Put a Lid on It

Put a Lid on It

3.8 5
by Donald E. Westlake

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Meehan, a career thief staring at life without parole, is awaiting sentencing at the Manhattan Correctional Center when he is called to a meeting by someone masquerading as his lawyer. The man, it turns out, represents the presidential re-election campaign committee — now finding itself in need of a little professional help. So they "outsource" Meehan in

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Meehan, a career thief staring at life without parole, is awaiting sentencing at the Manhattan Correctional Center when he is called to a meeting by someone masquerading as his lawyer. The man, it turns out, represents the presidential re-election campaign committee — now finding itself in need of a little professional help. So they "outsource" Meehan in return for a walk from all pending criminal charges. All he has to do is steal a compromising video tape before the other side springs an "October Surprise" on the president. A shrewd burglar, Meehan bites, and shows just how easy Watergate would have been had they left it to the professionals.

Editorial Reviews

The Barnes & Noble Review
Donald Westlake is the reigning master of the comic caper novel. His best-known books (The Hot Rock, Bank Shot, Why Me?) feature John Dortmunder, a highly skilled professional thief whose habitual hard luck derails countless brilliantly conceived schemes and scams. Put a Lid on It isn't a Dortmunder novel, but it's a clear-cut blood relation: a funny, cunningly constructed story of crime and politics that no one but Westlake could have written.

Westlake's hero this time out is Francis Xavier Meehan, another star-crossed criminal facing a possible life sentence for "accidentally" hijacking an unmarked mail truck. Meehan's luck changes -- or seems to, at least -- when a glib politician named Pat Jeffords -- a junior member of the incumbent president's campaign committee -- makes him an extraordinary offer. The president, Meehan learns, has committed a major political indiscretion, evidence of which exists in the form of a highly damaging videotape. The opposition has acquired this tape and plans to use it as an "October surprise" to tip the balance of a hotly contested presidential campaign. Having absorbed one of the more salient lessons of Watergate, the campaign committee have decided to hire a professional burglar to locate and steal the tape. Their burglar-of-choice is, of course, Francis Meehan.

Offered the opportunity to win his freedom by doing what comes naturally, Meehan signs on and finds himself enmeshed in a convoluted pursuit that ranges from the Outer Banks of North Carolina to the Massachusetts estate of an aging millionaire who makes Hitler look like a paragon of liberal thought. Along the way, Meehan encounters a bright, tough lady lawyer, an Israeli/Egyptian espionage team, an assortment of small-time, street-smart criminals, and a number of highly polished political types with an impressive capacity for lies, larceny, and betrayal. The result is a first-rate entertainment filled with deadpan humor, sudden reversals, and acute observations of the American political animal in action.

Put a Lid on It may not be the author's funniest novel, or his most ambitious, but it's a solid, assured example of that peculiar blend of action, suspense, and out-and-out comedy that Westlake does better than anyone. (Bill Sheehan)

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Grand Central Publishing
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Put A Lid On It

By Donald E. Westlake

Warner Books

Copyright © 2002 Donald E. Westlake
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-446-61205-7

Chapter One

The eleventh day Meehan was in the MCC, the barbers came around to 9 South; two barbers, a white one for the white inmates, a black one for the rest. Each dragged a chair behind himself, with a guard following, and they set up in opposite triangles of the communal room, which was shaped like a six-pointed star, the cells outside that, in two facing lines in sword hilts sunk into five of the star's crotches: the exit to the concrete room where the elevators came was at the sixth.

So that was another difference from state or county jugs; no separate room for the barbers to ply their trade. After eleven days, Meehan was thinking he might write a monograph on the subject, was already writing it in his head. Never put anything on paper in stir: that was one of the ten thousand rules.

Of course, the primary difference between the Manhattan Correctional Center, which was where bail-less federal prisoners in the borough of Manhattan, city and state of New York, waited before and during their trials, was the attitude of the guards. The guards thought the prisoners were animals, of course, as usual, and treated them as such. But in this place the guards thought they themselves were not animals; that was the difference.

You get into a state pen, any state pen in the country-well, any state Meehan had been a guest in, and he felt he could extrapolate-and there was a real sense of everybody being stinking fetid swine shoveled into this shithole together, inmates and staff alike. There was something, Meehan realized, now that he was missing it, strangely comforting about that, about guards who, with every breath they took, with every ooze from their pores, said, "You're a piece of shit and so am I, so you got no reason to expect anything but the worst from me if you irritate my ass." These guards here, in the MCC, they buttoned all their shirt buttons. What were they, fucking Mormons?

Meehan had never been held on a federal charge before, and he didn't like it. He didn't like how inhuman the feds were, how unemotional, how you could never get around the Book to the man. Never get around the Book. They were like a place where the speed limit's 55, and they enforce 55. Everybody knows you enforce 70.

