Sunday, June 18, 2006

The Road to Ruin by Donald E. Westlake

Donald E. Westlake is a prolific author of mostly detective fiction. He’s been writing for years (since about 1960), and has published 75 books, or maybe more. He uses several pseudonyms, and his work ranges from hard-boiled crime stories to farce. He’s an excellent writer with a gift for plots twists and a light humorous touch.

His series about John Dortmunder, and his hapless buddies falls into the sillier category of Westlake’s work. Dortmunder is a small time crook, a nice fellow, a smart guy who is always the brains of an operation. His friends Andy Kelp and Stan Murch make up his gang, along with the ironically named Tiny, who is ostensibly in charge of breaking heads, though very few heads actually ever get broken. Sometimes accompanied by Dortmunder’s better half, Mae, and occasionally by Murch’s mom (who is never referred to by any other moniker), these guys cook up capers, and carry them out with varying degrees of success; no one ever gets hurt, and it always works out in the end. Just my kind of thing.

The Road to Ruin was like a visit with old friends. I wouldn’t say that it was the best Dortmunder book I’ve read – the ending was something of a letdown, but it was still fun and refreshing. Westlake’s web site is interesting, and I think is a good example of his humor and warmth. In its current incarnation it features Dortmunder, whom I believe must be Westlake’s most enduring character, though I guess some would argue that that honor belongs to Parker, about whom Westlake writes under the Richard Stark pseudonym.

(Book 27, 2006)


Peter Patau said...

Have you read his "Likely Story"? It's a wickedly funny story about a writer trying to put together a "Christmas book" anthology project in the midst of personal crises. Funny, poignant, and a nice ending.

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