Review: Good Behavior, Part 2

 

“Couldn’t anybody stay awake?” Dortmunder demanded of the room at large, and Andy Kelp shifted on the folding chair, his elbow brushing the piano and producing a quote from Wozzeck, which in turn made Tiny rumble and change position, knocking a phone book onto the floor.  Stan Murch sat up straight, clutching for a non-existent steering wheel, crying “I’m awake, I’m awake!  Stay in your own lane!” Kelp then jolted up, wide-eyed and glassy-eyed, attempting to stand without disentangling himself from the folding chair, which meant he toppled over onto the piano–excerpt from Bartok’s Mikrokosmos–before tumbling to the floor.  All of this racket aroused Tiny, who reared up like a walrus, flinging his arms wide, clearing the desk of everything that had been on it, before lunging away in astonishment, causing the swivel chair to over-balance and tip him backwards onto the floor, huge thick legs waving in air.  Meantime Stan, desperately trying to make a left turn, hurtled out of the leather chair and into the side of the desk just under where a lot of staplers and pens and desk calendars and memo pads were falling.

There then followed a brief silence, with dust motes.  Dortmunder looked around. “Are you finished now?” he asked.

“Say!” shouted Howey from the other room, followed by a crash that was probably a full rack of metal shelves going over, with several thousand books.

“Hand-picked,” Dortmunder commented to himself.  He looked at his own right hand with dislike.  “Hand-picked,” he repeated.

When you write a Dortmunder book, be prepared to lead a Dortmunder life–assuming any other kind is on offer.  Famed Dallas department store Neiman-Marcus commissioned a special limited edition of this book, one thousand copies, signed by the author.  Westlake autographed each and every copy like a lamb, only to learn that on the flyleaf Neiman-Marcus had somehow been mis-transcribed as Nieman-Marcus (wasn’t his fault), and he was going to have to sign each and every copy all over again.  With his own right hand, unless he was a southpaw, which I would think he’d have mentioned somewhere.

Fortunately for him, given all the books he had to sign in his life, Westlake went to Catholic schools, where I trust he was drilled relentlessly in the cursive arts by nuns and/or brothers–perhaps the Sisters of Mercy, who taught the elementary classes at the Vincentian Institute in Albany (where he got his high school degree).  There were nuns somewhere in his early life, bet on it.  And perhaps some of them were armed with rulers, like the ones Dortmunder knew as a youth, and used them perhaps a touch over-literally to impose their authority upon their young charges.  And others perhaps used kindness and patience and a much-needed sense of humor.  And I really wish he’d completed and published those memoirs of his, so I wouldn’t have to type the word ‘perhaps’ so often.

This book didn’t get a limited edition from Nie–Nee–from that store without being a crowd pleaser, and that’s just what it is.  I wouldn’t quite put it up there with the very best of the Dortmunders (at this point in the series, the first three are still unquestionably the top three, in my estimation), perhaps precisely for this reason–the elitist in me.  And for all its many virtues, this is not one for the elitists.  I think Westlake consciously wrote this one to sell big, because he’d given Otto Penzler two challenging literary properties in a row (A Likely Story and High Adventure), and he wanted to hit one out of the park for his new coach.

It’s not like he wrote the other two not to sell, but he was writing them more to please himself, stretch out a bit, do what people didn’t expect from him.   This book is precisely what people expected from him.  Only more so.  ‘Newgate Callendar,’ writing in the Times, so often disparaging of Westlake’s more unconventional stuff, was practically having multiple orgasms over it.

The ensuing events are in Mr. Westlake’s usual manner. He has a wonderful feeling for the absurd, revels in farce and slapstick, piles complication upon complication and throws things at poor dazed Dortmunder that even Hercules did not face in his various tasks. At one point Dortmunder has to take on, single-handed, a company of man-eating mercenaries.

Yet Mr. Westlake, through the farce and nonsense, manages to create characters who are a curious mixture of stereotypes and archetypes. If he is a master of the comic crime caper, and he is, he also does what the best comic writers throughout history have done – make a comment on society. One does not want to make too much of a book like ”Good Behavior.” It is an entertainment, brilliantly done in its way. But it also does have a strong cutting edge.

As flatteringly condescending (condescendingly flattering?) as ever, but fair play to Mr. Callendar, one of the shallowest professional book reviewers I can think of (he must have saved the deeper ruminations for his classical music gig under his real name).  He’s seeing past the hijinks and hilarity here, and in fact, Westlake can never write a story that’s nothing more than hijinks–he might start one, but he’d never finish it.  He’d fall asleep at his Smith-Corona without something to keep that agile mind of his occupied.

He can’t write a good book if it doesn’t engage him intellectually at some level–but he can shape the material to be more audience-friendly, when he wants to.  This is a book you could hand to anybody who isn’t a militant atheist of the more humorless variety (or perhaps one of those equally humorless evangelicals who think the Pope is antichrist and nuns the handmaidens of Satan), and be assured of an enthusiastic reception.   Entirely possible even the Richard Dawkinses and Bob Joneses of the world would enjoy it–privately.

My mom loved the large type edition I sent her for Mother’s Day (she loathes Kindle).  Then she gave it to a local lending library, because that’s what she does with the books I give her these days after reading them (no collectible signed editions for you, mom).  She’d never read a Dortmunder before, and may never read one again–can’t find a large-type edition for any of the others–and the fact that there was one for this book is more evidence that it was seen as having a broader readership.

(The other Westlake I found for her in the appropriate typeface was Trust Me On This.  And I could have gotten her that Parker novel that opens with a naked girl pinned to a bed with a sword, but then I thought nah.  Though she’s probably read worse. But not as a Mother’s Day gift.  Hell no.)

The fact that she’d never encountered these characters before made no never-mind–the Dortmunders in general are extremely  user-friendly, but this one more than most.  No advance knowledge of the characters and their past exploits is required.  Though you certainly enjoy it more if you’ve read the ones that came before it.  Having stuck with Dortmunder & Co. through the bad times, it’s somehow especially rewarding to be with them now, at one of their rare moments of triumph.  A hard-fought victory, for battle-scarred protagonists and loyal readers alike.

And now let’s just enjoy it, character by character.  No lengthy synopsis–having thoroughly covered the set-up in Part 1, I’d just as soon focus on individual story elements in Part 2.  I think I’ll go with titled subheadings followed by quotes this time.   I  like that format.  Possibly you don’t, but since I’m doing this for free….

I’m Gonna Get Medieval on Your Ass!

