• 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.
The 1960’s TV-program, The Time Tunnel, in which the central characters go back into the past and alter the course of history, was gripping science-fiction, at least gripping to me when I was eleven years old. But Hillary Clinton, who is older than I am by almost a decade, seems to have thought it was a reality show.
As I noted in an earlier post, her shifting position on the Iraq war is based upon the impossible idea—impossible except by entering the Time Tunnel—that if she knew what she knows now when she voted for the war, she would reverse her position and then our country (and her presidential candidacy) would be much better off.
Lo and behold, time-traveling is becoming a recurring theme in the Clinton campaign. Addressing an audience of Democratic activists in California on the weekend, the former first lady said “she wished she could turn the clock back to a different time.” In particular, she expressed a desire to “rewind the 21st century and just eliminate the Bush-Cheney administration, with all their mistakes and misjudgments.”
It is always tempting fate to write about a success story in Iraq: by the time your article sees print, some terrible atrocity may well have been perpetrated. Case in point: Ramadi.
Last week, I wrote in both the Weekly Standard and the Los Angeles Times about the remarkable success that U.S. forces have had recently in pacifying this one-time al-Qaeda stronghold. Sure enough, on Monday, April 23, and Tuesday, April 24, just as these articles were appearing, several car bombs went off near Ramadi.
Do these bombings call into question how much success U.S. forces have been having? I asked Colonel John Charlton, commander of the 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 3rd Infantry Division, with responsibility for Ramadi and the surrounding area. Below is the response he emailed back to me yesterday, which he agreed to let me share with contentions readers. (Note that the estimated toll he gives for the bombings—thirteen killed—is much lower than the death toll cited in most news accounts, such as this BBC story, which reported at least 45 dead).