I’ve been awaiting this eagerly, and Greg Tulonen has finally gotten the article done, and I’m going to post the link to his blog. Right here. Right now.
Honestly, I may be more excited about this than any article I’ve published here myself. This is a direct glimpse into a book Westlake hoped to publish in his lifetime, but was discouraged from doing so–perhaps for good reason. Perhaps not. It’s certainly different from anything he wrote before or since, going by Greg’s very detailed synopsis (detailed by TWR standards, so even though it’s impossible to say whether this book will ever see print–spoiler alert–Greg has prudently omitted some details about the ending).
Sometimes Westlake’s best books were precisely the ones that radically diverged from what people expected from him. Sometimes those books were miscalculations (we’ll be getting to one of those soon enough, but that got published, so go figure).
But always, invariably, he revealed something of himself in these outliers of his, and to me, the most sacred thing about any writer’s legacy is the indelible imprint it leaves us of a human soul, a human intellect–a human life. So except under very exceptional circumstances (like somebody will die if it’s published), I’m for getting it out there, and letting the readers decide. And if it’s Donald E. Westlake, well obviously I’m pre-sold, and if you’re reading this blog, probably you are too.
Is Go Set a Watchman the masterpiece fans of Harper Lee’s only book published in her lifetime dreamed of? Hell no. It’s a deeply flawed and often disturbing piece of work, that shows how conflicted she was about her origins, her hometown, her family, her father, her race, herself. In its own right, it is not a great book, but in reading it, don’t we know her better? And respect her achievements in life all the more?
Fall of the City sounds to me like a book that could have sold very well if it had been marketed properly, perhaps reaching a whole new audience for Westlake. That’s neither here nor there–today, it would be of interest primarily to Westlake readers. Some of whom would love it. Others would find it an intriguing but ultimately irrelevant artifact of a great career. And some might actively dislike it. But don’t we all deserve a chance to decide for ourselves?
Well, it’s not our call. And it shouldn’t be. Copyright laws exist for a reason, and are heritable for equally good reasons. And they eventually expire, also for good reasons. But since I can be fairly sure I’ll expire before this book goes into the public domain….
A synopsis is not a book. I can’t offer an informed opinion as to who was right or wrong with regards to the worthiness of this manuscript now languishing in an archive in Boston. I’ll say this much–I’ve learned to greatly respect the judgment of Mr. Tulonen when it comes to fiction of any kind, and certainly with regards to Westlake. And without further ado, here is his synopsis and assessment of Fall of the City.
PS: Since I could imagine some people avoiding the comments section to avoid discussion of plot elements (which so far hasn’t occurred there), let me mention here–Greg just found out from Charles Ardai at Hard Case Crime, that the manuscript is being edited for publication there, as I type this. We’re going to get to decide for ourselves how good a book this is. Now that’s what I call prompt service.
72 responses to “Guest Review: Fall of the City–the last unpublished Westlake novel.”
Many thanks for the link and the thoughtful words. I must say this was a great (if nerdy) adventure, seeking out this manuscript and traveling to Boston to read it. And the archive itself is a treasure trove for the Westlake enthusiast, with correspondence and handwritten notes and screenplays and manuscripts galore. I spent seven hours there and I could have spent about 700 more if they’d have let me.
My conundrum is this–even if they let me in, where would I begin? What would I start with? I’d be inclined to read something else than this novel I desperately want to read, if only because you’ve been there done that, and I despise replication of effort. Also, a manuscript is never the best possible reading copy. But so many other things I’m curious about.
I suppose I’d have to go for the unpublished memoirs. Which also ought to be published, and I’m sure there are reasons why they’re not, but god damn. It’s frustrating. How long, oh Lord? How long?
And how are we supposed to push the notion that Donald Westlake was not merely an entertaining writer, but a great one–when those who wish to seriously study his work are treated with such suspicion? Like there’s something wrong with us. I dunno, maybe there is. Hopefully it’s catching. You’ve definitely infected me with this piece. 😉
This is marvelous to read about, way beyond anything I expected when I discovered this blog a few months back. Naturally I too hope/long for eventual publication. My thanks to you both.
All the thanks belong to Greg. It was obviously a major investment of time and effort for him to even read this, and then write this article without the actual book to refer to–only notes taken over the course of seven hours.
