Plug: Mr. Westlake and the Open Road

Trailer for sale or rent, rooms to let fifty cents
No phone, no pool, no pets, I ain’t got no cigarettes
Ah but, two hours of pushin’ broom buys a
Eight by twelve four-bit room
I’m a man of means by no means, king of the road

Third boxcar midnight train, destination Bangor, Maine
Old worn out suit and shoes, I don’t pay no union dues
I smoke old stogies I have found, short but not too big around
I’m a man of means by no means, king of the road

I know every engineer on every train
All the children and all of their names
And every handout in every town
And every lock that ain’t locked when no-one’s around
I sing…

Lyrics by Roger Miller (hey baby, would I lie?)

This morning I arise, like an extra on The Walking Dead, shake off the cobwebs, take some pills (non-recreational, alas), make my way from bathroom to kitchen to desktop.  At the last destination, I am mildly discombobulated to find a new comment for The Fugitive Pigeon review I posted almost four years ago.  Appropriate, since I feel very much like a dead nephew most mornings of late. (I can’t drink coffee anymore.  It would take too long to explain.)

Why, it’s Anthony!  When’s the last time he showed up here?  As Bernard Shaw once wrote to Mrs. Patrick Campbell, having just received a missive from her following a lengthy lapse in their correspondence–“So–you yet live.” 

It is a brief but substantive message.  Somebody has put out the first-ever (to my knowledge) ebook edition of the aforementioned Columba Livia on the Lam.  Westlake’s very first comic crime novel, his most popular book ever at the time it came out, much to the befuddlement of the agent who begged him not to write it.

Many editions have appeared over the years, foreign and domestic, but at the present time it is out of print.  Unless you count pixels as print.  I’ve never been clear on that.  Point is you can have it for Kindle now, if you want.  Don’t have to rely on Amazon Marketplace anymore.  Yes, the cover art is pretty on the nose, but that was true of some of the real books as well.  (Also some very good ones, mainly from those artsy overseas publishers, but I’m partial to the fourth American printing, paperback, from Ballantine Books.  Even though that’s technically a dove.)

The publisher is listed as Road.  Open Road Media is a company that does ebooks, and all the Mysterious Press Westlakes that are currently evailable are evailable through them.  Most of the Dortmunders, Dancing Aztecs, Ex Officio, Two  Much!, all five of the Mitch Tobin Mysteries.

(Hey, when did he write that book about Hitler?  I haven’t reviewed that one.  Oh wait, different Westlake. Possibly different Hitler. What day is it?  Anyone know?  Are my feet supposed to be feeling all prickly like this, doctor?  Are my thoughts supposed to be so scattered?  I don’t  normally have back pain.  You smiled that world weary smile when I brought up the matter of side effects.  “Oh foolish layperson, do you want the miracle of modern pharmaceuticals or do you not?  All for a mere twenty-five dollar co-pay.  Here, I’ll even give you a free sample.  Whole pack of them, right on my desk.  Funny coincidence, that.”)

So there’s no link for me to follow, Anthony was clearly off somewhere in a hurry, no time to chat with his old Uncle Fred.  That’s fine, Anthony.  Go off and enjoy your life, why don’t you?  See if I care!  I bet you can still drink coffee!  Mumbling incoherently to myself, I consult the great oracle Google, and find the e-edition in question post-haste.  But wait–there’s more!

(Well you already knew that from the images up top.  I really have to stop it with the spoilers sometime.  It’s an old habit.  You know, as a boy, I snuck down early one Christmas morning and opened all the presents.  I don’t just mean my presents.  I was always thorough.  Some might consider that a virtue.)

SIX new ebooks!  Westlakes long and unforgivably out of print.   All bearing similarly schematic digital decorations, clashing a mite with the graphic art from earlier Mysterious Press/Open Road editions.  Some starving artist paid off the back rent on his loft with that assignment, I’ll bet. (Unless it was a starving computer.  Do computers get hungry?  I should probably call the doctor soon.)

They’re all good in my book, but I’d place The Spy in the Ointment, Cops and Robbers, and Trust Me On This on any best-of list I compiled for Westlake.  Which is the same thing as saying any list I compile of books to read before you die.  (Good thing I already have. Read them, I mean.  Pretty sure that’s what I mean.)

Some of his finest remain on the most-wanted list,  Looking at you, Adios Scheherazade, and don’t look so furtive, the #MeToo movement doesn’t even know you exist yet, and anyway, you’re on their side, kind of, maybe, I guess.  If they come for you, torches blazing, just shout “Hark! The Ghost of Philip Roth!,” then run for it while they hold up their crucifixes and chant the rites of exorcism.  Waxing Roth, you might say.  (I’m starting to feel better.)

