The Getaway Car: A Donald Westlake Nonfiction Miscellany

The Getaway Car: A Donald Westlake Nonfiction Miscellany

by Donald E. Westlake
     
 

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Over the course of a fifty-year career, Donald E. Westlake published nearly one hundred books, including not one but two long-running series, starring the hard-hitting Parker and the hapless John Dortmunder. In the six years since his death, Westlake’s reputation has only grown, with fans continuing to marvel at his tightly constructed plots, no-nonsense prose,

Overview

Over the course of a fifty-year career, Donald E. Westlake published nearly one hundred books, including not one but two long-running series, starring the hard-hitting Parker and the hapless John Dortmunder. In the six years since his death, Westlake’s reputation has only grown, with fans continuing to marvel at his tightly constructed plots, no-nonsense prose, and keen, even unsettling, insights into human behavior.
 
With The Getaway Car, we get our first glimpse of another side of Westlake the writer: what he did when he wasn’t busy making stuff up. And it’s fascinating. Setting previously published pieces, many little seen, alongside never-before-published material found in Westlake’s working files, the book offers a clear picture of the man behind the books—including his thoughts on his own work and that of his peers, mentors, and influences. The book opens with revealing (and funny) fragments from an unpublished autobiography, then goes on to offer an extended history of private eye fiction, a conversation among Westlake’s numerous pen names, letters to friends and colleagues, interviews, appreciations of fellow writers, and much, much more. There’s even a recipe for Sloth à la Dortmunder. Really.
 
Rounded out with a foreword by Westlake’s longtime friend Lawrence Block, The Getaway Car is a fitting capstone to a storied career and a wonderful opportunity to revel anew in the voice and sensibility of a master craftsman.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
10/01/2014
Westlake's (1933–2008) half-century writing career—much of which he spent as one of a dozen or so alter egos, pouring his creative soul into crime, some sf, and what his friend and collaborator Lawrence Block calls "Midcentury Erotica"—produced more than 100 books and introduced crime-fiction legends John Dortmunder and Parker, among a stable of memorable characters, to the author's readers. Westlake's nonfiction is less well known. Stahl (promotions director, Univ. of Chicago Pr.) collects a hodgepodge of obscure and previously unpublished pieces, including fragments of autobiography, essays on genre and the writing life, interviews and letters, recipes for "May's Famous Tuna Casserole" and "Sloth a la Dortmunder," and a 1960 screed to the editors of the sf fanzine Xero that Stahl deems "one of the most spectacular acts of bridge burning in the history of publishing." Each piece is accompanied by a contextual headnote. Block's kind remembrance of Westlake in the foreword offers a glimpse into their lifelong professional and personal relationship. VERDICT "This is a book for fans," Stahl writes. "And there are a lot of us." A must-have for those already familiar with Westlake's fiction or any reader interested in crafty, witty, and insightful autobiographical essays, and the inner workings of the publishing profession from the pen of a successful writer.—Patrick A. Smith, Bainbridge State Coll., GA
The New York Times Book Review - Charles Finch
"This is a book for fans," Stahl insists in his introduction—the sole misstep of his whole enterprise, because in fact this is a book for everyone, anyone who likes mystery novels or good writing or wit and passion and intelligence, regardless of their source. Westlake was a pro…Stahl has assembled these pieces both lovingly and wisely, keeping things brisk, interspersing funny bits of ephemera…But there's serious work too, including a stunningly insightful history of hardboiled fiction.
Publishers Weekly
★ 06/09/2014
Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Donald Westlake (1933–2008) didn’t have an inflated opinion of his own work, as suggested by several of the delightful and revealing selections chosen by editor Stahl. Speaking as Timothy J. Culver, one of his alter egos, he says: “I write what other people want me to write. I’m a hack, I’m making a living.” However, Westlake worked diligently at his craft and was employed as an associate editor at the Scott Meredith Literary Agency, which he joined in 1958. He wrote his first short stories there (for $50 each) and quit the agency after he completed his first “sex novel” for $600. Westlake’s outpouring of half-a-million words in 1959 resulted in 46 short stories and novelettes, 27 of which were published. The author’s quick wit is displayed throughout this collection, whether discussing his own fiction or the work of other writers, such as George V. Higgins and Rex Stout. He also touches on his relationship with films and filmmaking, and with peers such as Lawrence Block and John D. MacDonald. Block contributes an insightful foreword, and Westlake’s wife, Abby Adams, offers her perspective on living with Westlake’s various selves, as exemplified by his multiple characters and aliases. This is a must-have for Westlake fans. Agent: Molly Reese, Einstein Thompson Agency. (Oct.)
David Morrell

