have to admit that The Kid got a little misty-eyed when he saw that
Hard Case Crime had published SOMEBODY OWES ME MONEY by Donald E.
Westlake. I had owned a copy of it the first time around but lost
it in an ill-fated cross-country move in 1973. For the longest time
it had been inexplicably out of print --- until now.
Westlake has been a master craftsman for so long that it’s
difficult to remember a time when he wasn’t around and doing
excellent work. In SOMEBODY OWES ME MONEY we meet Chet Conway, a
cab driver who lives with his dad and likes to play the ponies with
an off-track New York betting establishment consisting of a one-man
operation named Tommy McKay. Acting on a tip, he improbably wins.
However, when he goes to collect his prize, Conway finds McKay dead
with no money to be had. The cops are suspicious, as are two groups
of mobsters who are shooting first and asking questions later.
Conway is not a tough guy and wants nothing to do with criminals or
the police; he simply wants the money he won in the bet.
Conway does have one friend in this mess who has suddenly become
his life: McKay’s sister Abbie, an attractive, street-smart
card dealer from Vegas who has flown to New York to avenge her
brother’s murder. She, too, initially blames Conway but soon
settles down enough to try to find the real killer even as she is
slowly but surely becoming attracted to him. The result is that
they both wind up being pursued by rival gangs, each of whom thinks
that Conway is in the other’s employ.
Conway soon realizes that, in order to resume a peaceful life,
he’s going to have to solve McKay’s murder.
Interestingly enough --- and here is where Westlake’s subtle
brilliance shines through --- while it is Conway’s gambling
habits that get him into this jam, it’s also his gambling
that ultimately reveals the true killer’s identity. And you
can guess who it is if you pay very close attention and if, like
Conway when he places his racing bet, you are very lucky.
I would be tempted to say that they don’t write ’em
like SOMEBODY OWES ME MONEY anymore, but that would be incorrect.
Westlake continues to annually add to his incredible body of work.
This treasure, once lost but now found, is a sheer joy from
beginning to end.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 23, 2011