NB: A version of this post also appears at Existential Ennui.
My (cross-)posting of this particular Westlake Score was prompted by a newspaper article I noticed last month. I actually bought the book in question—the British first edition of Donald E. Westlake’s Two Much!, published in hardback by Hodder & Stoughton in 1976, the year after the U.S. M. Evans edition—on a whim on Amazon Marketplace at the tail end of 2012 and have had it sitting on my to-be-blogged-about shelves ever since; the Hodder edition is incredibly scarce, and it’s hard for me to resist scarce books—especially Westlake ones—when I encounter them. That said, Two Much! doesn’t number among Westlake’s more celebrated works; pretty much the only reputable reviews of the novel readily available online are this glib Kirkus Reviews one and Ethan Iverson’s capsule review as part of his “A Storyteller That Got the Details Right” essay (Ethan places it in Westlake’s canon as “probably the darkest of all the humorous crime novels”). It’s perhaps better known for its 1995 Hollywood film adaptation—which in turn is arguably better known for the on-set romance which developed between co-stars Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith—and for its 1984 French film adaptation, Le Jumeau (The Twin).
All of which was why I was quite surprised when it cropped up in a Guardian article in March. Written by author Stephen May and titled “The Top 10 Imposters in Fiction”, the article caught my eye principally due to a mention of Tom Ripley in its standfirst. Being, as I am, a Ripley obsessive, naturally I took a look to see which of Patricia Highsmith’s five Tom Ripley novels had been included (the first, The Talented Mr. Ripley, unsurprisingly; you could make just as strong a case for Ripley Under Ground, but May does at least nod to the greater Ripliad), and there, in the number two position (appropriately enough), was Two Much! It’s difficult to tell whether May has read any other Westlake works besides Two Much!—or indeed Two Much! itself; he does little more than recount the plot—but he’s obviously aware of Westlake’s wider oeuvre, noting that the author “published books under at least 16 names.”
To my knowledge this (cross-)post marks the online debut of the Hodder hardback’s dust jacket; I’d certainly not seen it prior to getting my hands on the book, not even on either AbeBooks—not least because at present there isn’t a single copy for sale there (and only one other copy that I can see for sale online anywhere, making it possibly the rarest of all the Hodder hardback editions of Westlake’s novels)—nor at the official Donald E. Westlake website. The jacket design isn’t credited, but the designer evidently took a cue from the M. Evans wrapper (image borrowed from the official Westlake site):
Except to my mind the Hodder jacket isn’t as well executed. Because while the Evans jacket clearly shows a risque greetings card—the writing of which being the narrator of the novel’s profession—it’s much less obvious, at least to my eye, that that’s what we’re supposed to be seeing on the Hodder cover. Still, given how uncommon the Hodder first is—as opposed to the Evans first, of which there are getting on for fifty copies on AbeBooks alone—I know which I’d rather have in my collection.
UPDATE, 11/4/14: The front of the jacket of the Hodder edition of Two Much! has now been added to the Existential Ennui British Thriller Book Cover Design of the 1970s and 1980s gallery.
NB: A version of this post also appears at Existential Ennui.
Here’s a nice exclusive—well, semi-exclusive; I’m cross-posting it at Existential Ennui—for you: Darwyn Cooke‘s handsome cover design for The Getaway Car, the Donald E. Westlake non-fiction anthology put together by Levi Stahl of The University of Chicago Press and due to be published by UCP in September. Levi himself broke the news about Darwyn illustrating and designing the book’s cover on his own blog earlier this month, but this is the first time said cover has been seen online (thank you to Levi for allowing me the opportunity to unveil it here and at Existential Ennui). It’s also, I believe, the first time that Darwyn’s work has adorned a Westlake project outside of the Richard Stark/Parker sphere—but not, I fervently hope, the last. Head to the UCP website for more about the book.
NB: A version of this post also appears at Existential Ennui.