“I never met anyone who spoke about writing with greater wit or wisdom than Don Westlake. Reading these essays makes me feel as if, once again, he is talking to me, making me laugh as I learn.”
Judith Flanders

“I discovered Donald Westlake as an angsty teenager, and his comic thrillers made my adolescence less angsty and more enjoyable. Thanks to this collection of his nonfiction, I can discover him all over again. And he is still making my life more enjoyable.”
Ed Gorman

“A serious, hilarious, penetrating look at the process of writing and the soul of the person creating it. Westlake’s analysis of genre fiction, especially crime fiction, is unmatched. Levi Stahl should win the Edgar for his magnificent work. A masterpiece.”
Booklist

“An absolute must-read for Westlake’s legion of fans, this wonderful collection showcases the late mystery writer’s nonfiction skills. . . . Westlake’s writing here is as compelling, as seemingly effortlessly entertaining, as it is in his fiction. A great collection and a reminder of just how talented an author Westlake was.”
Weekly Standard

“Granted full access to Westlake’s archives, Stahl has done a superb job of panning gold from Westlake’s river of personal material. The Getaway Car inspires us to sit down with a bottle of Amsterdam Liquor Store Bourbon—“Our Own Brand”—to toast a genius and to count our blessings that we have one more chance to savor Westlake’s words.In normal gold-panning, the trick is ferreting out enough tiny nuggets to make it worthwhile. But here, judiciousness is called for, knowing which nuggets to feature from the embarrassment of riches. Westlake’s friend and fellow crime novelist Lawrence Block has written a loving foreword, praising Stahl for ‘separating the best of the wheat from the rest of the wheat—Don didn’t do chaff.’ . . . The Getaway Car inspires us to sit down with a bottle of Amsterdam Liquor Store Bourbon—‘Our Own Brand’—to toast a genius and to count our blessings that we have one more chance to savor Westlake’s words.”
The Westlake Review

“While nothing could be as precious as an undiscovered Westlake novel, this anthology comes very close–because it finally gives us context, background details, a basis on which to really start to understand the man behind all those felonious plans, comic capers, and sometimes searing insights into human nature, and our perpetually confused understanding of ourselves.”
Shelf Awareness

“Many fans of crime fiction and capers consider Westlake among the best writers in the field. He published more than 100 books and received a Grand Master citation from the Mystery Writers of America. Those who love his work and such memorable characters as Parker, John Dortmunder and Sam Holt can now rejoice; collected here are essays, letters (one to Stephen King), interviews, an autobiographical fragment (in which he explains why being born in Brooklyn saved his infant life) and a recipe for John Dortmunder’s companion May’s tuna casserole. Some pieces have never been published before.”
Washington Post - Michael Dirda

“’The Getaway Car’ may seem an odd title for a nonfiction miscellany, but it derives from a remark by Abby Adams Westlake. Her husband, she said, ‘no matter where he was headed, always drove like he was behind the wheel of the getaway car.’ That suggests something of the rush and exhilaration with which most readers will turn these pages.”
Wall Street Journal - William Kristol