“It’s more than exciting, Garrett,” Ritter said.  “It’s real.  The truth is, the pendulum has swung all the way back, several hundred years, and we are today entering upon the next great era of feudalism.”

Garrett blinked.  Feudalism was something that had wafted by once or twice in college days, leaving no residue.  Doubtfully, he said “You mean, King Arthur and like that?  The Round Table?”

Ritter laughed, a sound that always had a threat in it.  “I don’t mean myth,” he said.  “I mean reality.  Feudalism is a system based not on national citizenship but on loyalties and contracts between individuals.  Power lies not in the state but in ownership of assets, and all fealty follows the line of power.  Very sensible.”

“I guess so,” Garrett said, blinking slowly.

Frank Ritter is the central villain in this story, and just possibly the most despicable character Westlake ever created–even if you include the sociopathic sickos and murderous mafiosi Parker routinely dispatched in the Stark  novels.  They’re small time.  Frank’s major league.

And like many another Westlake villain, he has a prototype–Jaekel Grahame (Jack to his friends, if he had any), from I Gave At The Office.  Not one of Westlake’s better books, as I mentioned when I reviewed it.   I did however find Mr. Grahame’s philosophy, as enunciated to the protagonist, to be of considerable interest.   He said that the gun was the cornerstone of civilization, and also that the multinational corporation was going to come to see itself as the true governing power in the global society, superseding and ultimately warring with the nation-state.

He also said that there was nothing inherently immoral about armed robbery (take whatever you can from whomever you can), but armed robbers would be foolish to take on a vastly superior force, such as himself.  And to some extent, Frank Ritter’s fate in this book is Westlake’s way of saying “Oh yeah?” but we’ll get to that.

Ritter, like Grahame, fancies himself a philosopher, jotting down pithy little axioms in a notebook (“The real world is just beyond the visible world”), presumably to be published someday as a testament to the wit and wisdom of a founding father of the (so old it’s) new order.  He, like Grahame, believes that the common people always have an outdated notion of what kind of society America is–they went on thinking it was an agrarian rural democracy after it had become an industrial urban republic, and now they think it’s still a center of industry when it’s actually about services and technology, and is ruled by the multi-nationals that link it to the true industrial nations that make all our stuff.  Not formally ruled by them, of course.  Work in progress.

He can’t control everybody’s life yet, but he can sure as hell control his own daughter’s.  She became a nun in no small part as a rebellion against him, but not a childish rebellion.  An act of adulthood, young as she is–something her siblings, bought off by all the pleasant accoutrements of wealth, will clearly never be capable of.  She wanted to reject without qualification this devil and all his works, and to in some way try to negate them, stand in opposition to them.  She saw how her mother basically drank herself to death, her spirit broken, all sense of purpose gone, and she won’t let that happen to her.  She would rather die.  That is not a figure of speech.  But she is afraid, for all that.  She knows too well that there are no lines her father will not cross to get what he wants.

And the former Miss Elaine Ritter is being quite medieval in her own right–for in fact, many a rebellious daughter of some medieval baron took the veil to find her own place of power, a sanctuary from what was expected of her from her patriarch and feudal lord (to be sure, convents could also be convenient dumping grounds for discarded spouses and elderly relations, but we have our own modern equivalents).  People tend to forget that aspect of medieval history.  I bet Frank hasn’t.  I know Westlake didn’t.

Did you know the word Margrave means a military commander assigned to maintain the defense of one of the border provinces of the Holy Roman Empire or a Kingdom?  If you’d read the Wikipedia article I just clipped that from, you would.

Ritter said, “Think of it this way.  I am the baron.  Templar International and Margrave Corporation and Avalon State Bank and so on are the castles I have built in different parts of my territory, for defense and expansion.  The subsidiary companies we’ve bought or merged with owe their allegiance not to America but to Margrave.  We reward loyalty and punish disloyalty.  When necessary, we can protect our most important people from the laws of the state, just as the earlier barons could protect their most important vassal knights from the laws of the Catholic Church.  The work force is tied to us by profit-sharing and pension plans. I don’t expect national governments to disappear, any more than the British or Dutch royal familes have disappeared, but they will become increasingly irrelevant pageants.  More and more, actors will play the parts of politicians and statesmen, while the real work goes on elsewhere.

“With us, you mean,” Garrett said.  His puffy face lit up with excitement.  He thought about buying new skis in Scandinavia.

Ah, Garrett.  Seemingly one of the brighter of Frank’s children who is not currently a Catholic nun–one can only imagine the rest of them.  The great flaw in the feudal system, and its ultimate downfall–hereditary authority.  Your kids are either too stupid and weak to emulate you, or too smart and tough to live in your shadow–either way, your legacy is an illusion.  The stronger you are, the more you try to dominate and shape them, the more you either destroy what’s good in them, or else turn it to some end you had not anticipated.  Well, that’s what boards of directors are for, I guess.  And who ends up on those?  Other entitled children of rich men.  You taken a good look at the progeny of Donald Trump?  Not that he’s anything more than a low-ranking vassal with delusions of grandeur.  Frank’s more in the Koch line, I’d say.

So Frank is a dangerous man, but also a dangerously self-deluded one.  Powerful and brilliant, but his power has made him myopic, and his brilliance has become too inward-looking.  He sees a great many things that are unquestionably happening in the world, then and now (because his creator sees those same things happening, and hates them with an infernal fury), but he can’t see past his own ambitions, and he has absolutely no self-understanding.

If he understood himself, he wouldn’t have denied Elaine–the only one of his children to inherit his force of will–the chance to seek her own path.  But in fact he understands very well that she’s striking directly at the core of his ideology, and much as he may regret the necessity of it, he will break her down to nothing, as he broke her mother, rather than let her go on defying him.  “The sharpest thorns are in your own roses” he writes in that little book of his, and he somehow thinks that’s original. And he sees himself as a fine man.  Obviously.  He’s doing all this for the greater good.  Elaine will thank him someday.  And I am Marie of Romania.

And is there no errant knight out there, no band of heroes to scale that tower, free the maiden (perhaps not literally, nobody asks) from her dismal if well-appointed cell, and slay this vile robber baron?   We’ll settle for metaphorical slaying, but the rescue operation has to be quite literal, as well as dangerous.  And this modern tower has many a locked door in it, many a brazen alarum bell.  Were any of you good at analogies on those standardized tests?  I was a wiz at them.  See how you do with this one–

As Drummers Are to Spinal Tap–

“This is Wilbur Howey,” Tiny said.

Dortmunder looked at the doorway to see if there was any more to him, but apparently not.  “How are ya?” he said.