Shit. From now on, Meehan promised himself, no more federal crimes.

And this one was a wuss, this one was so lame. Him and three guys, whose names he would no longer remember, had a little hijack thing, off a truckstop, Interstate 84, upstate fifty miles north of the city, there was no way to know that truck held registered mail. Not a post office truck, a private carrier, no special notices on it at all. The truck Meehan and his former allies wanted, from the same carrier, was full of computer shit from Mexico. Meehan wasn't looking forward to making that plea to some jury.

But in the meantime, for who knows how long, here he was in the MCC, downtown Manhattan, convenient to the federal courts, thinking about his monograph on the differences between federal and non-federal pounds.

There were a number of ragheads on 9 South, Meehan presumed either terrorists with bombs or assholes who strangled their sisters for fucking around, and they all lined up to get their hair cut by the white barber. Johnson, a white inmate who'd been friendly and palsy with Meehan since he got here and who Meehan took it for granted was a plant, came over to help him watch the barbering, the two of them seated at one of the plastic tables in the middle of the communal room. "Every time," Johnson said, "those guys are first in line, get their hairs cut, never does any good."

Meehan, polite, said, "Oh?"

"Their hair grows too fast," Johnson told him. "It's something about the sand or something, where there's no water, you look at these guys, haircut haircut, end of the day they're back the way they were, they still look like a Chia toy."

"Chia toys take water," Meehan said.

"And sparrows take shit," Johnson said.

What was that supposed to mean? Meehan watched the piles of curly black oily hair mount up around the raghead in the chair, like they were gonna finish with a Joan of Arc here, and it occurred to him to wonder, as it had never occurred to him to wonder in a state pen, how come barbers were such a total criminal class. Everywhere you went, the barbers were inmates who happened on the outside to be barbers, so this was how they made bad money and good time on the inside, but the question was, how come so many barbers were felons? And what kind of federal crime can a barber pull? Maybe what happened, every jail around, whenever a barber was gonna finish his time, the word went out to the police forces of the world, keep your eyes on the barbers, we need one May 15. Could be.

A guard came into the block. His tan uniform was so neat, he looked like he thought he was in the Pentagon. Maybe he really was in the Pentagon; who knew?

The guard came over to Meehan: "Lawyer visit."

That was a bit of a surprise. There wasn't much Meehan and his lawyer had to say to one another. But any distraction was welcome; rising, Meehan said, "I'm with you."

Johnson, friendly and genial, said, "Expecting good news?"

"Maybe I'm being adopted," Meehan said.

Turned out, he was. (Continues...)

Excerpted from Put A Lid On It by Donald E. Westlake Copyright © 2002 by Donald E. Westlake. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Put a Lid on It 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Donald Westlake is dependably great, always coming through with each novel for ease of read, great plot and comedy. At times laugh out loud funny, Westlake manages to deliver a complicated twisting story filled with sympathtic characters that still brings the reader along easily. While rating it five stars is obvious, I also give it my highest rating- don't wait for the paperback, it's worth the hardcover price.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As he sits in the holding area of the Manhattan Correctional Center, Francis Xavier Meehan wonders why the gods loathe him. He knows not to mess with the Feds, but how was he to realize the truck contained US mail when it failed to have any logo. Feeling a bit of the blues due to his bad luck, Francis expects the worst when even bail is denied.

Instead a presidential reelection committee member arrives to offer Francis a deal. The charges will be dropped if Meehan steals a video that makes the president look so bad his sure shot reelection would flush down the toilet. Francis puts together a team of pros (no Watergate amateurs on his squad) and travels to the upstate New York estate of the owner of the sacred video. However, Beltway insiders who could not locate Albany, New York from Albany, Georgia and a bunch of Middle East espionage agents obstruct Francis and his team. Then there is the other party¿s personal felon team to compete with for the grand prize.

Donald E. Westlake provides his usual wild satirical look at modern society foibles in his latest crime caper, PUT A LID ON IT. The story line is amusing and exciting as Francis slowly unravels the truth behind the deal with the devil that he struck. Fans of amusing mysteries will relish Mr. Westlake's axing of the American presidential election system starting with the truism that the only lesson learned by the DC crowd from Watergate is to use professional thieves when breaking and entering to steal something.

Harriet Klausner

Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was extremely disappointed in this very mediocre story by an author whose Dortmunder books have always been filled with unforgettable characters. The characters in his latest effort never quite spring to life and it was difficult to really come to care about any of them. Totally lacking was the humor which makes Dortmunder and his cronies such a great gang of n'er do wells. Great stories are filled with great characters and a believable plot. This book had neither.