“Westlake was a storyteller of amazing inventiveness and range, of comic capers and noir thrillers, of manic romps and melancholy tales, of wacky adventures and clever conceits. His novels are set in the America he lived in. If you were to read widely in the Westlake oeuvre, you’d get a better education in the many complexities of American life than you would if you were to spend years studying for a Ph.D. in sociology or American studies. . . . But, more important, if you were to read widely in Westlake, you’d be endlessly entertained. You’ll be similarly entertained by the The Getaway Car,—its contents run from substantial essays and admiring portraits of predecessors like Rex Stout and James Thurber to amusing interviews and reflections on Westlake’s own work.”
Washington Independent Review of Books

“Westlake is rightly celebrated for the quality of his writing; the sheer tonnage of plot, character, and dialogue he produced was impressive, yet it never outweighed his talent. In The Getaway Car, editor Levi Stahl has assembled a diverse set of letters, interviews, and other documents that reveal what Westlake himself thought of his work—the business of writing, the process, and the resulting product of his labor.”
Seattle Times

“The late Donald Westlake was a virtuoso composer of caper novels, both comic and deadly serious. The Getaway Car proves he was also a gifted nonfiction writer. Who knew? This collection of essays, autobiographical notes, interview transcripts and whatnot is a wondrous look into Westlake’s bemused head. One highlight is a dissection of what makes pulp fiction tick (Westlake himself spent years in the pulp trenches).”
Daily Beast

“Is a posthumous collection of miscellaneous pieces (even one as smartly edited as this one) a good place to first encounter a writer known for his fiction? Normally I would say no, but in Westlake’s case, there really is no wrong way to approach his work. It is after all his sensibility—funny, fatalistic, humane but never sappy and always a little off kilter—that gives his writing its flavor, and you can find that sensibility in these pages as surely as you can in the novels. Because ultimately Westlake was not this kind of writer, or that kind, not a crime writer, or a satirist, or a comedian. He was just a writer, and as good as they come.”
Printer's Row
“The great Donald E. Westlake, author of some of the best puzzles of the 20th century, turns out to have been a terrific essayist and correspondent, too. Reading this collection of nonfiction is like becoming friends with a mystery novelist.”
Guardian - P.D. Smith
“This book doesn’t disappoint. . . . Westlake was a hugely entertaining and witty writer. Whether he is writing a letter to his editor or about the history of his genre, he remains true to his definition of what makes a great writer: ‘passion, plus craft.’”
New York Times
“This is a book for everyone, anyone who likes mystery novels or good writing or wit and passion and intelligence, regardless of their source.”
Toronto Star
“Almost as much as he enjoyed writing crime novels, Westlake liked to write comments on his own work and on that of his contemporaries and predecessors in the genre. His list of written product includes countless essays, book introductions and prefaces, lists, letters and one memorial (to John D. MacDonald). It’s from this treasure trove of material that an eager beaver academic named Levi Stahl at the University of Chicago has put together the valuable collection he titles The Getaway Car.”
Charles Ardai

“Westlake was a treasure and a delight to read—the man was incapable of writing a paragraph without being witty and memorable and wise—and Westlake on Westlake is enjoyable in the extreme.”
Lawrence Block