I don’t know what we’re going to do about Up Your Banners.  I really don’t. As piercingly penetrative a perusal of American race relations (biblical and otherwise) as ever I’ve read, and I just don’t know who’d risk putting it out there now.  But it ought to be out there.  It has things to teach that we need to learn.  But there’s this thing called ‘whitesplaining’ now.  Okay, I get it, but seems to me we’ve all got a whole lot of ‘splainin’ to do, and nobody does it better than Westlake.  The real problem is that it’s not any identifiable genre.  A white elephant, you might call it.  In bed with a black one.  (I can just say it’s the medication talking.)

A Likely Story likewise isn’t the right genre, if any, and yet it’s one of his funniest books, and it should at least be evailable, even if there aren’t any crimes committed in it other than adultery.  Anarchaos doesn’t have that problem, and is as genre as they come.  Killy is a murder mystery where the protagonists are union organizers in a hostile factory town–hey, that’s timely.  There’s still some really good low-hanging fruit, as yet unplucked.

The list of Westlake novels not available in any form is shrinking fast.  I don’t know if a Library of America collection will ever happen at this rate.  There may not be enough books no other publisher has taken responsibility for.  Hard Case Crime is coming out with their edition of Brothers Keepers soon (print and pixels, hey big spenders!)  I’m sure more will be forthcoming from there.  Maybe they’ll do the natural follow-up to their reprint edition of The Mercenaries.  (I know Killing Time isn’t the sexiest crime novel ever, but it’s sure as hell one of the bloodiest, and people still read Red Harvest.)

Anyway, I’ll keep watching for the next big digital dump (these all came out on May 29th) and keep you all posted when it comes.  The books I mean, not any hurried trips to the lavatory.  (That being one of the side-effects I missed.)

Every day, in every way, we are getting better and better.  Well no, we’re not.  But at least we have stuff to read while we convalesce.  Sing ho, for the open highway, sing ho, for the open road………..


Filed under Donald Westlake novels, Help I Am Being Held Prisoner, Uncategorized

12 responses to “Plug: Mr. Westlake and the Open Road

  1. This is good news! I haven’t read any of these yet, and I’d also like to get a chance to read Up Your Banners someday. Thanks for the post.

    • Don’t thank me, thank the medication. :\

      For reasons I could hardly be expected to fathom, the three best novels (according to me) are going for $7.99–The Fugitive Pigeon (very short and famous) and High Adventure (fairly long and most people don’t even know he wrote it) are both $9.99–go figure. I guess they figure yarns about weed are fungible right now.

      Up next, I’ve got three more new Westlake editions–the tangible kind. Omnibuses. Perhaps the finest printed editions of Westlake I’ve ever seen. Perhaps the finest that have ever existed. But you probably won’t be able to read them. Partly because they’re all sold out. Partly because few of my readers can decipher Cyrillic.

  2. Anthony

    As it turns out, I was off somewhere in a hurry. Charlie and Chloe helped make the plane ride slightly less unbearable.

  3. If anyone reads this, they’re doing some kind of fire sale on two of these ebooks on Amazon (even though ebooks don’t burn). The Fugitive Pigeon and High Adventure are now going for $1.99 (that’s one dollar and ninety nine cents)–they were at $9.99 before, two bucks more expensive than the others.

    I’m going to guess that was discouraging people from buying them, so that has led, with paradoxical predictability, to them now being cheaper than the rest, but I don’t know for how long, and thus I am letting you know. Maybe it’s a mistake! Swoop, buzzards, swoop!

  4. This doesn’t rate its own article, at least for now, but I was wondering offhand how many of Mr. Westlake’s books are evailable now (and as a general rule, so far, a book that becomes evailable stays evailable.)

    His two most famous pseudonyms are both fully represented. All twenty-eight Starks, all five Tucker Coes. His single-use pseudonyms are likewise mainly doing well–Timothy J. Culver (Ex Officio), Judson Jack Carmichael (The Scared Stiff, though it’s sold under Westlake’s name now), and lest we forget, the vibrant J. Morgan Cunningham (Need I even say it? okay, fine, Comfort Station.)

    The Samuel Holt books (by Samuel Holt) have never been evailable, and given how cheaply those who care can get first editions, that’s probably not a project anyone’s going to tackle anytime soon. (A TV star detective who dates two women at once and is a really nice guy might be a hard sell–it was when it came out.)

    Curt Clark has a bunch of off-license ebooks (for stories that aren’t protected by copyright anymore, probably because Westlake didn’t bother to register copyright and the magazines don’t exist anymore). However, his masterpiece, Anarchaos, is sadly out of print and un-evailable. That needs remedying.