We have an archival department at the library I work at, and without meaning any criticism of anybody, I can tell you–we don’t make it this hard for people to view the material entrusted to us. You do have to watch out for it, protect it from harm–it’s a sacred trust. And the wishes of whoever gave you the material have to be respected. And I don’t believe we have any unpublished manuscripts by a writer even approaching Westlake’s stature.
But ya know what the best possible way to preserve any literary work for posterity is, and always has been?
Greg, apologies–I remembered the title as beginning with ‘The’, and my mind just stuck the word in there when I read your review. I’ve fixed the mistake. I’m tempted to put the blame on Samuel R. Delany, but that would be petty, and anyway, I never even read The Fall of the Towers. Kept meaning to.
No apology necessary. It’s hardly an egregious error, and who knows what would have happened to the title had it made it to publication. Incidentally, one detail I neglected to mention: In his letter to Westlake, Burger expresses confusion regarding the (female) byline Westlake chose. (Frustratingly, the name is not disclosed in the archive’s copy of the manuscript or in any of the correspondence regarding it.) Westlake responds that he meant it as a joke, but that a pseudonym would definitely be in order if the manuscript were published.
A feminine pseudonym would have been an interesting approach, and might have done a better job throwing people off the trail long enough for the book to be properly evaluated on its merits. Lawrence Block wrote as both Jill Emerson and Anne Campbell Clarke. Two other pen names of his, Lesley Evans and Lee Duncan, are a mite more ambiguous. Mr. Block has admitted to not necessarily producing his best work under these names. I will say, the two friends seem more evenly matched with the work they produced under their own names than their pseudonymous efforts–Westlake is unusual–perhaps unique–in having produced so much of his best work under false names, while still having a strong reputation under his own, and each name coming with its own distinctive style and approach. Others have done it, but to the same extent?
Now I’m assuming one reason this approach was rejected as an alternative by Westlake’s agent and others was because of the failure of the Samuel Holt series–and the failure to properly protect the author’s true identity. But this is clearly something else entirely. Not an attempt at a franchise, for one thing. And so far away from what Westlake was known for, I find it hard to believe the secret couldn’t be kept for a while, at least. Particularly if the pseudonym employed wasn’t the name of a character from the book, which I would assume was not under consideration.
And the first Sam Holt novel got good reviews. He may have come to dislike the books, perhaps some close to him didn’t like them either, but they sold well enough that he had to personally terminate his connection to the publisher, based on what we know. So it seems to me that Knox Burger brings up the Holts as a negative in his communique to Westlake more as a means of discouraging him than anything else. The Holts are not first-rate Westlake, but they still have all the elements of a good Westlake novel–it’s just an unwieldy premise, as I discussed in typically excessive detail. Perhaps this is too, but it’s just one book. I can’t imagine it would be more of a problem than Humans.
I guess we do have to remember that a writer–even Westlake–is mortal, and can only produce so much work in a lifetime. The decision to write a specific book is simultaneously a decision to not write some other book. But he had written this one. I really can’t agree strongly enough that however well-intentioned and qualified the people advising him on this matter may have been, they were perhaps being overly protective. He had, to be sure, had many professional disappointments when he diverged from his expected subject matter. But he also had a number of triumphs.
We remember him as a writer of comic crime novels because he didn’t listen to Henry Morrison when the latter told him to give up on The Fugitive Pigeon. Who knows how we might remember him now if he hadn’t listened to Knox Burger about Fall of the City. Burger was clearly one of the most distinguished individuals in his field. But so was Morrison. I can think of a whole lot of stories offhand about powerful and effective agents who gave bad advice to their clients in various creative fields. Agents are paid to be cautious. But writers have to take risks if they want to keep growing as writers.
And seriously–what possible harm could come of publishing it now? Hong Kong is still here, last I checked. 😉
Sounds like the villain isn’t just part Max Fairbanks, hr’s part Max Bialystock.
Unfair. Max B. wasn’t vengeful, just greedy. And he made all those little old ladies so happy. The same thing occurred to me about Max F.–maybe Westlake once again recycling components–pity to waste a good villain. But maybe he wrote those books around the same time.
URGENT UPDATE: I sent this link to Charles Ardai, editor at Hard Case Crime, publishers of the two posthumous DW novels. He responds:
“I’m in the process of editing the manuscript for publication as we speak.”
Well, let’s just call this advance publicity, then. And absolutely free publicity. No publisher should ever complain about that. 😉
That’s wonderful news. I’ll be among the first in line!