“Stahl has done a superb job of . . . separating the best of the wheat from the rest of the wheat—Don didn’t do chaff—and organizing and notating the result.”
The New Criterion - David Guaspari
“A kind of posthumous autobiography, a selection of his occasional nonfiction that gives us a portrait of an interesting mind, a high-spirited friend, a shrewd critic, and a craftsman reflecting on his trade—and of a kind of writing life that may no longer be available. It should appeal not only to fans of Westlake but to anyone who takes pleasure in seeing a job done well or reading a well-turned sentence.”
Kirkus Reviews
2014-07-06
Assorted selections from a beloved crime writer. Westlake (1933-2008), who wrote under his own name and a handful of pseudonyms, was an award-winning writer of crime, mystery and detective novels; short stories; screenplays; and one children's book. University of Chicago Press promotions director Stahl thinks this collection of Westlake's nonfiction will please his fans; it's likely these sharp, disarmingly funny pieces will also create new ones. The editor includes a wide range of writing: interviews, letters, introductions to Westlake's and others' work, and even recipes. "May's Famous Tuna Casserole" appeared in the cookbook A Taste of Murder. May is the "faithful companion" of Westlake's famous protagonist John Dortmunder, "whose joys are few and travails many." Another of his culinary joys, apparently, was sautéed sloth. One of the best essays is "Living With a Mystery Writer," by Westlake's wife, Abby Adams: "Living with one man is difficult enough; living with a group can be nerve-wracking. I have lived with the consortium which calls itself Donald Westlake for five years now, and I still can't always be sure, when I get up in the morning, which of the mob I'll have my coffee with." Will it be the gloomy Tucker Coe, the professional hack Timothy Culver, the morose, exacting Richard Stark, the author of Westlake's 24 Parker novels, or Westlake himself: modest, unpretentious and fun-loving. In "The Hard-Boiled Dicks," Westlake considers the evolution and popularity of the detective story, the most appropriate term, he said, for the genre that included mysteries, suspense, crime and police procedurals. Crime, he thought, was essential to a storyteller: With society, the individual and a crime, "you have all the multiple possibilities of drama, plus all the multiple possibilities of free will; that is, life." Westlake kept a list of possible book titles, the last of which was Read Me. It would have been just the right one for this bright, witty book.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780226121956
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
Publication date:
09/03/2014
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
256
File size:
3 MB

Read an Excerpt

The Getaway Car

A Donald Westlake Nonfiction Miscellany


By Levi Stahl

The University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2014 The University of Chicago
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-226-12195-6



CHAPTER 1

MY SECOND LIFE

Fragments from an Autobiography


Around the time of his seventieth birthday, Donald Westlake took a stab at writing an autobiography. According to his widow, he never quite felt that it was ready for publication—but when I got a chance to read the draft in his files, I found that it included a number of memories and anecdotes of Westlake's childhood and early experiences with writing that seemed well worth sharing.—Ed.


I was born in Brooklyn, New York, on July 12, 1933, and I couldn't digest milk. Not mother's milk, nor cow's milk, nor goat's milk, nor anybody's milk. Nor could I digest any of the baby formulas then available. Everything they fed me at the hospital ran right through me, leaving mere traces of nutrients behind. On the fourth day, the doctors told my parents to prepare for the worst: "He'll be dead by his eighth day." Just another squirming little bundle of muscle and heat that didn't make it.

Then, on the fifth day, the doctors learned about an experimental baby formula, based on soybeans, nearing the end of its trials in a hospital in Manhattan. There was nothing else to try, so phone calls were made, the formula was shipped from Manhattan to Brooklyn, and for the first time in my young life I found something I could tolerate.

If I'd been born three months earlier, I was dead in eight days. If I'd been born in Baltimore or Boston, much less some small town somewhere, or anywhere else in the world, I was dead in eight days. Only a surprise ending saved my life.

By the eighth day, instead of snuffing out, I was putting on my baby fat. On the ninth day, my second life began.


My first conscious memory dates from when I was three years old, and it connects directly with the central obsession of my entire life: story. From the time I could understand language, I loved story. Tell me a story. Both my father and my mother would read stories to me, and those times were the peak of my existence.

Unfortunately, I never got enough story to satisfy my addiction. This was the Depression, and both my parents worked. My mother, who was a clerk-typist, often brought typing work home in the evenings, and my father, who was a loyal member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, eventually becoming regional commander in the New York–New England area around Albany, was often out in the evenings on VFW affairs. I simply wasn't getting enough story.

My toys then included a set of wooden square blocks with letters on them and, with their help, my mother had taught me the alphabet, so I knew what the letters looked like, and I knew what they were supposed to sound like. But when I saw words on a piece of paper I just could not make sense out of them. How was I supposed to guess that "help," for instance, began with the letter "aitch"?

