Review

The Road to Ruin

by Donald E. Westlake



I would like you to do something for me. It will only take a few
hours, and you'll enjoy every minute of it. It is a relatively
simple task. Just read Donald Westlake's new novel THE ROAD TO RUIN
and then read any two or three of his previous works. THE ROAD TO
RUIN is part of Westlake's John Dortmunder mythos, but you don't
have to limit yourself to that fine series. If you want to dip into
one of his crime novels or stand-alone comic crime novels for the
purpose of this exercise, that's fine. After you've done this,
please get back to me and tell me if there is anyone else who
writes more prolifically and with such consistency.

Westlake does it all. His storytelling ability compels you to keep
reading. His plotting is first rate. His writing style … how
does a guy simultaneously entertain and challenge the reader? The
only time you'll set this book down is if you need to reach for the
dictionary. Westlake doesn't just work with language --- he loves
it. And it shows. He is also fond of adding little details,
flourishes, touches to what is going on in his work. In THE ROAD TO
RUIN, one of those little touches is a partner's desk. Within a few
words, he describes perfectly why one rarely sees a partner's desk
these days. The guy is a marvel.

I could prattle on all day about Westlake (indeed, it appears I
have) but I'm sure you would like to know what THE ROAD TO RUIN is
all about. You probably have a good idea if you are at all familiar
with John Dortmunder, Westlake's perennially unsuccessful thief.
Dortmunder is not so much unskilled as he is unlucky. He is the
walking embodiment of Murphy's Law. What makes the Dortmunder
novels such an absolute joy to read is not necessarily what
happens, but why it happens and who it happens to.

Monroe Hall is one of the "who's" in THE ROAD TO RUIN. Hall is
very, very rich, and very, very crooked. He is a robber baron in
the sense that he robbed SomniTech, his own company, and its
stockholders, earning the hatred of ... well, just about everyone.
He is so hated, in fact, that the hired help is in the process of
de-hiring itself. Dortmunder gets wind of this and hatches a wild
plot to get himself and his gang of not-so-merry but still funny
men hired onto the Hall estate.

Dortmunder has his eye on Hall's collection of classic cars. The
only way to circumvent Hall's considerable security is to become
part of the interior scenery as the hired help. What Dortmunder
doesn't plan on, however, is that Hall's list of antagonists
include some union types who lost their pension money to Hall's
shenanigans and some venture capitalists who were heavily leveraged
into SomniTech and who, when the smoke cleared, were forced to move
back with their parents. The white and the blue collars form an
uneasy alliance --- only Westlake could so effectively skewer both
--- to get their money back, and maybe a little extra. When all
three deals start to go down simultaneously, Hall has some good
company: his faithful butler, Dortmunder. The results are more than
hilarious.

Westlake, as is so often his wont, starts a number of plates
spinning in THE ROAD TO RUIN and never loses one. If there is a
problem --- let's make that a minor shortcoming --- with THE ROAD
TO RUIN, it's that there are so many interesting characters running
around on the pages that Dortmunder almost goes missing! However,
there is enough of him to let you know that it's still his book,
the latest in a long line of Westlake classics. Don't miss this
one.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 23, 2011

The Road to Ruin
by Donald E. Westlake

  • Publication Date: April 21, 2004
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Mysterious Press
  • ISBN-10: 089296801X
  • ISBN-13: 9780892968015