With Trent currently otherwise engaged—literally—it falls to me to provide an update on the Donald E. Westlake non-fiction anthology Trent and I blogged about back in April of last year. Edited by University of Chicago Press’ Levi Stahl, and due for publication by UCP in September, the anthology has now gained both a title and a sub-title: The Getaway Car: A Donald Westlake Nonfiction Miscellany. The full table of contents is available to view on the UCP site, but Levi has kindly agreed for it to be reproduced on The Violent World of Parker and Existential Ennui:
Foreword by Lawrence Block
1 My Second Life: Fragments from an Autobiography
2 Donald E. Westlake, a.k.a. . . .
Hearing Voices in My Head: Tucker Coe, Timothy J. Culver, Richard Stark and Donald E. Westlake
Living with a Mystery Writer, by Abby Adams
Writers on Writing: A Pseudonym Returns From an Alter-Ego Trip, With New Tales to Tell
3 So Tell Me about This Job We’re Gonna Pull: On Genre
The Hardboiled Dicks
Introduction to Murderous Schemes
Introduction to The Best American Mystery Stories, 2000
Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You
4 Ten Most Wanted: Ten Favorite Mystery Books
5 Returning to the Scene of the Crime: On His Own Work
Introduction to Levine
Tangled Webs for Sale: Best Offer
Introduction to Kahawa
Letter to Howard B. Gotlieb, Boston University Libraries
6 Lunch Break: May’s Famous Tuna Casserole
7 The Other Guys in the String: Peers, Favorites, and Influences
Lawrence Block: First Sighting
On Peter Rabe
Playing Politics with a Master of Dialogue: On George V. Higgins
On Rex Stout
Introduction to Jack Ritchie’s A New Leaf and Other Stories
Foreword to Thurber on Crime
Introduction to Charles Willeford’s The Way We Die Now
On Stephen Frears
John D. MacDonald: A Remembrance
8 Coffee Break: Letter to Ray Broekel
9 Anything You Say May Be Used against You: Interviews
An Inside Look at Donald Westlake, by Albert Nussbaum, 81332-132
The Worst Happens: From an Interview by Patrick McGilligan
10 Midnight Snack: Gustatory Notes from All Over
11 Side Jobs: Prison Breaks, Movie Mobsters, and Radio Comedy
Love Stuff, Cops-and-Robbers Style
Send In the Goons
12 Signed Confessions: Letters
To Judy ?
To Peter Gruber
To James Hale
To Stephen and Tabitha King
To Brian Garfield
To David Ramus
To Pam Vesey
To Gary Salt
To Henry Morrison
To Jon L. Breen
13 Jobs Never Pulled: Title Ideas
Comic Crime Titles
14 Death Row (Or, The Happily Ever Afterlife): Letter to Ralph L. Woods
I must say it all looks fascinating: I’ve read (and written about) Westlake essays like “Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You,” “Peter Rabe,” and “Break-Out” before, but there are plenty more besides I haven’t read; I’m especially keen to take a look at the autobiography fragments and the personal letters Levi (and his glamorous assistant Ethan Iverson) dug out of Westlake’s files. I’m also intrigued to read Levi’s introduction and Lawrence Block’s foreword, a single sentence from the latter of which is previewed at the UCP site, along with a quote from Hard Case Crime’s Charles Ardai and some more info about the book. Go take a gander.
NB: This post also appears at Existential Ennui.
This next Westlake Score is again a 1970s British Hodder & Stoughton first edition of a Donald E. Westlake crime caper, again bearing a Mark Wilkinson-designed dust jacket, which I’ve again added to the Existential Ennui British Thriller Book Cover Design of the 1970s and 1980s page, alongside Wilkinson’s wrapper for A New York Dance.
Published by Hodder in 1978 – the year after the Evans first edition, which I blogged about briefly in 2010 – Nobody’s Perfect is the fourth novel in Westlake’s comedic crime series starring hard luck heister John Dortmunder and his inept crew, and, to my mind, thus far the least successful. In his two-part essay on thrillers the academic and critic John Fraser labels Westlake’s capers “terminally unfunny” (Fraser has a lot more time for Westlake’s pseudonymous Parker novels), and I must admit four books into the Dortmunder series I’m beginning to have some sympathy for his position. (Mind you, Fraser also called W. Somerset Maugham’s sublime Ashenden, or, The British Agent “dreary”, so his word certainly shouldn’t be taken as gospel.) The only Dortmunder I’ve found really amusing so far is the second one, Bank Shot; the other three have barely raised a smile.
