Authors: Donald E Westlake
Donald E. Westlake
First published by
M. Evans & Company, Inc.
Following last year’s hilariously funny
, the prolific Donald E. Westlake now produces a pair of miniatures—two brief strokes of genius for the price of one—which is certainly
“A Travesty,” follows the twists and turns in the career of movie critic-cum-murderer Carey Thorpe, as he flails and connives his way through a plot so devious that it finally sums up the entire genre of the Mystery Story once and for all. Carey successively becomes the Detective’s Sidekick, the Least Obvious Suspect, the Amateur Detective, the Innocent Accused, several other detective story standbys, and ultimately the Murderer Himself.
What happens to Carey when he accidentally kills his girlfriend (she shouldn’t have annoyed him) is as quick and twisty as a roller-coaster ride, an endlessly intricate Murder Mystery with a true Surprise at the finish. A fast and funny story, with enough cleverness and invention for two books, it is here only half the story of
Completing the abundance of
is a total change of pace, “Ordo,” the sardonic brooding character study of Ordo Tupikos, a man dealing with an astonishment out of his own past. What would you do if you discovered the plain Jane you’d married (and divorced) sixteen years ago was now, under another name, Hollywood’s reigning movie star sex queen? What Ordo does, and what is done to him reach a level of power seldom found in comedy.
A study in contrasts,
displays a pair of totally different story styles from the same fertile brain. If you’ve never had
, you have it now.
WESTLAKE probably is the best practitioner we have of the craft of writing about subjects that should be grim and tense but turn out only to be ridiculous. He specializes in that classic, comic figure, the perennial victim who finds himself in one predicament after another but somehow emerges from his ordeals mostly intact.
—KANSAS CITY STAR
WESTLAKE’s products are remarkably free from flaws and move along non-stop at top speed…WESTLAKE is a writer of uncommon talent, imagination, flair and unpredictability. His versatility is unbelievable. I can’t think of another writer who moves so frequently from screwball farce to gritty realism with such aplomb. Or with such consistently high quality.
—LOS ANGELES TIMES
WESTLAKE is famous for his comic caper novels which are as outrageously funny as they are imaginative.
ALBERT F. NUSSBAUM
WESTLAKE deals in a singular brand of humor, invariably couched in keen characterizations. He has a rare gift for subtle comedy and the well-turned phrase.
—FT. WORTH MORNING STAR
The Devil’s Dictionary
For Aram Avakian, fondly,
If once a man indulges himself in murder,
very soon he comes to
think little of robbing;
and from robbing he
to drinking and sabbath-breaking,
and from that to
incivility and procrastination.
THOMAS DE QUINCEY
“Murder Considered As One
Of The Fine Arts”
The Adventure of the Missing R
Well, she was dead, and there was no use crying over spilt milk. I released her wrist—no pulse—and looked around the
room, while fragments of imaginary conversations unreeled in my mind:
“And you say you
“Well, not that
hard. She slipped on the floor, that’s all, and smacked her head on the coffee
a result of you hitting her.”
a result of her polishing the goddam floor all the goddam time.”
Laura’s clean jagged
style had, as a matter of fact, killed her more than anything else. What kind
of bachelor girl apartment was this, with its hulking glass coffee table and
chrome lamps and white vinyl chairs and bare black floor? Where were the
pillows, the furs, the drapes and hangings, the softnesses? Sterile cold
hardness everywhere; it might as well be an art gallery.
“But you did hit her, is that
“But it was an accident!”
If it were an accident, it might just as well
have happened when I was somewhere else. I wasn’t here at all, officer, I was, uhh…Screening a film. Yes, at home by
myself. Yes, I do that all the time, it’s part of my
I got to my feet, studying the room. If I
weren’t here, what would be different?
Well, that glass, for one. It wouldn’t be
standing on the murderous coffee table with Jack Daniels in it and my
fingerprints all over it.
there’d be fingerprints everywhere in this highly-polished apartment, wouldn’t
“Do you know a Miss Laura Penney?”
“Yes, I do, casually.”
“Is something wrong?”
“Have you been to her apartment?”
“A few times, I suppose, picking her up
for a screening.”
Fine. I took the
glass to the small kitchen, washed it, put it away, and headed for the bathroom
to study the medicine chest. Razor, shaving cream, toothbrush; nothing that
would lead anybody to—
Wait a minute. That little medicine bottle
with the drugstore label, isn’t that—?
It is. My Valium, with my name typed on the prescription
label: “Carey Thorpe, 1 as required for stress.” So I took one—if
wasn’t a situation of stress there is no such thing—and pocketed the
Nothing else in here, so
onward quickly to the bedroom. Clothing, yes. A couple of shirts, a tie, my Emperor Nero cufflinks, some shorts,
my other blue sweater—Socks? Black, one size fits all,
they could belong on anybody’s feet, so leave them. This is becoming a pretty
hefty package as it is.
Anything else? Bed-table drawers, with their anonymous drugstore items.
Nothing under the bed, not even dust.
Back to the living room, with my armload of
dry cleaning, and Laura spread lifelike on the glossy floor, a scene from
almost any John Carroll-Vera Hruba Ralston flick. This side of her looked
Into my coat. Into my topcoat, distributing shirts and shorts and ties into
various pockets, wrapping the sweater around my waist under all the coats.
Thank God it was February, and perfectly normal to look lumpy and bulky.