I’ve encountered varying levels of security and restrictions at different archives. It does vary with the terms and so on. But my research tends to be in music manuscripts, which are both perishable (sometimes in pencil) and unlikely ever to be published in the format I’m examining. So I’ve sometimes been given white cotton gloves and a limited timeframe.
I’d certainly have no problem with the gloves.
I mean, if I ever loaned you one of my copies of a Westlake book–even some of my precious first editions–you might see the occasional food stain, the odd splash of hot sauce on the pages. I like to read while I eat. Archivists have to watch out for people like me. But once I have my own copy, I can personalize it to my own liking, and those stuffy archivists can’t do a thing about it. 😉
I had to sport white cotton gloves for all items I touched, which were the original typewritten pages (not photocopies) and correspondence. Extremely perishable, especially if mishandled.
They were certainly willing for me to go back as often as I liked, but the time and expense required for regular travel to Boston make that difficult. I read the thing I most wanted to read and was done.
Yeah, if I ever went there, I’d have to make it a vacation deal. I like Boston well enough–it’s almost like a city–and it’s cheap enough to get there. I could take a few vacation days, hit the Fung Wah, and just bury myself in the archives. But what the hell is the Westlake estate doing in a Boston archive? Talk about off-brand. 😉
Here’s what kills me: In April, my son was admitted to Boston Children’s Hospital for a month-long stay (he’s home now and fine). I took family leave and stayed in Boston for the length of his stay. Visiting hours were after 6 and I often had little to do during the day. I learned of this archive’s existence a few days after we returned home to Maine.
That’s the kind of practical joke life plays on us with suspicious frequency. Somebody out there is having too much fun.
Greg and Fred: Fall of the City was based on Westlake’s first story treatment for the Bond film. The second treatment is completely different and was largely the work of Michael G. Wilson and even previous Bond writers (one sequence is based on material from Michael France’s draft of Goldeneye). Among Westlake’s few contributions to the second treatment is the opening scene, which is set in a Transylvanian castle and begins, humorously, with Bond rising from a coffin.
The existence of the Fall of the City manuscript and its connection to the Bond treatment was revealed in my article “Fall of the City: Bond 18 and Westlake,” published last October in the UK magazine MI6 Confidential (https://www.mi6confidential.com/issue_32.php?utm_source=mi6-hq.com&utm_medium=article&utm_campaign=issue32).
Thanks Phil, though I believe we’ve been over much of this already in the comments sections for previous articles here–if I recall correctly (and I frequently don’t), it was curiosity about Westlake’s work on that film that led to the revelation of this manuscript’s existence. You just never know what’s going to come up when you network with other obsessive enthusiasts, eh? 😉
Westlake worked on both story treatments, even if his work on the second was minimal–and since what we’re discussing here is an article about a Westlake novel, not a Bond film, I think we can forgive Greg for not getting fully into the weeds about what remains my favorite Brosnan Bond, but still a very very long way off from the best Bond ever. And let me say, I suspect that would remain the case even if Westlake had written every word of the script. Now if Westlake had written a screenplay for a 60’s Connery–and I don’t see why not, since Roald Dahl wrote one, and that actually is my favorite, though much of the credit there belongs to Mie Hama and Akiko Wakabayashi…..
No hard feelings, but I would have appreciated it if Greg had acknowledged my research in his review, especially since his second paragraph uses information that originated in my “Bond 18” article, and which I subsequently added to the DEW Wikipedia page and cited.
The decision to publish the manuscript (through Hard Case Crime) is interesting. I’m wondering how much of Westlake’s material will remain once Ardai is done with it.
It’s a book review on a blog, not a journal article. Also, I’m not sure he can do hyperlinks in that (very reader-friendly) format.
Again, the article isn’t about Tomorrow Never Dies. It’s about Greg going to great trouble and expense to read the manuscript for an unpublished work, and share his impressions of it with us. He wouldn’t even be allowed to put any of that on Wikipedia, because it would fall under the heading of ‘Original Research’, which is frowned on there (did you ever run into any problems on that score? I’ve occasionally thought about murdering certain Wikipedia editors, and no doubt some have had similar thoughts about me).
