Review

Money for Nothing

by Donald E. Westlake



MONEY FOR NOTHING is Donald E. Westlake's latest novel. It is not
his greatest or his best, though with a career consisting of so
many milestones, that particular bar is a stratospheric one. It is
certainly a great book though and, just so no one thinks that The
Master is being damned with faint praise here, it is absolutely not
to be missed. I'll get the complaint out of the way early, though
it's not even a complaint or a quibble…not really. I simply
would have preferred the book to have a darker touch. I'm a fan of
Westlake's lighter work, such as last year's PUT A LID ON IT and
SMOKE, as well as novels he wrote back before I could even hold a
pencil properly, or even knew what one was, but that I've only read
recently. However, there was a gravitas missing in MONEY FOR
NOTHING that I think would have been appropriate.

Now let's go the premise. The premise that drives the plot here is
worth the price of admission and gravitas shmavitas; it is
absolutely brilliant. You take your average schlemiel named Josh
Redmont, who is just starting off on his own with more outflow than
inflow and all of a sudden he gets a check for one thousand dollars
in the mail, issued by "United States Agent." He tries to find out
who "United States Agent" is but can't. He figures 'what the hey'
and deposits the check. He gets a second check the following month
--- and then another and another. Twelve thousand dollars a year!
And the checks keep coming. And coming. The seasons change and the
years go by. Things get better, inflow matches outflow and then
surpasses it on a regular basis. Whereas, at one point, the
thousand dollars a month was more often than not a lifesaver, it
slowly becomes a nest egg. Redmont marries, he and the Mrs. have a
little Redmont and still the checks keep coming, one thousand
dollars a month. Money for nothing. And then...

Redmont is waiting for the ferry that takes him to the family
cottage on Fire Island, when a stranger walks up to him, sits down
next to him, smiles and says three things: 1) Hello. 2) I'm from
United States Agent. 3) You are now active. Oh, and the stranger
also hands him a passbook account book for a Cayman Islands Bank, a
passbook that is in the name of JOSH REDMONT, reflecting a deposit
and balance, as of the previous day, of forty-thousand dollars. At
first, all the nice, generous stranger wants is a safe house. Oh,
but that's only where it starts. It doesn't take Josh long to
figure out where all of this is going but, when he finds out, he
doesn't want any part of it. He also has no idea how he got
involved in all of this or how he and his family are going to get
out intact --- if they get out at all. And even worse, how is he
going to explain it to his wife? He even wishes that he'd never
cashed the checks, though, as we find out, it wouldn't have done
him any good to refuse them. And besides, what would you have done
with them?

But...but...here is what is so astounding. Westlake takes this
premise, this idea of monthly money for nothing and makes it so
perfectly plausible that you can't help but shake your head in
wonder. I'll tell you this much: it's not a case of mistaken
identity, not at all. Redmont is supposed to get those checks. As
they used to say in the old Superman comic books, when something
implausible would happen, "It's not a dream! Not an imaginary
story!" No, this could happen to you. It would be highly unlikely,
but it could happen.

So dark touch, light touch, whatever. Westlake once again
demonstrates that, in the twilight of a brilliant career, he can
continue to achieve the impossible while making it look easy.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011

Money for Nothing
by Donald E. Westlake

  • Publication Date: March 1, 2004
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense
  • Mass Market Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • ISBN-10: 0446613789
  • ISBN-13: 9780446613781