I was three when I finally broke the code, and that's my first coherent memory. We lived in Yonkers, then, the last time we lived in a one-family house, our later homes in Albany always being the upstairs flat in a two-family house. On this particular day in Yonkers, I was on the living room floor, to the left of where the somewhat cramped staircase went up to a landing then turned left above the kitchen door. I was on all fours, hunkered on top of the Yonkers newspaper, which was a large paper like the New York Times rather than a smaller tabloid like the New York Daily News, so I could get all four limbs completely on it. There was a photo—black and white in 1936 of course—at the top of the page, showing a group of men on a stage or platform of some sort, outdoors. It was winter, and they were all in heavy coats and what looked like military officer caps. There was a suggestion of the military about the group, though I suppose that's a conclusion I'm drawing later.

I looked at the picture, and I looked at the caption under it, and the first word was "The." I knew "T," I knew "he," I knew "e," but I could not for the life of me figure out "The." I stared at the picture, I stared at that word, and then, as usual, I gave up and went on to the next word, which was "police."

Police. I tried saying it out loud, forming my mouth around it. "Peeoh-el-eye-cee-ee. Peeoh-el-eye-cee- ee."

No. I couldn't get it. I stared at the picture some more, and then the word, and all at once it was there. Police.

That's when I learned the secret, broke the code. They don't use the whole letter, the "pee" or the "el," they just use a kernel of it, "puh" or "ll." Some, like the "ee," they don't really use at all. But once you understand that central fact, the sheer wastefulness of letter-sounds, that they are both kernel and husk, it's a snap. Police!

The next word just poured into my brain. "De-part-ment." And now, back at that treacherous, nasty, secretive stub of a word that started the whole thing: "The! The, you son of a bitch, The!" (I don't remember what three-year-olds say instead of "son of a bitch," but whatever it is I'm sure I said it.)

Yes, the first word I ever read was "police"; sorry about that. Sometimes reality really is banal.

* * *

I first started making up my own stories when I was about eight, during those summer months when my bedtime was long before sundown. I wasn't permitted to read. I wasn't permitted to do anything but lie in my bed in my room and, presumably, sleep.

But daylight filtered through the drawn window shade and the sounds of the activities of the adults came through my just-ajar door and in through my open window, because of course there was no air-conditioning and nobody particularly wanted to roast me alive in there. So, bored, awake, distracted by the sounds and lights of life, I started to tell myself stories, hoping to keep the sagas going until sleep should find me.

The stories I made up were jumbles of the stories I'd been taking in from all sources, at first pretty much limited to the exciting parts, though I soon realized, if I was going to keep myself interested in one of these stories, I'd have to do more than just have cars going off cliffs and planes crash-landing into jungles. To keep my stories moving, and to make them worth my time, I was going to have to add two elements: people, and reasons. Why is he in the car? Why is it going off the cliff?

I resented having to do this boring detail work, but the story wouldn't emerge without it, and figuring out all that housekeeping did at least pass the time, so that often I'd barely have set my stage and introduced my cast when unconsciousness would conquer all. And often, the next night, I would have little or no memory of what I'd worked out toward the end the night before, and I'd have to start all over.

There did come a time, though, when I perfected my own private serial, and that story took me through the long evenings for quite a while. I think I was ten, maybe a little older. A couple of the movie serials I'd seen at the Delaware Theater had included sequences on PT boats and other small war boats well-mounted with machine guns.

That was my vehicle. Somewhere in some island-filled ocean, the Pacific, I think, a crew of half a dozen of us had adventures on that boat that went on for months. If, on a particular evening, I didn't remember how last night's episode had ended—or, rather, where it had stopped, since this story was without an ending—I'd simply go back to the part I last remembered, and invent anew.

This boat saga did many things for me, in addition to helping me while away the idle hours confined to bed though wide awake. It taught me continuity, for one thing, continuity of character and setting. It taught me that every event had to be followed by another event, so we'd better be sure we only provide events that can generate some further occurrence.

