• If you like Donald E. Westlake, you’ve probably already bought his latest novel, What’s So Funny? (Warner, 359 pp., $24.99). If you haven’t, stop reading and start buying. This review is for everybody else.
It always surprises me to find out that there are people who don’t know Westlake’s crime novels, most of which are comic and all of which are intensely pleasurable. I’ve been reading him since 1967, which makes me not so much a fan as an addict, and though I’ve liked some of his books more than others, I can’t think of a single one that has failed to divert me, which is a pretty amazing track record.
Like P.G. Wodehouse, a writer with whom he has quite a lot in common, Westlake is usually at his best in his series books. The Parker novels (written under the tongue-in-cheek nom de plume of Richard Stark) feature a no-nonsense professional burglar who specializes in infallible capers that go wrong only because of the fallibility of his less single-minded associates. These books are dead serious. In the Dortmunder novels, by contrast, the premise of the Parker novels is cleverly shifted to an alternate world peopled with losers whose plans are infallible only in the sense that they never fail to go sour. These novels, of which Westlake has written thirteen since 1970, are incredibly, pulverizingly funny, and the only thing wrong with them is that there aren’t twice as many.