Westlake’s participation in the development stages of that film has been well-known for some time now. He even referred to it with typically sly and oblique humor in some of his novels of that time period. So while I’m sure Greg would give you all due credit for your contribution to his research, it simply wasn’t that germane to what he was doing, which was synopsizing and reviewing a book. If he’d been comparing the script treatment with the book, I’m sure he’d have mentioned you. But I don’t remember offhand if that archive even has the script treatment, and when you have to read an entire novel in seven hours–with white gloves, yet!–it’s sort of beside the point, isn’t it? You won’t have time for anything else. You know the pleasures of tunnelvision, surely. Grant Mr. Tulonen the same measure of focus, and excuse his sin of omission, I implore you. 🙂
Ardai is a fine author in his own right, and I know he has the highest possible regard for Westlake. I’m sure 99% of what we read will be from Westlake, but Ardai’s job will be to try and figure out what changes–additions and subtractions–Westlake would have made himself had he gone ahead with the book. It’s a completed novel, albeit an early draft, so not entirely comparable with Robert B. Parker finishing Poodle Springs (the worst hard-boiled detective title ever, never mind) for Raymond Chandler, or Max Allan Collins completing The Goliath Bone (I guess that one’s not so bad) for Mickey Spillane.
Fred: The article is not about Tomorrow Never Dies. It’s about Bond 18, a radically different project. It covers not only the story treatments in depth but also Westlake and Wilson’s involvement (and why they made certain decisions), and it identifies the ideas/concepts that Westlake carried over to his novel. That’s why it’s called “Fall of the City: Bond 18 and Westlake.” Why don’t you read the article rather than making assumptions?
Also, this “anything goes” approach to citing (or lack thereof) that you seem to have is irresponsible. You should make every effort to read as much as you can about the research that’s already been done and acknowledge and/or reference it. No need to even hyperlink! Your argument that it’s a blog and not a journal article doesn’t hold water, and if you tried that in a copyright lawsuit you would be laughed out of court.
I didn’t intend to get into an argument here or to be unnecessarily obnoxious — for that, I apologize. It’s just the way I see things.
Greg: Thank you again for the review and I hope to read more of your work on this blog.
Sorry, but I lost count of the Bond films a long time ago, Phil. I made an incorrect assumption, which I regret. To me, they’re just fun goofy movies to watch on cable when I’m bored (because broadcast TV always cuts out the sex scenes, not that they were ever explicit enough for my tastes).
As Greg made clear, there was basically no infringement on your work, because he was relying on his own research(you may have written something on Wikipedia he used as source material, but as any Wikipedia editor will tell you, Wikipedia itself is never a citeable source). So without wishing to pull rank here, let’s let the matter drop. For the record, I cite sources a lot, and go out of my way to credit people who have informed or illuminated me in some way or another.
Book reviews don’t fall under the same citation standards as scholarly articles, and that’s true even in highly esteemed intellectual publications like The New York Review of Books, or The New Yorker. I studied European history at the graduate level. I know how that kind of writing works. And I know that’s not the kind of writing I’m doing here. I’m not 100% convinced it’s the kind of writing you are doing, but I respect your right to feel otherwise. And if you want to argue the matter further–don’t. You are in my domain, sir. That may work out for Mr. Bond when he visits some supervillain’s island retreat, but not even Blofeld can just delete people with the flick of a mouse button. 😐
Apologies, Phil. In truth, almost all of the Bond information I referenced in my review came directly from materials I read at the archive (specifically, the correspondence that accompanied the manuscript). The only exception is Michael G. Wilson’s name, which I did grab from Wikipedia. No slight intended.
If we had proper Westlake scholarship (and I would like to think this blog will help encourage the development of such a thing, while entertaining no delusions that it shall ever constitute such a thing in itself), we’d all be able to go to the library and read books full of such correspondence on the subject of many different Westlake novels, and it would be enormously revealing, and there’d probably even be footnotes and endnotes and journal citations and long bibliographies, and probably indexes, and it does start to sound a bit boring and pedantic when you think about it, but that kind of thing has its place. Just not here. 😉
(Obviously the opening salvo in the battle for proper Westlake scholarship was The Getaway Car, but we’ve got a long long way to go yet.)
No problem, Greg. I enjoyed reading your book review. Maybe at some point you can make another trip to Boston and cover some of the other materials in the collection (including Westlake’s stage musical!) I spent two days in the archive taking notes on the treatments and looking at the novel — have to admit I reached my limit there.
The whole collection is a fascinating, though. I wish Levi Stahl had focused on more of it in his book.
Sounds like there’s enough there for a bunch of books, but the focus of Stahl’s book was Westlake’s nonfiction work (though actually some of that was fairly fanciful in its own right). The estate is controlled by Westlake’s family, and it’s up to them to decide what gets released when by whom. And I’m extremely grateful they agreed to let Ardai and Hard Case Crime release this novel. As to the when part, I certainly hope it’s before I’ve finished reviewing the rest of the published material.