There was the time, for instance, when I had our boat hit by a torpedo and sunk, so that we were all bobbing in the vasty ocean, clinging to bits of wreckage. But that event didn't really work, because there was no possible subsequent event except drowning and a watery grave. So I had to go back and make the torpedo score a near miss, so that the next event became the search for the enemy submarine, which I believe had fled up a river in a nearby island. So I was also learning how to rewrite.

* * *

It was inevitable that, after playing air guitar for a couple years, I'd feel ready to move on to the real thing. My mother often brought typing work home to do in the evening, on her big, industrial-strength L. C. Smith typewriter, a big black shiny monster that actually did sound like a machine gun when she used it and like a slow popcorn machine under my own fingers. Fairly early on I learned how to peck out words on that machine. I didn't know the touch system yet, or any other system, but it did the job.

When I first started to try to write stories on paper, I operated from a misunderstanding that, in retrospect, only helped me. In books and magazines and newspapers, columns of print were always smooth and straight on both sides, but the typewriter didn't want to do that. I could produce straight left margins, that was easy, but my right margins looked like mountain ranges lying on their sides.

I decided, if ever I was going to be taken seriously as a storyteller, I'd better correct those right margins, and the only way I could think to do it was synonyms. I arbitrarily decided that a line of my writing would be sixty spaces long. If a line was too long or too short, I'd go back and change some of the words. Is "enter" too short? Come in. A house can be a home, if that's what fits.

This was, of course, an exercise in futility, but it was also an exercise in working with language. No matter what it is I want to say, I learned, it can be said in lines sixty spaces long. I must say I'm pleased to know I don't have to labor under that restriction, but the practice and the discipline were good for me.

* * *

Which brings me, I suppose reluctantly, to what it is I was writing. The first story I tried to put on paper, hunt and peck, sixty spaces to the line, was set at a baseball game and all I remember is, the catcher had a pistol concealed in his mitt. God knows why. I think I didn't know why.

* * *

My sophomore year at Champlain College, one of the guys in my dormitory was always talking about burglary. He came from Brooklyn, apparently from an environment where it was considered a good thing to be thought of as living on the wrong side of the law (though you didn't actually have to be on the wrong side of the law, just give the impression), and his way to maintain his credibility was to describe the burglaries he could perform on campus, the laxity of the security, the easiness of the job, the profits to be made.

I had a conversation with this guy at an unfortunate moment. My beer truck job had ended earlier in the fall, and I was pretty well scraping bottom. In about a week, I'd go back to Albany for the two-week Christmas break and my job with the brotherhood, but when I returned to Champlain College the larder would be empty, with the bills for the spring semester dead ahead.

I had no idea what I was going to do, and that's when I had the conversation with this fellow, who said the chemistry lab was just ripe for plucking, we could go in there that very night and rip off a couple micro scopes. Who knows what they were worth? Hundreds! "Let's do it," I said.

We did it. It was as easy as he'd said it would be. I thought about nothing but how the money from this microscope would make it possible for me to come back to school next semester. I put it in my luggage and brought it home to Albany and pawned it in one of the many pawnshops then down along S. Pearl Street.

I got twenty-five dollars; not enough. Would I steal more microscopes, at twenty-five bucks a pop? The idea made me very queasy.

Still, I had my latest wages from the New York Central, so with that, and the twenty-five dollars, I went back to school. I spent the first morning in class and then, in an early afternoon class, word came that I was wanted in the provost's office. Blindly, it didn't even occur to me what this might be about.

Probably in deference to the school, the two cops were in plainclothes, but they showed their badges and thanked the provost and we went away. They were polite but aloof. I asked no questions, and they offered no small talk.

At the state police headquarters in town, they walked me down a hall where, in a side room, I glimpsed my partner in crime, seated hunched desperately forward, looking considerably less macho than before. At the end of the hall I was shown into the nice office of the head of CID, who said to me, "Do you want to tell me about it?"

