Donald E. Westlake is a grand master. Make that a Grand Master,
so named by the Mystery Writers of America. That is one of the
highest honors the members of that august group can bestow upon one
of their own, and in this particular case it is so richly deserved
that they probably ought to retire the trophy.
Westlake is one of those authors who has been so good for so long
that he...well, he doesn't seem to get the commercial success that
he really deserves, like a Number One bestseller the day one of his
new books is released. He is like Ed McBain in that regard.
Everything he does should be filed under "Reference --- How It Is
Done." He writes crime novels and humorous crime novels and novels
about the guy next door that will creep you out; and under the pen
name Richard Stark has written a couple of dozen novels about a
badass named Parker, which should get the spotlight display
treatment down at the local library.
Anyway, if you haven't read Westlake before, or if you have read
him in the past and have somehow gotten away from him, pick up his
new novel, THE HOOK. THE HOOK concerns two writers. One, Bryce
Proctorr, is a best-selling novelist with a deadline for a
multimillion dollar book; a pending, very nasty divorce; and an
even nastier case of writer's block. Proctorr has a chance meeting
with Wayne Prentice, an acquaintance whom Proctorr has not seen for
several years. Prentice is in the twilight of a literary career,
which at its peak was midlevel at best. Unable to find a publisher
interested in even looking at his latest novel, he is considering,
with trepidation, a career in academia. Proctorr, on the spur of
the moment, offers Prentice an opportunity. Prentice's novel, with
some tinkering, will be offered under Proctorr's name, and the two
men will split the very sizable advance that Proctorr has coming.
There is, however, THE HOOK --- Prentice must kill Proctorr's wife
to prevent her from getting Proctorr's share of the advance.
Prentice, not looking forward to rotting behind a desk, and
intrigued with the thought of making more money for one book than
he has in his entire career, accepts.
Once the groundwork is laid, reading THE HOOK is like riding a
roller coaster designed by Alfred Hitchcock: you have no idea what
is going to happen from one minute to the next, and once you do
realize what is about to occur in the next page or so, you want to
get off, to stop what is going to happen. But you can't stop it.
And you can't stop reading. Westlake, however, is more than a
master of surprise and pacing. He is an unmatched master of
description as well. He adroitly tosses off little understated
nuggets like this every page or so:
"The waiter was an older man, heavyset, sour, who didn't seem right
in the job; as though he'd lost a more suitable position and this
was all he could find."
Does it get any better than that? Outside of a Westlake book,
Any mystery fan, any Hitchcock aficionado, will welcome THE HOOK.
Set aside two nights for it: one to read it, and another to think
about it. Very highly recommended.
--- Reviewed byJoe Hartlaub