“Stage musical”??? Now I have to make a visit to the archive too, musicals being my primary research area.
I’m prepared to be disappointed, though. Many good writers have been hooked into collaborating on a musical, and run aground on matters of structure and pace, thinking they can just ignore the history of the form. Still, it would be fascinating to learn more. That’s honestly a medium I would never have expected to see him involved with. (A nonmusical comedy or thriller might seem quite within his grasp, though.)
Since I can’t read music (and attempts were made to teach me in school, so I can’t blame our educational system), I probably wouldn’t go for that one, though I’d certainly be curious about it. I assume Mr. Westlake was only writing the book for that–I just don’t see him as a lyricist, somehow. But he was full of surprises, that one.
Oh of course — I was sure he was the librettist. But even so, there are very few really good writers of books for musicals. And some of my favorite playwrights (so they know about writing for the stage in general) have still come a cropper when thinking they can toss off a musical — like Alan Ayckbourn, or Christopher Durang. It’s a hard and thankless job.
What do we really learn from all this marginalia of his? That he had a restless questing intellect, a desire to keep pushing at the boundaries of his capabilities as a writer, to see if he could become known for things besides whimsical novels about star crossed felons and feckless young men who got into trouble and met nice girls.
How could he know if he could write something entirely different unless he tried it? But he was also supporting a family, so most of these experiments of his were in some way commissioned efforts. He got paid for them. He never had any huge best sellers, so he couldn’t just indulge his creative whims. He had to make it jibe with the bottom line, and that often meant working on unfeasible projects with unsuitable collaborators. And sadly, it probably meant that he wasted a lot of time on things that were never going to work out. But for him, perhaps it wasn’t entirely a waste–because your failures almost invariably teach you more than your successes. If you know how to learn from them.
You didn’t like Das Lusitania Songspiel? I heard that was good. I never saw it, to my lasting regret, since I would have been a few feet away from a very young Sigourney Weaver. Well, a revue is not a musical. Actually, what is a revue? I’ve always wondered. If it turned out there were a lot of things like this in those archives, could I start a new blog called The Westlake Revue? 🙂
Das Lusitania Songspiel, insofar as I know it (the two of them did some of it on SNL), is OK but runs out of ideas pretty fast, as parody of Berlin political cabaret of the 1930s is apt to do. ☺ And as you say, it’s a revue (no plot, just sketches and song). Actually I found his nightclub-act spoof, “Chris Durang and Dawne,” hilarious. And I have nothing against his play-with-4-songs History of the American Film; I hope to see it some day. No, I was thinking of Adrift in Macao, which even as an intentionally silly spoof of a forgotten movie genre, is awfully thin stuff that runs out of steam several times.
To be honest, that sounds like every other musical on Broadway now, but as long as the tourists are happy……
That’s a discussion for another time (at which time I’ll also tell you of my afternoon in the Sondheim archive).
Mr. Sondheim is going to be quoted here in the near future. I wonder if you can guess which song? 🙂
Ooh, a challenge! Knowing roughly what’s coming next, I should be able to pick it out, but no.
“Ah, but Underneath”
“Everybody’s Got the Right”
But likeliest for me would be either
“I Never Do Anything Twice” or
“You Gotta Get a Gimmick”
If I’m all wrong (as is likely) can you offer a cryptic hint?
Oh I think cryptic would be the right word. 😉
Cryptic is an excellent word, as Mr. S. is one of the important figures in the popularization of the cryptic-style crossword in the US.
I saw that Sondheim thing on HBO recently, which mentioned his love of crosswords.
Man, I had no idea Dean Jones could sing like that.
Please be “Send in the Clowns” please be “Send in the Clowns” please be “Send in the Clowns”…
Why?? There are lots more interesting lyrics by him than that one. Or is there a specific relevance I’m not getting?
I’m just being silly. Tried to pick the least likely candidate.
Gotcha. Tone is always the hardest thing online, isn’t it, as only 17 million people before me have remarked.
I suppose I could have used Send in the Clowns when I started in on the comic novels, but Make ‘Em Laugh was more on-target, and I was struck by Donald O’Connor singing a song to a character named Donald Lockwood–I mean, you can’t make this stuff up.
Also, when you do Send in the Clowns right, nobody ever laughs. Go figger.