If he wants to know if I want to tell him about it, he already knows all about it. I immediately told everything, and was taken away to be booked and placed in a cell in the Plattsburgh jail, with my co-bandit in another cell, and a couple of other desperadoes—mainly alcoholics—to fill out the roster.

This part is not that easy to talk about. The next day, my father drove up to Plattsburgh, and the nadir of my life came when we met in the visitors' room at the Plattsburgh jail. He took some of the blame on himself, for being unable to support me, which made me feel worse, and which I absolutely rejected, then and now. We all do the best we can, and sometimes the best we can do is make a mistake.

I spent four nights and five days in that jail, and hated it, even more than you might expect. Every instant was intolerable. I hate being here now; I hate being here now; I hate being here now.

Years later, when I was writing novels about criminals, and when at least some of the criminals were still literate, I'd occasionally get a fan letter from somebody doing time, and in a few instances, when I replied, I gave an edited version of my own jail time so I could ask the question: How can you live in an intolerable state for years? I couldn't stand one single second of it for a mere five days; how do you do it year after year?

The answer I got was always the same, with minor variations. Yes, what I described was what they, too, had gone through, the absolute unbearable horror, but I'd quit the experience too early. Some time in the second week, they told me, your brain flips over and this becomes the reality. This becomes where you live now. And how, I wonder, do you come back from that damage?

As usual, my father could come through for someone else, in this case me. Through political friends, or VFW friends, or somewhere, he reached out to the state legislator from that district, who was of course a lawyer, and hired him to represent me. The family had to borrow money from everybody they knew, but they got me represented by the local state legislator, who was, among other things, known to be a friend and supporter of Champlain College.

In our time in jail together, my former classmate remained a basket case, weeping, tossing and turning on his cot, once crushing a whole apple in his bare hand, ever bemoaning the loss of his dream of a medical career. We had no conversations, compared no notes, made no plans, melded in no way.

Which was just as well. From this point on, everything I learned about my fellow thief made things worse. First, it turned out he already knew a fence in Plattsburgh, which he hadn't mentioned to me, so he'd simply turned his microscope over to that guy, who at that time of year transported stolen goods to New York City for resale concealed in truckloads of Christmas trees. (I know; is nothing sacred?)

This fence, returning from the city a day early, found his wife in bed with a husband not her own. The fence beat this trespasser badly enough to put him in the hospital. However, deciding this had been an insufficient response, he then snuck into the hospital to beat the other guy up all over again, in his hospital bed, until the cops pulled him off and stuck him in the same jail where I was soon to find myself. He stayed there until the day school reopened. First thing in the morning, my partner was picked up on campus, and once he was delivered to the CID the outraged fence was released from jail without charges. My partner was interviewed in the morning, and they came for me in the afternoon. I guess they hadn't invented omerta yet.


Once my father got the guy with clout to be my lawyer, the other guy's family wanted him, too, and insisted when we demurred. I think they already knew their son was in more trouble than I was, because in the basement of the family home in Brooklyn several items were found bearing the oval bronze plaque marked ACUNY [Associated Colleges of Upper New York—Ed.].

Bail was of course impossible, so I had to stay there until they decided what to do with me. On the fifth day, the other guy and I were brought to court, where the judge accepted a sealed indictment against each of us. This meant, if I was not indicted for any additional crime over a period of time to be determined by the judge, the indictment would be quashed and not exist as part of my record. I would never have been arrested, never indicted. This was an outcome that left me weak with relief.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Getaway Car by Levi Stahl. Copyright © 2014 The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
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.

Meet the Author

Donald E. Westlake (1933–2008) was a prolific author of crime fiction. In 1993, the Mystery Writers of America bestowed the society’s highest honor on Westlake, naming him a Grand Master. Levi Stahl is the promotions director of the University of Chicago Press.

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