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Posted April 6, 2001
Wonderful Crime Caper Humor!
John Dortmunder is a careful guy who is always looking for a reasonable way to make crime pay. Between major jobs, he's pulling the old 'give me a deposit for the encyclopedia' con, working door-to-door in the suburbs. During the recession in the early 1970s, he can earn a pretty decent living doing this. But Mae (his live-in girl friend) knows that Dortmunder needs something to occupy his mind. So when the crazy ex-FBI agent kid shows up with a nutty scheme to steal a whole bank, she encourages Dortmunder to plan it out. From that humble beginning, the humorous complications just keep piling on in unexpected ways! Donald Westlake is a master of setting up the absolutely ridiculous situation. He uses the Dortmunder character as a surrogate for the reader's perspective, so you can laugh at how you would react in the same situation. Like Jane Langton, he also likes to have fun with pointing out how people miss what is just under their noses. The book is also a satire on all of those great theft stories, like The Thomas Crown Affair, in which little is what it seems. The difference is that this is The Thomas Crown Affair Meets the Three Stooges. Dortmunder's gang is as rag-tag a group as you can imagine, but they manage to keep stumbling forward. I particularly admired how the same story element of the bank's mobility is reused time and again for different plot and humor developments. Mr. Westlake is a most imaginative writer! One of the book's most interesting themes is that a piece of good luck is always met by a piece of bad luck, and vice versa. These reversals take the story off in all kinds of unexpected ways (not unlike the unfolding of The Sting). The basic plot revolves around a quite clever idea, using a bank office located in a mobile home as a large version of the letter in 'The Purloined Letter.' If you were planning to steal a bank, where would you hide it? I know that my drives will never be the same in the future. I'll be looking for places to hide banks! Mr. Westlake does a marvelous job of keeping the reader in suspense about how the story will end. I suspect that few will guess the book's final three scenes. This audio cassette version of the book is very well in presenting the dry humor necessary to carry off the wonderfully witty fictional pictures Westlake draws in your mind.
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