Gloves on, and one
final look around. Oh, God, the letter from Warner Brothers,
announcing the re-release of some hoary chestnut. My name was on it, and
a date making it clear the thing couldn’t have arrived earlier than today. I
snatched it up and headed for the apartment door.
And what was the movie again, the one they
were reissuing? I gave the letter a quick scan:
A Slight Case of Murder.
Oh, really. Stopping, I gazed heavenward; or
at least ceilingward. “Come on, God,” I said. “That’s beneath
you.” And I got out of there.
Until the night Laura Penney did herself in
most of the violence I’d known had been secondhand. Carey Thorpe is the name,
and if that rings no bells you aren’t a truly serious student of the cinema.
I’ll admit it’s easy to miss my general film reviewing, in publications such as
Third World Cinema
The Kips Bay Voice
, but my first book,
Auteur: Dynamism And Domination In Film
, was an alternate selection of Book
Find Club in the summer of 1972, and last year my second book,
The Mob At The
Movies: Down From Rico To Puzo
, got universal raves.
Born in Boston in 1942, I came to consciousness
concurrently with television. Being a spindly youth, I spent most of my
childhood in front of the box, watching whatever the program directors thought
fit to show me. Old movies were the mainstay of local programming then, so by
1960 when I went off to college ( Penn State; anything to get away from home and family)
I knew more about movies than Sam Goldwyn and less than him about anything
College, of course, was full of other spindly
youths just like me. Perhaps our predecessors in the dorms had discussed sex
and beer and goldfish-swallowing, but we discussed Hitchcock and Fuller and
Greta Garbo (why
she agree to make
?). In my sophomore year
my film reviews were appearing in the college paper, in my junior year my first
general piece—“Billy Wilder: The Smile In The Skull”—was accepted by
(twenty-five dollars and two contributors’ copies, both
ripped by the mailman), and when I got my degree in American Lit I moved
directly to New York City, typewriter in hand, where I’ve been ever since.
Fortunately, my maternal grandmother passed
away just before I passed out of college, leaving me a trust fund with an
income of about fifteen thousand a year. Unfortunately, the old bitch
mistrusted me as much as she liked me, and tied up the fund so thoroughly with
banks and lawyers that I can’t
get at the
principal. (Believe me, I’ve tried.) Nevertheless, the fifteen G a year has
been a reasonably comfortable base, and over the last several years my writing
has brought in about as much again, so I’ve lived moderately well.
On the other hand, I’d prefer to live very
well, and I’d been hoping to make a killing (excuse that) with
From Italy With Love
. It had seemed to me America was ready for a big glossy photo-filled
coffee-table book on Italian Neo-Realism of the postwar era, but so far I
haven’t been able to get together with a publisher. I’ll admit seven hundred
Shoe Shine, Bicycle Thief, Open City
might get a little
depressing, but what about all those sexy women in their tattered dresses?
Sometimes I don’t understand the publishing industry.
I met my wife-to-be, nee Shirley Francesconi,
about a year after I moved to New York, at a press screening. She was two years
older than I and living with a drugs-politics-8mm freak, so we knew each other
only socially for a year or so, and if I’d had any sense I’d have left it that
way. But then her freak got busted on possession and went away for an extended
rest, so we dated a while and then we lived together and then we got married
and then we found out we hated each other.
The only reason we stuck it seven years
instead of seven days is because my family thought Shirley was terrific. In
fact, when the split finally did come last year it wasn’t to her own folks over
in Queens that Shirley went home, it was to mine up
in Boston. She’s been there ever since, moving slowly
in the direction of divorce and annoying me about money.
The money problem is unfortunately complicated
by the fact that she left while I was still high on
From Italy With Love
. I’d raved a lot about the vast sums that book
would bring in, and Shirley wants some of it. My family is well off—my father’s
an insurance company executive, he’s had his five square meals every day of his
life—and they’re encouraging her to squeeze me. How’s that for a super family?
Then there’s the kids.
It’s perfectly true I’m no good as a father, but I never
I’d be any
good. If Shirley’d just gone ahead and taken the goddam pill like she was
supposed to there wouldn’t
any kids, but oh, no, the pill gave her migraine.
Migraine! The pill maybe gave her migraine, but the diaphragm gave her a
daughter named Rita and the foam gave her a son called John, and whose fault is
that? Let my parents go on supporting them if they want,
who I want to support is me.
So that’s where we stand; or where we stood
until Laura took that header. I’m no monk, I like female companionship, but for
all I know Shirley has private detectives on me—she’ll do anything to
strengthen her position for that inevitable day in court—so I impressed on both
my girls the necessity for maintaining tight security. We didn’t live together,
we didn’t obviously date a lot, and of course I’d explained to each of them
that I’d occasionally have to take other women to screenings or press parties.
(The two girls also didn’t know about one another. Laura and Kit were nodding
acquaintances, with no reason ever to confide in each other, so I was about as
safe as anybody ever is in this vale of tears. It was even possible to take one
of my girls to a premiere attended by the other, with no suspicions raised.)
Well, all that had now come to an end. Laura,
who’d at first come on as the most rabidly independent of Women’s Lib types,
had been complaining more and more about our secret life, comparing herself to
and other absurdities, wanting to know why I didn’t just get the
divorce over and done with (why hurry a finish that could only be costly and
difficult for me?) and even threatening once or twice to blow the whistle
herself with Shirley. Of course she didn’t really mean it, but it was upsetting
to hear her talk that way, and in fact it was a repetition of the same threat
that had caused me to lose my temper tonight and pop her one, etc.