I just finished reading the second one, The Cutie. See the scantily clad woman on the cover? She has a gun. This never happens in the book. In fact, when they say “the cutie,” it’s a reference to a stool pigeon. Someone getting cute with the mob. Whatever.
I love Donald Westlake. I was sad when I heard he died last year. I think it was New Year’s Day 2009. His stuff ranges from hard boiled to kind of innocent, gee willikers-esque fun.
His final book, Memory, starts off kind of noirish, but winds up a tragic look into memory loss and denial. The story goes that Westlake wrote this book in the 60s and his agent decided not to have it published because it was “too literary.” Now that he’s dead, Lawrence Block (who also rules) pushed to have it published.
Sometimes when you have the rare opportunity to read a book for hours without stopping, it affects you when you pull yourself away from it. I was left questioning my own memory, checking my pockets over and over to make sure I didn’t leave anything at home (something I’m prone to doing anyway). It’s a long, tedious book, but one that is hard to put down. The main character, I think his name is Paul Cole, seemed to strictly behave in ways that I hoped he wouldn’t. If I were in that situation, however, I don’t know how I’d handle it. At the beginning of the book, Cole gets hit with a chair when he gets caught doing it with another guy’s wife. The guy walks in, flies into a rage, and attacks him with a chair, sending him into a coma. He wakes up with a Memento-esque kind of amnesia, and has to deal with it for the rest of the book, practically. Memory also has the distinction of being the only Westlake/Stark book I’ve read in which there aren’t any guns.
The Cutie was more run of the mill. The guy is an unquestioningly loyal right-hand man to a mob boss. Someone fucks with the mob, and he’s sent to find out who and why. A detective story. The who and the why are crazy far fetched, but it didn’t matter. I had a good time with the kitsch of it. There’s a female character in the book named Mavis St. Paul. Seriously. I guessed the identity of the killer about 40pgs before I got to the end of the book, but I could have never guessed the motive. This isn’t a masterpiece by any stretch, but I was definitely reminded why Westlake is as revered as he is in mystery circles. I loved, loved, loved the last page.
It seems like he left behind a million books for me to read, and I’m looking forward to working my way through them.