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)
Every Westlake book surprises in a different way, from the hilarious Dortmunder series (Bad News, etc.) to the dark, ominous novels of suspense (The Ax, etc.), and this latest comic caper is no exception. Francis Xavier Meehan, one of Westlake's luckless crooks, is in federal prison for hijacking a mail truck he thought contained computer chips. A presidential reelection official offers him a pardon with a Watergate-type scheme: Meehan must steal a video that, if made public, may prevent the president's reelection. Meehan's court-appointed lawyer cuts the best deal she can for him, and we're off on the caper as Meehan assembles his heist crew, figures the logistics and cases the estate of the elderly, right-wing gun collector who has the video. Egyptian and Israeli spies, plus a plethora of presidential aides ("A hundred thousand big mouths," says Meehan about Washington insiders), provide intermittent interference. By the time Meehan learns the video involves national security and he's superfluous, we've also learned that he's a lot smarter and more savvy than the better-educated president's men. The novel ends with a typical Westlake twist funny and perfectly appropriate. Westlake hooks the reader from the first sentence, maintaining the suspense with unpredictable turnabouts and dead-on descriptions: a presidential aide has "a store of meaningless smiles like Halloween masks." Though not one of the author's very best, you'll read this one with a meaningful smile and many a chuckle. Mystery Guild Featured Alternate. (Apr. 24) FYI: MWA Grandmaster Westlake, who also writes under the name Richard Stark, has won three Edgar Awards. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
When a lifetime criminal goes to work for politicians, it's up to the reader to decide who the real crooks are. Having burgled a truck that he didn't realize contained U.S. mail, Francis Meehan is serving his first stint of federal time. A week into his term, however, a visitor to the prison offers him a reprieve of sorts. To gain his freedom, Meehan has only to steal a videotape that may be of harm to the President, an item currently possessed by someone from the cryptically named "other side." Working with his lawyer and some trusted thieves, Meehan must not only find the tape but also beware of any potential double crosses by his employers. The irony of his situation he must commit a crime to get out of prison adds both to Meehan's character and the comic aspect of the novel. Westlake (Bad News) does another brilliant job, this time by contrasting the relatively smooth and efficient thieves with the bungling politicians. A tongue-in-cheek take on political scandal that belongs in all public libraries. Craig Shufelt, Lane P.L., Fairfield, OH Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Adult/High School-A presidential reelection committee needs to retrieve an incriminating videotape from the Other Side, and, having learned something from history, they "outsource" the job to a professional thief. Francis Xavier Meehan, a career burglar, is just hunkering down to his first federal sentence when he is offered his freedom if he will pull off the heist. Soon this political innocent who has never heard of contributors' planes or October Surprises is playing power politics with the best of them. He brings in his own lawyer to protect his interests, enlists the aid of some fellow thieves, and calmly turns every unexpected development to his own advantage. This might sound fairly predictable, but in Westlake's masterful hands every page delights readers with satirical observations, unexpected twists, and an endless supply of laugh-out-loud zingers. All of this fast-paced fun is laced with sharp observations of contemporary life; light reading just isn't crafted any better than this. Readers who enjoy humorous fiction, satire, or crime-caper stories should be delighted with this book.-Christine C. Menefee, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Westlake, who usually tosses off punchlines with the zeal of a suicide bomber, misfires here. The set-up is promising enough: Francis Xavier Meehan, a career burglar up on federal charges for assaulting a truck incidentally carrying US mail (how was he to know?), is approached by Pat Jeffords, a politico who has decided, post-Watergate, to hire a real crook to redeem sensitive papers that could seriously jeopardize the president's reelection bid. Meehan agrees when he's offered a presidential pardon and spots a chance to make a bit on the side (the cache is secreted among the valuable antique firearm collection of rabid conservative Clendon Burnstone IV). Of course, since he's dealing with crafty pols like Jeffords and Bruce Benjamin, Meehan demands legal representation and soon draws in his court-appointed attorney, the feisty Elaine Goldfarb ("No details!" she shrills when Meehan starts to confide his illegal plans to her). In the meantime, Meehan assembles a gang-not quite as hapless as any of John Dortmunder's (Bad News, 2001, etc.)-cases Burnstone's estate, drives up and down the northeast corridor, and bumps into one situation after another that craves a payoff. But Meehan and the reader are both out of luck: His attempts lead to nothing but quiet fizzles, with barely a glimmer of a double-cross at the end. Few smiles, fewer laughs. Westlake will have to rev up his sense of foul play, and of humor, to deliver the political version of Elmore Leonard's Get Shorty he's assuredly capable of. Mystery Guild featured alternate selection