“Terrific,” Wilbur Howey said, and cackled.

Dortmunder led the way to the living room, where May was reading the latest issue of Working Woman.  Howey tossed a salute in her direction, winked, and said “Hi, Toots.”

“Hi,” May said, putting the magazine down and getting to her feet. “Hi, Tiny.  Anybody want coffee?  A beer?  Anything?”

“Just an hour with you on a doubledecker bus, Toots,” Wilbur Howey said, and cackled again.

“Shut up, Wilbur,” Tiny said.  “They ain’t no more doubledecker buses.”

“How about bunkbeds, huh, Toots?”

(–so lockmen are to Dortmunder.  Yes of course I knew you’d get it, but  I had to type it out for the ones who aren’t good at analogies like us.)

Specialists are always a problem–so incredibly good at one thing.  So incredibly bad at everything else.  That’s the trade-off.  You can’t push a human mind to know one area of expertise really well, and still expect it to function adequately in all the other areas.  Not that this necessarily applies to all specialties.  Like off the top of my head, people who blog incessantly about the same writer. Competely different, huh Toots?

So Dortmunder is, as he himself puts it, a good utility infielder in his profession (though a genius in the area of planning), but for some jobs he needs a first-rate lockman–somebody who can open any door in front of him like it was a doggy door and he was a Labrador.   And this means he’s had to put up with the idiosyncracies of the specialist, as any professional will sometimes have to do.

And so he has had to deal with Chefwick, a slightly cracked model train enthusiast, who ended up somehow riding a train to Cuba, then running a Chinese railroad in California (don’t ask).  Or Wally Whistler, an absent-minded fellow who would sometimes go to the zoo and let lions out of their cages, just because he couldn’t resist fiddling with the locks, and then he managed to end up in Brazil because he was robbing this pier at the waterfront, and he just kept going until he was on the ship, and the ship sailed away with him on it, and now he’s trying to get to Uruguay so he can confess to some crime he did not commit to get extradited back home.  Did I just type that?

Or Herman X, a black bisexual revolutionary gourmet (it says something for this series that he’s the most relatively normal of the bunch), who we learn in this book has actually become part of a successful revolution in Talabwo (the fictional African country that Dortmunder was working for in The Hot Rock), and now he’s their Vice-President, so not available for the tower heist.

So Tiny suggests Wilbur Howey, who is available, and local, and just got out of prison after serving forty-eight years of a ten year sentence that should have only run three years with good behavior.  Wilbur basically is not capable of good behavior, which makes him the ideal lockman for this book.  He kept breaking out of jail, more or less out of boredom, and they’d find him very easily, and drag him back, and tack more years onto his sentence until they just decided enough was enough, and let him go.  He’s a cracker-jack lockman, make no mistake, and he’s kept up on his trade while he was in stir (when you think about it, there’s no better place to keep in touch with the latest advances in locksmithing).

But he was very young when he went in, and obviously not terribly well-experienced with the opposite sex, and there’s really no worse place to keep up with that aspect of life.  The poster boy for arrested adolescence, full of randy pick-up lines that were old when Bob Hope was young.  After making pass after pass at May, who does not receive his advances in good humor, we next see him standing outside the Avalon Bank Tower, winking and saluting at every skirt that passes, including some pretty obvious transvestites, but a skirt’s a skirt, right?

Dortmunder finds him the most irritating co-worker yet, but he must admit, when the guy gets down to business, he’s all business.  It’s only when he’s focused on his work that his fey mannerisms fall away, and the professional comes out.  He means absolutely no harm at all with his endless come-ons–and he’d never hurt a fly, even if he could.  You like him, but you can’t help but nod in agreement when Dortmunder, taxed beyond words, mutters that the only thing that gives him any satisfaction is that Wilbur Howey is about to meet J.C. Taylor.

And I kid you not kid, nobody in this book affords the discriminating mystery reader deeper satisfaction than–wait for it–

Josephine.  Carol.  Taylor.  

J.C. Taylor was being the receptionist again, typing labels.  Today she was in a plaid shirt open halfway to the waist, and designer blue jeans.  Glancing up when the door opened, she said “Hail hail, the gang’s all here.  There’s three guys already inside.”

“Good,” Dortmunder said.

Meanwhile, Wilbur Howey was inhaling.  He’d been inhaling steadily ever since he’d set eyes on J.C. Taylor, slowly rising  up on his toes as though the volume of air he’d taken aboard was turning him into a balloon.  Finally, he released a bit of that air: “Tooootts,” he said, half sigh and half croak.  His hand moved up to his hat, moving like part of a mechanical figure, and raised it clear of his wisp-covered scalp.

Now she became aware of him.  Her fingers slowed and then stopped on the typewriter keys.  Her left eyebrow raised, and the corners of her mouth wrinkled in amusement.  “Well, look at this,” she said, like somebody finding a really good prize in a Crackerjack box.

Westlake always did a good job writing good girls.  He excelled at writing bad girls.  But to him, you see, there are no bad girls, at least not in the conventional sense of the term.  They’re just drawn that way.   Or rather, they draw themselves.  His most intriguing ladies are invariably tramps, in the Rodgers & Hart mode.  Because that way lies freedom, and individuality, and self-actualization.  It’s not really about sex at all.  But sex certainly comes with the package.

And something in him resisted this–I don’t know why.  He played at creating female protagonists here and there, and they were classy blonde ingenues, pouting prettily, with a touch of Nancy Drew, and they’re fun to read about–but somehow there’s always something a bit lacking–not enough there there.

If he really wanted a female lead for a series, I strongly believe he should have given J.C. Taylor a ring, but he never did.  If he were still around, I’d ask him why.  But I don’t know if he’d have had an answer.  A writer is his or her choices, good and bad.  When he chose to make J.C. Taylor nothing more than a recurring peripheral character in the Dortmunder-verse, he made a bad choice. But nobody else could have made her at all.

J.C. comes into the story because she runs a somewhat shady mail-order operation in the Avalon Bank Tower, on a lower floor with no security.  She’s not worried about being robbed–she’s not worried about much of anything.  She’s just about an inch away from the wrong side of the law, and that’s just where she likes to be.  Bent enough to be open to a crooked proposition; not so bent that the law is taking a good look at her–too bad for the law.

