Review

Thieves' Dozen

by Donald E. Westlake



April 2004 was apparently designated, by those who do the
designating of such things, as John Dortmunder Month. The reason
for this surmise on my part is the publication of not only a
wonderful new Dortmunder tale, THE ROAD TO RUIN, but also a
collection of short Dortmunder stories titled THIEVES' DOZEN. We
are, accordingly, doubly blessed.

Dortmunder, who is incredibly smart and proportionately unlucky, is
the creation of Donald E. Westlake. It is interesting to note that
the hilarious misfortune that plagues Dortmunder in his novels
seems to be absent in any number of the stories in THIEVES' DOZEN.
The hilarity, however, remains. There is at least one good belly
laugh in each of these stories, and at least one wonderful turn of
phrase per page. Practically any one of these stories, standing
alone, is worth buying the entire book, so that with eleven of them
--- a thieves' dozen, if you will --- the price of admission is a
bargain.

Even the most loyal of Westlake's followers will not have all of
the stories collected in THIEVES' DOZEN --- a good number of them
previously appeared in Playboy. There is also a very short
story --- "The Dortmunder Workout" --- that appeared in the New
York Times Magazine
and a wonderful tale entitled "Give Till It
Hurts" that was published as a very limited edition pamphlet by the
absolutely indispensable institution known as The Mysterious
Bookshop. And "Jumble Sale" has appeared only in The Armchair
Detective
, a wonderful magazine of, alas, limited distribution.
THIEVES' DOZEN also includes a Dortmunder tale that is not a
Dortmunder tale. "Fugue for Felons" has never seen the light of day
before now; the story behind it is somewhat complicated, and
Westlake can, and does, tell the tale behind it much better than I
ever could. While Dortmunder is not in "Fugue For Felons," he is
certainly present, and its inclusion here is undoubtedly
appropriate.

But enough of the story behind the stories. Let's get to the heart
of the matter. In THIEVES' DOZEN Dortmunder tries his hand at
stealing art in "Ask A Silly Question" when he is retained to steal
a phony piece of sculpture and finds himself in the middle of an
acrimonious domestic matter. "Hose Laugh" is a bit of a fish out of
water story. Dortmunder, the quintessential city boy, finds himself
in rural New York stealing a horse. There are several good laughs
in this one --- you don't want to be drinking coffee while you read
it --- even as you know that this is one caper who must be, by its
very nature, doomed from the start.

"A Midsummer Daydream" also has a rural setting and is perhaps my
personal favorite in THIEVES' DOZEN. Dortmunder and his associate
Kelp are once again in upstate New York, forced to take an
involuntary vacation from New York City until things cool down a
bit. They find, while staying with Kelp's cousin, that there has
been a robbery and that Dortmunder is the only suspect. The problem
is that Dortmunder is innocent for once and is forced to play
detective. The results are hilarious and, as one might expect, he
is quite good at it. After all, who would be better at
understanding the criminal mind?

As with any good collection of this sort, however, my favorite
story keeps changing. It might be "A Midsummer Daydream" one
minute, "Horse Laugh" the next, or "Fugue For Felons," with a train
wreck that you can see coming but still wonder how Westlake is
going to do it, with results that are at once spellbinding and
mirthful. And let's not forget "Give Till It Hurts," wherein
Dortmunder blunders, however briefly and brilliantly, into our
world.

THIEVES' DOZEN is indispensable if you are a fan of Westlake, and
Dortmunder. If you have acquaintances who are among the
unenlightened, THIEVES' DOZEN is an inexpensive but addictive
introduction to all things Dortmunder. Don't lend someone your
copy, though. You'll never get it back. Dortmunder's
sticky-fingered proclivity is contagious.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 23, 2011

Thieves' Dozen
by Donald E. Westlake

  • Publication Date: April 1, 2004
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: The Mysterious Press
  • ISBN-10: 0446693022
  • ISBN-13: 9780446693028