Someone had to explain the phrase “send in the clowns” to me once. It’s an old vaudeville standby, akin to “get the hook,” basically meaning “this act isn’t working, bring in the funny people to wake up the audience.”
There’s a whole collected book of Sondheim’s puzzles for New York magazine (belonging to the couple of years before his career really took off with Company). They’re fiendishly hard, and I wonder how many people actually solved some of them without help. His successor at that post was another lyricist, Richard Maltby Jr., and I did do well with those; I even won a prize in his last competition.
I did see the original production of Company, twice, but Dean Jones famously left about a month into the run, replaced by Larry Kert (the original Tony in West Side Story). I sometimes wonder what the show would have been like with the actor they originally had in mind, Anthony Perkins.
Creepy. Maybe Hitch could have directed. 😮
“Everybody Ought to Have a Maid”
I can’t even think what book that would fit with. If I were going to use something from that one–
I sing that in the shower every morning.
Actually, in a weird way the book that would fit “Everybody Ought To Have a Maid” is The Road to Ruin, isn’t it?
Hmmm…..I haven’t read that one in a while. I remember Dortmunder as the butler. Stan as the chauffeur. There were these union guys mad at this rich bum who screwed them over. A lot of rare automobiles. Much of the rest is a blur. If only there were a blog that reviewed all of Westlake’s novels in depth, with handy synopses that would give us the needed information to decide whether or not that particular song would work as an introduction to that particular novel. Well, I’m sure someone will get around to that. It’s the internet, after all.
I’d fly to Boston myself if anyone’d have given me a chance to work with Westlake’s unpublished book.
The closest I got to a really not-at-all accessible books is one Russian novel from 19th century the print run of which had been destroyed by the tsarist censure. Less than 10 copies were saved, one now is for public access. I didn’t use gloves (it is still a print book, not a manuscript).
Nice work, guys!
It’s an exciting revelation–and would have been revealed eventually, no matter what. But I hope this helps build anticipation for the book’s eventual release. I had pretty much given up hoping for an unpublished Westlake novel to come to light during the lifetime of this blog–or ever. Cue Journey singing Don’t Stop Believing.
And now we have a publication date for Fall of the City (apparently re-titled Forever and a Death): June 2017. More info, including cover art and a sample chapter, here: http://www.hardcasecrime.com/books_bios.cgi?entry=bk144
Exciting news, and TWR will definitely still be in review-mode by then–looking forward to it.
And I don’t blame Hard Case one bit for leaning hard on the Bond angle, even though based on your review, it’s not really that kind of story.
Somewhere, Westlake is grinning ruefully over that title. But in a sense, it’s carrying on a long and venerable tradition in his career, and that of many authors in his genre. The embarrassing but commercially mandated retitling. Well, we’ll all know what the real title is. 😉
You know, not sure if there’s going to be a hardcover edition, but with this cover, I think I’d rather have the paperback. And it would be so cool if Westlake’s last published novel ever was a paperback original. That would almost make up for the title.
I’d much rather it be a paperback. That seems the most appropriate. That title, though. Hoo boy.
I thought Fall of the City sounded like an SF title. I was mistaken (thinking of Samuel R. Delany’s Fall of the Towers). But it was
Delany put a ‘the’ at the start of that title. And I kept meaning to read that one. TBH, I kind of lost interest in Delany after Dhalgren. I think I mentioned that review quote regarding a Thomas Disch novel–“You don’t have to like something to think it’s good.” Yeah, but if it’s really long, and has explicit gay sex scenes (would Dan Savage read a book full of cunnilingus? I think not. The expression “One man’s meat” comes to mind, for some reason.), and it’s really hard to even know what the fuck is going on most of the time, I do kind of need to have to like it to get through it. But it’s very good!
I’m going to edit your post to make that an actual link, as no doubt you were prodding me to do. Having read the Wiki-synopsis, I find myself wondering if Westlake was familiar with this–the point of that story seems quite different from his. Westlake’s oppressor is not invented. Sometimes the threat is all too real. Or sometimes (not thinking of fiction now) fear of an unseen threat can give rise to a far worse one.
Is it a phrase from the novel itself? I’d think not, but hard-pressed to come up with another explanation. It’s basically a (bad) 007 title. But 007 isn’t in this story. Westlake didn’t really believe in Bond, which is why it was never likely to work out, him writing a Bond movie.
Ironic too–considering that Hard Case republished The Mercenaries under its original title, The Cutie.