At first glance, she’s just the receptionist in an office hosting a music company, a correspondence course for aspiring detectives, and a business offering aid to couples looking to improve their sex lives (by way of a pornographic manual featuring her own sweet self in many a revealing photograph).  She’s just some office girl, “a hard-looking brunette of about thirty,” but that’s merely one of the masks she hides behind–once she’s sure Dortmunder and Tiny are who they say they are (and not process-servers), she unveils the dominatrix within.  Like Frank Capra said about Barbara Stanwyck, when she turns it on–everything stops.

On the way up to see her, Dortmunder and Tiny ride the elevator with some Japanese businessmen, and one of them looks at Tiny, muttering something that sounds like “Godzilla.”  That’s the effect Tiny has on most people (when we first see him in this book, he’s hoisting compact cars with Stan Murch–not a typo–he’s actually hoisting them onto a flatbed truck, with his bare hands.  The real Godzilla might want to bring back-up.

She just sees another man–she knows men.  They hold no mysteries for her.  She was, as she matter-of-factly lets drop, a call girl for a while; long enough to raise the capital to start her own business, be her own boss, and she makes it very clear to them both that the two things she will never do for money are kill somebody or fuck somebody.  Wants no part of the former, had all she cared to of the latter.  Whatever damage was done is her business, and she doesn’t want to talk about it.

And in no time at all, Godzilla is eating out of her hand, figuring she’s the kind of girl who puts out (since he’s been reading the sex manual she appears in with a glazed expression).   But she won’t give him the time of day, and he starts uttering the not-so-veiled threats he typically resorts to when he perceives rudeness of some kind–threats that would intimidate a suicide bomber–and she could not care less.  She has his number–when she finds out what his nickname is, she smiles and says “I wonder why?”  She knows every weak spot in the masculine ego, and she herself has none.  And yet–there’s more to her than money and put-downs.

When she sees Howey, stimulated almost to the point of meltdown by his first encounter with Femininity Incarnate he’s had since–probably ever–you think she’s going to hurt him somehow, punish him for being a sexist pig–and she doesn’t.  Not really.  She’s seen sad cases like him before, and what she feels isn’t exactly pity, but it’s not hostility either.  Because this is the female H.L. Mencken.  Remember?  He said if anybody wanted to pay him homage after he was gone, they could forgive a sinner and wink at a homely girl on the street. Can she, a sinner herself, do any less?   In fact, she can do a whole lot more.

With a little reflective half smile on her lips, Taylor reached out her left hand and touched the tip of her first finger gently to the side of Howey’s jaw, just beneath the ear.  Eye to eye, leaning just a bit toward him, breathing deeply and regularly, she slowly moved the fingertip and just an edge of fingernail lightly along the line of his jaw.  Howey’s bobbing grew more spasmodic, he vibrated all over, and by the time her fingertip had reached the middle of his jaw he was just standing there, spent, mouth hanging open.  “Very nice,” she told him, patted his cheek, and said to Dortmunder, “He’ll be all right now for a while.”  And she sat down, turning back to her typewriter.

Marry me.  What?  I didn’t say anything.  I think I had a point to make–oh yes. Saints and Sinners.  I talked about that last time.  J.C. Taylor has sinned, and she fully intends to go on sinning, and yet there is something about her that suggests that her external cynicism is just a cover for a wounded romantic–she’s come down in the world, but she’s also risen in it by her own mischievous machinations.  And in spite of herself, she likes these wacky heist-men, and finds something appealing in their quest.  And that will figure heavily into the climax, but meanwhile back at the ranch–

The Trusty Brunt of May.

“I wouldn’t work for you,” May told him, “for a million dollars an hour.”

The clipboard man gave her a surprised look.  “Then you’re crazy, he said.  For a million dollars an hour, you could put up with certain things.”

“Not rudeness,” May said.  “I have an aversion to rudeness.”

May gets her own subplot in this one, and given how much happens in this book in the course of only 244 pages, that’s astounding–that the subplot is there, and that it works so well.    Dortmunder is dumbfounded to find he is being sued by the client he was burglarizing a gourmet food importer for–he got three hundred up front, and then the job, as already mentioned, went to hell, and Dortmunder opted not to give the money back, since it’s not his fault the guy didn’t give him enough information about the alarms and such, and he’s owed something for time and labor and falling through a convent roof and all.

Dortmunder can’t believe it–what kind of a man sues a burglar for not burglarizing at his own criminal behest?  Are there any sane people left in this crazy world?  But Chepkoff, the sleazy wholesaler he had the arrangement with, figures Dortmunder has more to lose than him, and will give back the money rather than show up in court.

May knows this Avalon Tower job is the toughest one her man has ever tackled, and she firmly approves of his saving that poor nun, so she wants him focused on that, so he comes home to her in one piece.  Without telling Dortmunder, she goes to the warehouse, and beards this food lion in his den.  He brushes her off, and that, you should know, is a very serious error on his part.

Because May works in the food service industry herself–as a slightly larcenous check-out girl at a supermarket.  And properly motivated by his extreme rudeness, she does a bit of digging, and comes back at him with indisputable proof that he’s been stealing from her employer on a much larger scale than she ever did, and unless he drops the suit, he’s going to have more to worry about than three hundred dollars he should have known he was never going to see again.  He folds like a cheap suit.

This is one of the joys of the Dortmunder series–much as I may complain that J.C. merited more than a supporting character gig, the fact is, being a supporting character in the Dortmunder books is no mean avocation, and Dortmunder should stop acting like he’s been cursed by fate–professionally, perhaps.  Not personally.   The Great God Westlake was in a giving vein when he made Dortmunder walk into that Bohack supermarket where May was working, and charm her with his failed attempt at shoplifting.  A pearl beyond price I called her back when I reviewed Bank Shot, and if anything I was undervaluing her.

And this subplot very much fits the overall theme of the book–bad behavior–namely blackmail–that is somehow good behavior.   Right and wrong are not so easy to distinguish in this fictive world, any more than they are in our world. Context is everything.  Universal laws don’t function well in a universe of endless variety.  Somehow, I don’t think Immanuel Kant would have been a fan of these books.  But I could be wrong.  Even prissy German philosophers like to laugh sometimes.  But Dortmunder doesn’t feel much like laughing when he finally makes it to the top of the tower and encounters–

The Wolves of War.

“Freedom fighters,” Garrett echoed, and couldn’t prevent a slight expression of repugnance to curl his lip.  Coming through the Margrave offices to this meeting he had seen them lolling about in the various rooms, telling one another hair-raising anecdotes, nearly sixty hard-bitten mercenaries, merciless veterans of uncounted wars in Africa and Asia and Central America, assembled by Frank Ritter to spearhead the “liberation” movement that would repay that upstart South American dictator Pozos for becoming an annoyance.  Garrett considered himself manly, God knows, but he was also civilized, and these “freedom fighters” were nothing but timber wolves in human shape.  You could smell the testosterone.  He said, “I just don’t understand why you’re assembling that bunch of thugs here.”