But while the debut Dortmunder, The Hot Rock, had novelty going for it (it is, after all, the first book in the series) and the third outing, Jimmy the Kid, was divertingly meta (especially for Parker fans – it features a Parker novel-within-the-novel, Child Heist), Nobody’s Perfect suffers from over-familiarity. Going in there’s the expectation that Dortmunder and co.’s theft of a painting (to aid the owner’s insurance scam) will somehow go wrong, and sure enough it does. Which would be fine if the laughs were forthcoming… only they’re not, no matter how many comedy Scotsmen Westlake throws at the thing.
Ethan Iverson, in his peerless, indispensable overview of Westlake’s oeuvre, “A Storyteller That Got the Details Right”, reckons that as of the next book, Why Me?, “the franchise really starts to settle down”, and “the team consistently act like experienced pros”. I hope Ethan’s right, because in the absence of any giggles, for me the Dortmunder books are going to have to stand or fall on those old stalwarts, character and story. And on the evidence of Nobody’s Perfect, there’s plenty of room for improvement on both counts.
Apologies for the lack of content lately. Nick has chimed in on occasion, for which I’m very grateful, but I haven’t done a damn thing in a couple of months, including reading and replying to e-mail. (I knocked out a bunch of that yesterday and today. Again, apologies.)
As regular readers know, I’m getting married soon. Turns out, this is a lot of work. I’m moving this weekend, in fact, as a precursor to the blessed event. I’m writing this blog post partially because I feel guilty for neglecting things for so long and partially to procrastinate.
As regular readers also know, hiatuses (hiati?) happen every couple of years here when life gets in the way. I always come back, and will this time as well. I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to coming home from work with nothing else to do other than having some dinner and watching a movie or reading a good book with my wonderful wife by my side.
So thank you to Nick, for keeping the pulse going, and thank you to all of you for always coming back. We will be back at full strength in a few months! Thanks for bearing with me.
NB: a version of this post also appears at Existential Ennui.
It’s been a little quiet here at The Violent World of Parker blog of late, at least half of the blame for which rests with me: I am, after all, supposed to be (esteemed) co-blogger over here. Fortunately I have a small pile of Westlake Scores waiting to be blogged about, at the top of which is A New York Dance by Donald E. Westlake, published in hardback in the UK by Hodder & Stoughton in 1979 under a dust jacket illustrated by Mark Wilkinson, who I believe is this Mark Wilkinson, best known for his Marillion record sleeves. As such, his wrapper for A New York Dance must represent a fairly early piece of professional work.
I imagine A New York Dance will be an unfamiliar title to most Westlake fans, especially American ones, who will better know it under its original US title of Dancing Aztecs. It took me to a while to fall in too; back in 2010 I scored a 1976 Evans first edition of Dancing Aztecs:
with its Joel Schick-designed dust jacket (which, for the bibliophiles among us, was trimmed too short on the first edition, meaning that the grey boards can be seen top and bottom), stating that I didn’t think it had ever been published in the UK. It was only much later that I realised Hodder had retitled the novel for the British market, something the publisher already had form with with Westlake’s work: witness their paperback division’s retitling of his Parker novels The Man with the Getaway Face, The Score and The Handle as, respectively, The Steel Hit, Killtown and Run Lethal.
Mind you, Westlake wasn’t the only American mystery writer to have his work retitled by Hodder; his near-contemporary, Ross Thomas, had a couple of his novels retitled by the British publisher – his debut, The Cold War Swap, which became Spy in the Vodka (for a short while, anyway), and one of his pseudonymous Oliver Bleeck books, The Procane Chronicle, which became The Thief Who Painted Sunlight. And much later in Westlake’s career another British publisher, Robert Hale, did some titular tinkering: The Hook became The Corkscrew, and The Ax gained an ‘e’.
As to why I decided to acquire a Hodder first of A New York Dance when I already owned an Evans first of Dancing Aztecs, well, I think most people reading this will be familiar with my feeble justifications by now, so take your pick from:
a) A New York Dance popped up on eBay and it was cheap
b) the Hodder first is pretty scarce (only a handful of copies available online)
c) it gives me something to cross-post on The Violent World of Parker
d) I can add the cover to the Existential Ennui British Thriller Book Cover Design of the 1970s and 1980s page (and have now done so)
e) all of the above, plus I’m demented.
And all of those apply to the next Westlake Score too – another Hodder edition which I already owned – and have already blogged about – in US first, and which again sports a Mark Wilkinson wrapper.