Mind you, Fall of the City isn’t one of his best titles either. Westlake might well have changed it, or agreed to the publisher’s suggestion. But this just does not feel like even a bad Westlake title, does it? With publication nine months away, I suppose they could still change it, but this seems to be what they’re going with. And I’ll sure as hell buy it–might get the paperback and the ebook.
Of course–and I’m not saying I can be bought or anything, TWR is incorruptible–but there are such things as reviewers copies, and I am the world’s only dedicated Westlake reviewer. I’m just saying. 😐
On reflection, I’m thinking I’ll do a spoiler-lite review first, and then a more typical in-depth review.
But to you and you alone goes the honor of the first-ever review of Fall of the City. 🙂
According to birthmoviesdeath.com, which, like Hard Case, focuses more on the Bond angle (and properly credits Philip Poggiali), “Forever and a Death” was one of the titles Westlake proposed for his Bond treatment (the others being “Dragonsteeth,” “Nobody Dies,” “Never Look Back,” and “On Borrowed Time”). I don’t think any of them really work for the novel that resulted, but it’s certainly not going to stop me from buying it.
Me neither–and of that lot, I’d have probably gone with this one as well. Though Dragonsteeth isn’t too bad.
(editing) Just pulled my extra copy of The Getaway Car out–the one I keep in my desk at work for just such situations as this. You may recall, the penultimate chapter (not a bad title in itself) consists of a long list of title ideas Westlake had and mainly never used.
Based on your description of the book we’re now eagerly awaiting, I’d have gone with Wake Up and Die. What do you think?
Wake Up and Die is nice. Very hard-boiled. I’ve been googling around about the title and it seems like all the emphasis on James Bond is muddying the pre-release information somewhat. Here’s one report: “It won’t be a Bond story anymore, officially, with Bond replaced with some other superspy character with a taste for the finer things, but you’ll be able to use your imagination.”
No. This is exactly wrong.
The lead is “Donald Westlake’s last unpublished novel ever.”
Not “The James Bond story you never knew about, only without James Bond, but you can just mentally airbrush him into it!”
(I only wish that worked, so I could airbrush Sean Connery into On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in place of Lazenby. Particularly in the love scenes with Rigg. Then again, do I really want the Connery Bond weeping brokenly over Tracy’s dead body at the end? Some things just can’t be fixed.)
I certainly appreciate Hard Case doing this, and I appreciate the very hard work involved in getting the manuscript ready for publication, and I appreciate they are in business to make a profit, and I’m tempted to see if there’s a Dewey Heffernan working in their PR department. Damn, there goes my free reviewer’s copy. 😉
I certainly don’t begrudge Hard Case marketing the book in whatever manner they feel will sell the most copies (just as I don’t begrudge University of Chicago Press — much — for their godawful Parker covers and multiple typos). They’re doing God’s work here, keeping DEW’s work alive (and potentially scoring him a new generation of fans). But as I noted in my review, Fall of the City — excuse me, Forever and a Death — is NOT a spy novel. There is not a spy to be found in this story (save one corporate spy, and he’s far from suave). I fear a certain amount of confusion and disappointment may arise from readers expecting Ian Fleming redux. While there is a megalomaniacal villain, the heroes are ordinary folks who find (sometimes to their surprise) that they can’t stand back and allow evil to flourish. To me, that’s a much more interesting story. But I was already sold, so who cares?
Maybe they felt like too much time had passed since Westlake’s death to make the posthumous publication thing the main angle, but since when does Hard Case even do spy fiction? Have I missed all their secret agent titles? I associate them with noir, suspense. It seems a bit–offbrand.
And as to that title–Westlake came up with it for a Bond film–and I think he viewed those movies (and the novels) with a mixture of bemused enjoyment and snarky derision. Junk food for the mind. And there’s nothing wrong with a bit of junk in your literary diet. As long as you see it for what it is, and moderate it accordingly.
So I don’t know if he expected them to use that title for the movie, even if they used his story ideas. I think he was just making his own little commentary on the depth, or lack thereof, of that franchise. And sometimes when you make a joke too subtle, it gets taken seriously.
I’m going to think of it as Wake Up and Die. In fact, I may print that out and paste it over the title page of my copy.
Just thought to check, and in fact you can pre-order this book on Amazon now. Release date June 13th. Which is not a Friday.
Pity Amazon doesn’t offer customization options on books, or you could change the title. Well, I’m sure that’s coming, eventually. Happy Halloween.