General Pozos, decadent dictator of Guerrero (Guerrera in this book), Westlake’s Latin American answer to Ruritania, was a character who was introduced in the first Grofield novel by Richard Stark, figured obliquely in the next two, and had never appeared in a Westlake novel–and he does not physically appear in this one, but he still clearly exists in Dortmunder’s world.  And that somehow makes sense, even though Parker has been established as a fictional character there in Jimmy the Kid, created by the very real (and litigious) Richard Stark.  Because after all, Grofield himself had somehow jumped over to Dortmunder’s world in somewhat altered form, so why couldn’t Pozos and an entire country make the jump with him?

Westlake is recycling again–the main plot point of The Damsel is that a very wealthy and powerful American politician is trying to have Pozos assassinated, so he can take over Guerrero and reshape it to his liking, using his close relationship with Pozos’s son and heir to make that happen.  But in the end, the politician realizes that Pozos Jr. is really more his son than the dullard who sprung from his loins (who worships Pozos).  And he chooses that personal relationship over his political ambitions.  Well, we already know this story is going another way with that premise.   No personal relationship means much of  anything to Frank Ritter.  The political always comes first.

So he’s just going to use mercenaries and money to hijack an already-existing revolutionary movement aiming to overthrow Pozos.   Completely illegal, of course.  But he’s grown accustomed to thinking of the Federal government and its laws as a ceremonial gloss on a world he and his kind already control.  And he figures nobody will even notice these guys assembling in New York.  And they just happen to be assembling right at the moment that Dortmunder has Howey get him past the locked door leading to the suite Sister Mary Grace is imprisoned in.

His colleagues are downstairs, robbing several lucrative businesses blind–his own rather ingenious plan (even for him) is that they’ll just mail the swag from J.C. Taylor’s office (superbly equipped for that end), and walk out the door on Monday, unburdened by evidence.  But since he’s the only one who owes the nuns a favor, he’s got to do that part of the job himself–only as soon as he gets inside, he gets mistaken for a mercenary, and forced to join a sort of general assembly of mayhem.  A gathering of wolves.

Yeah, ‘timber wolves in human shape.’  You noticed that, did you?   They’re not like Parker, of course–but don’t ever try to tell me the idea of a wolf in human form didn’t cross Westlake’s mind on a regular basis, only he wouldn’t actually come out and say that’s what Parker is, because that’s actually what Parker is, and that would take all the piss out of it.  He can say it about these guys because it’s only a metaphor.  But to Dortmunder, the cowering coyote, at risk of being exposed as a ringer at any moment, to a roomful of men who are being armed with assault weapons, it’s a nightmare made real.  He uses a still-meeker animalian analogy.

Dortmunder’s mouth was dry.  His hands were wet.  So far, the seat was dry. He was up here looking for a nun, and all of a sudden he’s in this absolute army of killers.  Attila would be happy to come back and hang out with these guys; all Dortmunder wanted them to do was disappear.

They were an excitable crowd, too.  Almost anything might set them off; disliking the weapon they were supposed to use in their upcoming slaughter, for instance.  There was no telling how excited they’d get if they found out there was a noncombatant among them; a sheep, in wolf’s clothing.

A Lamb of God, you might even say.  You caught that reference in the opening quote up top, right?  When he chides his disciples for not staying awake with him?  Westlake has done this before, in The Score, and Butcher’s Moon–twelve men on a mission of robbery and (in the latter book) murder.  Can we make this twelve as well?  Dortmunder, Kelp, Tiny, Stan, Howey–that’s five.  I’d say J.C. Taylor is the Mary Magdalene of the bunch–and never mind if the real Magdalene was a prostitute (historians demur)–the metaphor still holds up nicely.  Six.  May is certainly part of the gang, and they also serve who only stand and wait–seven.  Sister Mary Grace makes eight.  The Guatemalan housekeeper acting as a secret emissary could make nine if you want to stretch a point.  Well, it was worth a try.   Where two or three are gathered in my name….

So Dortmunder escapes the wolf pack, due to a fortuitous blackout in the conference room, very slightly wounded by a stray bullet, and as the chaos he invariably unleashes erupts around him, he finds himself gripped by a small firm hand, and guided to a place of relative safety, and of course it’s Sister Mary Grace–slipping around quietly within the office complex, she interceded on his behalf, but it’s not Thursday, so she can’t talk to him.  And if you ever wondered if John Dortmunder is familiar with the work of George Lucas–

“I’m uh,” Dortmunder said, but what the hell, might as well admit it.  “I’m John Dortmunder.”

She nodded again, patting the air: She too had figured things out.

Dortmunder sighed; it had to be said.  “I’m here to rescue you.”

She raised an eyebrow, grinning ever so slightly, but otherwise refrained from comment.

We’re way over six thousand words here.  I would have sworn I could do this one in two parts.  I know, I got sidetracked a lot, but there’s a whole lot of sidetracks here.  Maybe this really is the Butcher’s Moon of Dortmunder, short though it be.

We are now through the first three parts–GenesisNumbers, and Acts.  For reasons that are beyond my ken, Westlake chose not to reset the chapter count after each part concluded, so Part 4–Exodus–begins with Chapter 34.

It’s not looking good.  The crew downstairs has been made aware of the ruckus upstairs, and is feeling disinclined to come up and join the crucifixion party. Kelp, deathlessly loyal as he is to his friend, can hear the cock crowing in the distance, and sighs to himself, thinking what a pity it is–then he goes back to figuring out how this gizmo he lifted from the magic shop works.

Tiny, learning of Dortmunder’s predicament, is going to utter the starkly Nietszchean commentary, “There is no Dortmunder.”  Well, he could have just said Dortmunder was dead to him.  Well really, that’s what he said.

We’ll see what Mary Magdalene has to say about that.

Mind the rocks.  Go with God.  (Flann O’Brien).

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29 Comments

Filed under Good Behavior, novel, Uncategorized

29 responses to “Review: Good Behavior, Part 2

  1. rinaldo302

    Three parts for this? What does that portend for Drowned Hopes?

    Ah well, it’s worth it because everything you give us is worth thinking about at length. And the book is worth talking about in this way. Howey’s particular kind of arrested development merits this dissection, and J.C. (whom BTW you typed as J.S. once) is one of his best creations. I never thought about it before, but you’re right — she should have had her own book, or even series. I’m running through the DEW female canon in my head right now, to tally up how consistently he stuck with blonde for good girls and brunette for bad (but fun) ones.

