no, he doesn't write. He
makes magic. He casts spells that run circles around the collective
work of any five authors you could name off the top of your head.
And he hasn't been doing it for years, he's been doing it for
decades. Why his name is not a household word --- why his name is
not instantly synonymous with literature, like Hemingway and
Faulkner and Steinbeck --- I'll never know.
Well, I do know. He writes crime fiction, which is considered
by the intelligentsia to be lowbrow, but if they ever get their
collective heads out of their collective, uh, sand, maybe Westlake
will get the recognition he deserves.
That
recognition could be under his own name, or under the name Richard
Stark, or under the name Tucker Coe, among others. Westlake's
pseudonyms were not created to carry the burden of the leftovers;
they were created to present his varied personas. His
bibliographies under his own name and his pen name Richard Stark
are prodigious enough to make Stephen King's literary output look
as small as Harper Lee's. And it's all great. Every word of
it.
And
the man is not slowing down. Take a look at BAD NEWS, his latest
novel. BAD NEWS is "A Dortmunder Novel" as in "John Dortmunder."
Westlake will chill you to your socks when he wants to, but you
won't find that type of writing in a Dortmunder novel. No; the
writing in BAD NEWS is not chilling, it's hilarious. And
brilliant.
Dortmunder is a crook. He's not successful at it, either. It's
not because he's stupid --- far from it. The guy is a genius. He
simply has horrible luck. Circumstances never break his way. He is
smart enough to get himself out of the bad situations he finds
himself in, which is why he is still alive. He just has a rough
time making a dishonest dollar. And it is a demonstration of
Westlake's genius that he is able to keep working variations of
this theme and keep it much more than interesting.
BAD
NEWS opens with Dortmunder unsuccessfully trying to burgle a
discount store and attempting to escape, literally, out from under
the noses of the local gendarme. He jumps right into the fire,
however, when Andy Kelp, his erstwhile associate, comes to him with
an opportunity to make a quick grand. The task is not to
Dortmunder's liking --- it involves unearthing a grave and
switching caskets --- but he reluctantly agrees. And is soon sorry.
The task is part of an unlikely but brilliant ploy to acquire part
ownership of an upstate New York casino. Dortmunder and Kelp find
themselves to be uneasy and unlikely partners with Fitzroy
Guilderpost, ex-teacher Irwin Gabel, and a Las Vegas showgirl named
Little Feather Redcorn.
Redcorn is trying to establish that she is the last surviving
member of the Pottaknobbee Indian tribe. If she is successful, she
can acquire one-third interest in the Silver Chasm Casino. The fact
that she is not what she claims to be is, of course, a minor
detail, as far as she and her partners are concerned. Dortmunder's
luck runs true to form and rubs off on all assembled. They
accordingly have to be flexible with their plan, such as it is, and
it looks, for just a moment, like something which Dortmunder is
involved with might actually succeed. Longtime readers of
Dortmunder, however, know better.
Westlake is at his best in BAD NEWS, but then, he's incapable
of anything less. If you are unfamiliar with his books, BAD NEWS is
as good a place as any to begin reading the work of the man who
will become your new favorite author. Highest possible
recommendation.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 21, 2011

Bad News
by Donald E. Westlake

  • Publication Date: April 11, 2001
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Mysterious Press
  • ISBN-10: 089296717X
  • ISBN-13: 9780892967179