    Of the ten ‘Nephew’ books published under his name, you can get seven on your e-reader now. We needn’t mourn I Gave At The Office and Money For Nothing too much (used copies aren’t hard to find), but I really do think Up Your Banners ought to be out there in the cloud. I don”t consider Two Much a Nephew, but it’s in the same general category of adventure, and with two movie adaptations, of course it got an ebook. Brothers Keepers is coming out from Hard Case next February (physical and electronic editions) and you can pre-order that, so I’m counting it as evailable, even though it isn’t yet.

    Of the fourteen Dortmunder novels, all are evailable, but weirdly, Don’t Ask is only evailable through a foreign publisher, and I’m still afraid to ask why that is.

    In other things Dortmunder, Thieves’ Dozen is domestically evailable. His other short story collections, not so much. I guess I could mention The Getaway Car here, and yeah, you can get a digital edition of that.

    Of his early hardcover non-comic crime novels for Random House, you can Kindle-ize The Mercenaries (as The Cutie), and 361. Killing Time and Killy are still only available as old hardcovers and paperbacks (but in a lot of different editions). Pity Him Afterwards is completely out of print.

    All three of his novels that weren’t published in his lifetime are evailable and in print, thanks to Hard Case Crime. Among other odd ducks, you can get Dancing Aztecs, Kahawa, Smoke, and Put A Lid On It. Obviously The Ax is never going out of circulation. Though I have to say, it’s hard to tell sometimes which books they’re still printing physical copies of. (On Amazon ‘new’ can just mean a book that was printed years ago and never sold.)

    All told, I make it seventy-five electronic editions you can get, one of them only via some of the Euro-Amazons.

    This is just authorized English language editions I’m talking about; not inclined to explore all the translation options out there, or the bootleg stuff–might not live that long. Nor am I going to get into his sleaze books that are evailable, even though I wish all of them were.

    A more than respectable tally for anyone–a remarkable tally, in fact, regarding both quantity and quality–and still not satisfactory.

    Still Wanted (because not at large):

    Killing Time
    Pity Him Afterwards
    Up Your Banners
    Adios, Scheherazade
    A Likely Story
    Sacred Monster
    The Hook

    I have it on good authority Castle In The Air is going to be made available for Kindle in the next year or two. So that’ll make it seventy-six.

    • I don’t know. I think that was worthy of its own article. But maybe that’s just me. For a brief time, I think maybe as the rights to the final three Parkers were wending their way from Mysterious Press to U of C, the final triptych was out of print (though easily obtainable) and unevailable (with bootlegs obtainable if you knew a guy, which I did).

      • Yeah, it took a while for the Final Eight to make it to the virtual publishing world, but here they are, and here they’ll stay.

        You can get bootlegs of just about anything if you know a guy, and I do, but some of the people he knows I’m a bit wary of. 😮

        I figured six articles in one month was plenty, and I need time to recharge. Basically the same topic as the article up top, so what the hell.

        I love my Kindle, but I have to say–it’s a lot more fun getting old physical editions. I’m glad I didn’t miss out on that. I have, to this very day, never read a Stark novel in electronic form. I don’t have a single Stark ebook–same goes for Coe.

        I do kind of think I Gave At The Office would read better on a Kindle. Don’t ask me why. Okay, fine, ask (the font size in my S&S paperback is too small.)

        And if Library of America finally wises up and does a Westlake volume or three, I’ll be shelling out for them. They could start with that wanted list of mine. Not what people associate Westlake with, and that’s the point.

        • Right, my point was that the final three were available for Kindle under Mysterious Press, and then unevailable for a time, and then evailable again once U of C published their versions. It was very mysterious and frustrating. How can a Kindle edition go out of print?

          I’d also much rather read the Parkers in physical form, and in fact I have multiple editions of many of them. But I also have e-versions of all, loaded in my phone. It’s useful for when I find myself stuck somewhere (a bus, a dentist’s office, under something heavy, etc.), as they’re endlessly re-readable and entertaining. It’s also handy when commenting on this very blog away from home, and I want to make sure I’m getting the quote exactly right.

          • I also have the audiobook version of most of the Parkers, also loaded into my phone. I pretty much feel if there’s a format available, I should have it.

          • I would assume the rights were up in the air. And can anyone explain the thing about Don’t Ask? I’m asking!

            My main use for my Westlake ebooks is to copy/paste overlong quotes into my articles, after using the search function to look them up. It is nice not to have to flip through pages. Though in the case of the Starks, it’s never that long a search, because he did not waste words, any more than Parker wasted ammo.

            An example to us all.

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