    (And with humble apologies, because nobody likes the guy who comments only to offer corrections: May I make a plea for Dawkinses and Joneses?)

    • Sheer length isn’t all that goes into the decision (I did Ex Officio in one part). I was thinking I’d never do another three-parter after Butcher’s Moon, but here we are. Maybe I ended Part 1 a bit too early, leaving too much to cover in Part 2. Anyway, I didn’t want to rush the ending. It’s a good ending–though I will have some nitpicks.

      Sister Mary Grace is a brunette as well–could have been a blonde–so I think he wanted to avoid that dichotomy. In the next group of books we cover, the never-ending battle between blonde and brunette shall take on a whole new dimension.

      Since you ask nicely, I shall make the requested emendation. I didn’t like the way it looked, anyway.

      • rinaldo302

        I certainly agree with not wanting to rush the ending. And there is a lot to be said about this one. It’s one of the most sheerly pleasurable of Westlakes for me, and one of his very best. (A roomy category — I won’t try to list all the others in it.)

        As for a favorite Dortmunder, I confess that this one would pop into my mind first — but I recall the special appeal of those first three, and realize that they’re great in a different way, and I can’t compare. And if, as it seems, you have a case to make for a title later in the series (and though I love ’em all, I generally have some nit to pick)… who knows? you may get me to agree.

        My musician’s opinion of Mr. Callender under his other name: he was just as shallow a critic in that realm.

        • I put ‘favorite’ and ‘best’ in separate slots. One book (film, play, show, musical work, beer, etc) may occupy both categories, but they are different categories.

          You know, I tried to read some of his music criticism via Google Books, and I can’t say I was impressed (and I do love to read good writing about music, mainly about jazz but I used to read biographical works on Mozart and Beethoven as a kid). Since I never learned to read music (and I’ve no excuse, we had a music teacher, nice lady, who would come to our classrooms with “Mr. Guitar,” okay, maybe I have some excuse), I figured probably I was missing something the Pulitzer committee picked up on, but maybe they just picked upon the fact he was writing for the New York Times. It’s not what you know……

  2. Frank Ritter’s facts of life discussion with his son is fascinating, and not in the least bit dated. (Technology aside, there’s very little about the Dortmunder universe that dates itself.) I’m sure Bernie Sanders would have something to say about Ritter’s philosophy, probably the same thing today as he would have said in 1985. Max Fairbanks would almost certainly have a contribution to make to the conversation. (They’re similar characters. Instead of aphorisms, Fairbanks has his I Ching, but both are undone by regular old cops with an anonymous assist from Dortmunder.) I’m sure Burk Devore would have found the conversation illuminating as well, but it was probably already too late for him.

    In any case, leave it to Westlake to drop some serious musings on the nature of our entire political-socio-economic system into the middle of a comic caper. Newgate Callendar may be a condescending ass, but even he can see that Westlake had something to say here.

    • Yeah, Westlake was not subtle about it here–subtlety doesn’t sell, and he wanted this one to sell like crazy–partly for Otto’s sake, certainly for the sake of his career (he hadn’t had a big win in a while), but mainly because the more people read the book, the more will see that observation of his (that many are making now, but not nearly so many in 1985–and of course he had developed this idea at least as far back as I Gave At the Office in 1971, meaning that he was probably thinking it in the late 60’s when people thought we were going to turn into some kind of free love hippie commune) that we’re evolving into a neo-feudalist state.

      I had made that observation myself a fair few times before I read this one, and it was freaky, to say the least, to see Westlake looking so far ahead–not many people were talking about this back then. Not many at all. Now it’s everywhere (though people say ‘oligarchy’, and much as I hate to be nit-piketty, I don’t think that’s the right word). I wonder if this is why there was no movie adaptation? Seems like a natural, no? Nuns and stealing in a good cause, and the sexiest supporting character ever. But film studios are, above all else, feudal institutions.

      I wish Bernie Sanders ever made such trenchant penetrating comments, looking below the surface of things, understanding the other side (the only way to defeat them in the long run)–I’m not convinced Westlake would have been impressed by him, not that anybody’s seeking the posthumous endorsement of a writer known mainly for comic capers.

      The term ‘fuhrer of the left’ comes to mind–from Ex Officio. He was talking about Eugene McCarthy there–that didn’t work out so well. Westlake is wary of overreaction from the left, which can lead (among other things) to greater empowerment of the right when the pendulum swings back. And that prediction has proved valid as well. It takes more than a stump speech.

      But he’s concerned enough about all this at that point in time to prominently and unequivocally refer to it in what he probably knew would be one of his more popular books–wonder what the Neiman-Marcus crowd thought of it?–and it’s not just stuck in there for show. It’s an integral part of the story. His overriding theme is always the Individual against Society. But suppose Society gets so overbearingly powerful that Individuality itself is crushed out?

      That can come from the left or right (and has), and as Orwell had already pointed out, it doesn’t really matter which. It amounts to the same thing. It’s not about who rules us–it’s about how we control them. Not sure if Westlake read Karl Popper, but I’d give a lot to know how Karl Popper would have reacted to this book. I can guess how Karl Marx would have reacted–“Lumpenproletariat!” Well they are kind of lumpy. 😉

  3. Richard

    Not about the novel itself — one of my many favorites in the Dortmunder series — but about the Neiman Marcus edition, since it’s featured at the top of the page. Rumor has it that the misspelled NM edition was destroyed, save 36 rescued copies, but I don’t think so. If you look at the available “corrected” copies out there… and there are many; 1000 copies aren’t all that limited an edition for novels… you’ll notice that there’s a paper inlay with Westlake’s signature covering the flawed page on those later editions. I think they didn’t destroy the first run at all. That’s my guess, anyway. If anyone knows differently, I’d love to hear the true scoop.

    DW still had to sign all over again, though.

    • I read Westlake’s account of the incident, but didn’t refer back to it when I wrote this, since it was just an amusing anecdote serving as a lead-in to the review, and I’m sure certain fine details have slipped my mind.

      In my experience, people who work with books have a very strong aversion to destroying them. People in general have a very strong aversion to destroying or even throwing away books, which is why we here at the library I work at periodically have to accept the donation of the personal library of an alumni or faculty member who doesn’t have the space for the books any more, but can’t bear to think of anything bad happening to them.