I think you should contact Charles Ardai (firstname.lastname@example.org), who has personally responded to every e-mail I’ve ever sent him, about getting an advance review copy.
But surely, the global fame and high scholarly reputation of The Westlake Review would make that–urm–I suppose you have a point.
What a nice birthday present.
Well Greg, I finally read the book–so I could finally read your entire review, which was brilliantly done–and I can already spot some things that didn’t make the published edition. Including, sorry to say, Luther’s explanation of why he and Kim should switch rooms.
It needed more work, no question. It’s not as good a book as Kahawa, because the characters do need a bit more work–they start out as fairly hollow stock cliches, and he fills them in as he goes, until they’ve transcended their limitations by the end. Maybe that was intentional, but it makes for a lot of less satisfying reading in the early stages. I also felt like it got a bit tiresome the way the Chinese characters kept getting turned into redshirts. Not the first time I’ve noticed this tendency in Westlake.
It’s being promoted as The Bond That Never Was, for perfectly sound understandable commercial reasons and I’ll have some things to say about that. It is, among many other things, Westlake’s personal commentary on the Bond franchise–his critique of it, his attempt to rationalize it, make it relevant, make it believable. More successful than any attempt I’ve seen from the people who make the movies (mainly they just try to give Bond more emotional depth and inward reflection, which is the very last thing 007 needs). I think I know what his real point was, and I’m afraid it’s more relevant now than ever.
You caught some things I missed, with regards to Westlake borrowing from himself, but I caught something you missed entirely. Think about the villain’s name. Think about his goal. Think about his motivation. You know this. 🙂
I’m glad you’ve read it, and can’t wait for your review and to discuss the book in more depth with the usual suspects who hang out here. I actually can’t wait to read it again myself, to see what I missed, or just got wrong (and to see if I can spot Ardai’s changes). This was a fun but also strange and frustrating reading experience for me, as I tend to like to linger over passages, and to go back to re-read sections when writing about the book later. That wasn’t possible, given the constraints. On the other hand, if I’d known the book was going to be published, I may not have undertaken the trip at all. So ultimately, I’m glad I didn’t know. I’m sorry to learn that that moment with Luther in the hotel was excised. It would be a relatively small cut, but I found it to be a poignant detail.
Your input is going to be crucial, to fill in the missing pieces. It’s not really a huge part of the book that got cut out, as Ardai informed me–mainly the travelogue stuff, which got in the way of the story. He said he’d have left in the bit about the gay laws in Singapore if it had just been a sentence or two, but it was more than that, and it’s too much for this kind of book, this publishing niche. Westlake’s fascination with local history again. In Kahawa, he found a fairly organic way to bring it in, through Frank, Isaac, Balim, and a few other characters. He didn’t have that here.
I think it’s a real problem with the book–a challenge Westlake might have successfully confronted, if he’d been encouraged to try. It’s set in three distinct places–Australia (three very different parts of Australia), Singapore, and Hong Kong. But most of the characters who are native to these places, or have at least long familiarity with them, are subsidiary characters. You learn a lot about how each place works, but there’s nobody who can credibly launch into an impromptu history lecture. Kahawa is mainly set in one part of Africa, with the occasional leap over to London and Geneva. You need characters who know the territory. I think the Hong Kong inspector in particular needed to be fleshed out more, and I really don’t think he–well, never mind. Getting ahead of myself there.
Obviously if it was a ‘serious’ writer, the gay rights material would have been left in. But Hard Case isn’t in a position to make the case that’s what Westlake really was, under all his genre trappings. Hard Case has to think about who’s buying this book, and why.
It’s an adventure story. It’s a converted Bond plot. That’s a tricky thing to do, always, switching formats. The afterward by former Bond producer Jeff Kleeman points out that’s where Thunderball came from, Fleming converting an unused film plot into a novel that then got turned into two movies. But there are so many fewer moving parts in anything Fleming ever wrote (and Thunderball was never the best-loved Bond novel, even though it became the most popular Bond film ever). Westlake’s weakest novel is probably Who Stole Sassi Manoon?, which resulted from the same process. This is a much much better book than that. But it still suffers from the conversion process.
I do hate to think somebody who is familiar with the situation for gay people in Singapore is going to think Westlake didn’t do his research–or just didn’t care. But in fairness, Singapore is a lot more tolerant than it used to be. You can easily look up gay nightlife spots there online. It would seem the authorities look the other way as much as they possibly can–they’d lose too much money otherwise. I mean, they’re not North Carolina. 😉