      So we have to sift through endless dog-eared heavily marked paperback copies of books every college library on the planet already has (along with some useful stuff, of course, but they could just send us that and throw out the stuff they know is just trash with sentimental value), and naturally we get to do the dirty work of assigning the volumes neither we nor Better World Books has any use for to the discard bin, and we don’t like it either.

      So in short, no. I don’t think they were all destroyed. Because they were books. And first editions. And while books are not stamps, and therefore a printer’s error does not imbue a book with any great value, it’s still a potential conversation piece.

  4. Anthony

    Love the Spinal Tap (no umlauts in WordPress) comparison (much more apt than, say, Defense Against the Dark Arts professor). I get such a kick out of Wilbur Howey and remain surprised that he never passed our way again – not even in What’s the Worst That Can Happen.

    I also love the chapter that opens with the sequential descriptions of the Bhopal and Three Mile Island disasters and the parts played by technicians refusing to believe what the little dials told them. The way that Westlake follows up with Wilbur fiddling with wires while far away technicians thump little dials with their fingers is a masterful little bit of writing.

    • I really wanted to devote a section to that chapter you mention–it’s a classic bit of wry Westlake satire with a dark edge to it–see, normally it’s a bad thing when technicians ignore those little dials, so to balance things out, he finds a way to make it a good thing, in this specific instance. Any behavior can potentially be good behavior–even if it’s negligent behavior. But I regretfully decided there wasn’t room for it, so thanks for bringing it up.

      I’m really giving the actual heist (the part of it that doesn’t involve the nun) short shrift here, and it’s very enjoyable, but not thematically cogent–i.e., not really what the story is about, just a way to motivate the overall proceedings. I’ve written about so many Westlake heists by now, you can understand that I feel like I’ve already been there done that, and he must have felt the same way, but it’s still so much damn fun to read, so people can just go read it. They don’t need me to tell them Westlake heists are fun to read about.

      When I wrote my review for Help I Am Being Held Prisoner, I found somewhere the name Kunt appears online, with the needed umlaut, and copy/pasted it in. But to be honest, I had forgotten about the umlaut in Spinal Tap–and where would anybody find a dotless lower-case letter i? Well, the Wikipedia page for the band Spinal Tap, obviously, but why bother? I bet even Rob Reiner doesn’t bother these days.

      I think Westlake felt like maybe he’d taken the revolving lockman gag as far as it could go in this book. And most of the remaining heists won’t really call for that level of expertise, anyway. But Howey, you might say, topped them all. For expertise, and sheer weirdness.

  5. Not enough info to make it an article yet–not for this blog–but it’s certainly on-topic. I had missed it up to now, but the guy who makes that Fargo series for FX (which I tried watching, and honestly I didn’t love the movie either, but I didn’t try to ban it like John Kasich) has assigned a pair of his writers to work up a Dortmunder pilot. Working title, The Hot Rock.

    http://www.avclub.com/article/fargos-noah-hawley-announces-two-more-projects-fx-229634

    Now I did watch Entourage. For a while. It was a dumb show about dumb people, but that was the point. I did not go see the movie. So hopefully they get the point that this is a very different type of entourage, and put in a good effort, and nail casting, and boy I hope they do it as a period piece, or else they are going to have to rewrite a lot. Well, they’re going to do that anyway. Hollywood.

    The last Dortmunder novel at least is still very au courant.

    It’s a pilot, so lord only knows if we’ll ever even see it, let alone a series.

    Once they’re actually shooting something, and we know who the actors are, I’ll do an article about it.

    Anyway, good for business. I might well have all the novels reviewed by the time this thing gets on the air, if it ever does.

    I’m not sure FX is the ideal venue, but then again, worked for Elmore Leonard.

    • This is interesting news — potentially exciting news, if they can get the casting and tone right. I’m more of a fan of Fargo (the movie and the series) than you are, so I’m (very) cautiously optimistic. In a coincidental Fargo connection (for me), I’ve long cast Dortmunder in my head with Fargo-era William H. Macy (with Edward Norton as Kelp, if you’re interested).

      • Macy’s still tied up with Shameless (a show I watch on and off, depending on how naked Emmy Rossum is at any given moment), and Macy has been very good in that–Dortmunder would require a somewhat more restrained performance from him, of course. Maybe a bit more like his character from The Cooler, a movie I love very deeply. But quirky losers are his wheelhouse, that’s for damn sure. And things did not look good for Frank Gallagher when last seen, but they never do, and my guess is he’ll be back next season.

        Head-casting and real-casting are different things, as you know. For a head-cast, the actor doesn’t even have to be alive, let alone available. And really, dead actors are so much easier to work with, don’t you think? Much less temperamental. 😉

    • Anthony

      Hmmm, Call me dubious at best.

      In the Thieves’ Dozen book of Dortmunder short stories, Westlake talks about Hollywood lawyers (the closest thing to evil incarnate in this secular age) once nearly taking the rights to the Dortmunder name from him. Somehow I suspect that, even if this thing is worthy, Westlake’s estate will gain absolutely bupkis from the enterprise.

      • rinaldo302

        How so? They can’t have acquired the rights for nothing.

        I found the second season of Fargo to be exceptional TV, for whatever that reaction is worth. I do think that off-network television, as it has now evolved, is a better medium for these books than the big screen ever was: the stories needn’t be overinflated or commercialized, and appropriate actors rather than big-ticket stars can be used. (I’ve never been able to think of a star who embodies Dortmunder, and I still can’t.)

        Of course, it could still all turn out bad. Or the pilot could be made and rejected. No telling, at this point.

        • I’m picky about what I watch–which isn’t to say I don’t watch a lot of garbage, but I’m picky about my garbage. There’s just too much scripted TV to keep track of (so much for reality shows taking over). I sampled Fargo, and it did not grab me. But it’s certainly very well made. And anyway, the guy who runs that show would just be overseeing this one from a distance. If it gets made at all.

          Personally, I’m skeptical of this whole business of letting a guy who makes a decent show start coming up with ideas for shows he’s not even going to make, and then handing them to underlings. It can work, but I think it usually doesn’t. It’s one of the things about the industry Westlake was skeptical of–the way people get so wrapped up in the business side, they start losing track of the creative side.

          In TV, writers and producers are mainly the same people now, and on the plus side, that means they’re no longer helpless pawns at the mercy of the suits–they can protect their work. They have real power (more than directors, even). On the negative side, it means that they get further and further away from what they’re supposed to be doing, which is telling stories. Some can straddle this divide better than others. I’m very impressed with J.J. Abrams the producer–I think as a storyteller, J.J. Abrams is a whole lot of nothing. But he seems nice enough on the talk shows. 😐

          Rights are complicated. I don’t think we’d even be hearing about this project if 20th didn’t already have some kind of pre-existing rights to do a Dortmunder adaptation, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t have to go back to the well for more. I don’t know. It’s not my job to know. Honestly, it’s not my job to write this blog. It’s a passion project. Everybody in Hollywood knows what that means. No money. 😉

      • Pleased to meet you, Dubious. Are you one of the Philadelphia Dubiouses? 🙂

        If they were just adapting The Hot Rock (and that is the working title), then yeah–I don’t think they’d have to shell out much more, if anything. They could start with that story, and then just do their own thing, which is generally what TV writers want to do anyway. I mean, Justified basically all stemmed from one short story Leonard wrote, and only belatedly did he start writing more about Raylan Givens and his cohorts. That show is entirely its own thing, and they were very respectful of Leonard, and then did whatever the hell they wanted.

        I did like that show a lot, and I have yet to ever read Leonard’s story, or the subsequent novel. But if they did as good a job with this (bearing in mind it’s an entirely different creative team), I think we’d be happy, and I think we’d go on preferring the books.

        So like I said, 20th Century Fox probably already has the rights to The Hot Rock from making that movie. Mind you, TV rights are a different area, but they could well have sprung for those at the time, in case the movie was a big hit and they wanted to try a series. United Artists distributed Bank Shot, and I don’t know where the rights for that would be, nor why anyone would want them, because that movie is a Technicolor turd. Okay, looking it up, I see the film lab seems to have been Deluxe. Deluxe dung. Same difference.

        The various film adaptations are all over the place, MGM, various small production shingles, but there’s a lot of books–most of them–plus the short stories–that were never adapted (including this one we’re supposed to be talking about now, that I’m doing a three-part review of). So they could get all of those from the Westlake estate directly, without having to worry about who has the rights. And I really really doubt they’d just adapt one novel after another, faithfully. This isn’t going to be Game of Heists, or whatever. What I said to Greg about dead actors being easier to work with? Hollywood scriptwriters feel the same way about novelists, I bet.

        My main concern is that they don’t screw it up and make Dortmunder look bad. The Westlake Estate can look out for itself. The goal should be to bring a larger audience to Westlake’s prose, but of course that’s not remotely FX’s goal, so we’ll see.

        • “My main concern is that they don’t screw it up and make Dortmunder look bad.”
          This. The tone is crucial here. If you portray Dortmunder et al as a band of bumblers, you’ve already lost. It should be very clear that Dortmunder is a genius, albeit a genius with certain cultural blind spots and a whole bunch of strange luck. (If you call it bad luck, you’re wrong again.)

          • They could go the other way with it, and try to make him too cool, cast a bunch of hunks. But seeing as this is people connected with the Fargo series, not too worried about that.

            And I still think Winona Ryder would be perfect for May. Honestly, I don’t have a clue about Dortmunder. Sometimes I head-cast Tim DeKay, but I believe he’s tied up now on some other show I don’t watch. But sounds like that’s not long for this world. The rule of thumb is that whoever people say online would be perfect for the role never gets the role. So if I think of the perfect Dortmunder, I’m keeping it to myself.

            • Tim DeKay is a good actor. He seems a little too handsome and self-assured to me to play Dortmunder, but it could work. If we’re raiding FX series (and Fargo in particular), Martin Freeman would be interesting, but he’s pretty busy himself.

              • Given that his first big series gig paired him with The Prettiest Man Alive (and not such a good actor, though he’s had his moments), I don’t really think of him as handsome. I believe some women have admired William H. Macy. He got Felicity Huffman, didn’t he?

                If they make this thing, we’d better brace ourselves. It won’t be our Dortmunder. Maybe we can adapt, maybe not. We’ll always have the novels. And think of all the blog posts I can do nitpicking the eps, one by one–and now that I’ve typed that, I know I’m never actually doing that. I’d feel Himself glaring down at me from The Final Mystery. I’d write about it, but not often.

                I sort of imagined the Dortmunder series for USA (back when USA was still making television I watched, which it doesn’t anymore). I will grant you that Macy is more of an FX guy than DeKay. But I don’t think it’ll be either of them.

              • Anthony

                The thought just popped into my head that Hugh Laurie could play Dortmunder. We know he can do the American accent. We know he can play a genius. Take the nastiness out of House and replace it with Dortmunder’s mulishness, distrust of technology, and cluelessness about things like art and history, and I can see him getting close.

  6. Hugh Laurie? So Stephen Fry as Kelp, then. Well, given the Wodehouse-ian influence on Westlake’s comic writing, I suppose…..

    Honestly, I’m not sure I can even accept anyone not from New York. Or failing that, Dead Indian, Illinois. Do not tell me there is no such place. I am not listening to you. 😐

    • rinaldo302

      My current idea for Dortmunder (and he’s certainly a TV veteran) is Steven Weber. He’s got the skinny face which is important to my mental image of J.A.D., and can play that fatalistic determined point of view.

      • And he’s got the comedy chops.

        And I think we should consider the fact that John Dortmunder is thirty-seven when we first meet him in The Hot Rock. With the exception of the sixty-something Macy, every actor mentioned thus far has been well into his 50’s. And a successful series pretty much always runs more than five years these days.

        Tall (not too tall). Thin (not too thin). A knack for comic understatement. A good deadpan. Someone a girl like May might plausibly fall for when she saw cans of food falling out of his sleeves, but no dreamboat.

        A tall order. Not impossible.

    • If he were somewhat younger, Steve Buscemi, a genuine Brooklyn boy.

      • I’ve also wished he could have played Handy McKay. He’d be ideal for any number of Westlake characters, but too old for most of them now, yeah. It’s most unsporting of actors to age. Do they think they’re people or something? 😉

  7. Did you know the word Margrave means a military commander assigned to maintain the defense of one of the border provinces of the Holy Roman Empire or a Kingdom?

    The British equivalent is Marquis. Though after a number of them drowned before realizing that islands lack border provinces, their job was changed to inventing rules for boxing.

    • And libeling Oscar Wilde, lest we forget. Regrettably, the good Marquis never figured out the rules for spelling. ‘Somdomite’ indeed! Good day, sir!

      (And yes, it was libel, because thanks to the exhaustive research of Richard Ellman, we know Wilde preferred fellatio. The giving or receiving part remains open to speculation. So if the good Marquis had written ‘Cokesucker’ on that card, that would have been fair.)

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