Promo: The last Westlake I ever thought would be reprinted. On paper yet. With decent cover art even.

97819092698111

I got the news, appropriately enough, under an Irish heaven.  First from Anthony, in the comments section for my review.  Then a few days later, from the publisher.  By which I mean the actual publisher, one Humfrey Hunter, not some PR flak.

Humfrey Hunter?  I’ve long suspected I’m a supporting character in a Wodehouse novel, and now I’m certain of it.  (Maybe something by Waugh, or Nabokov, but God, I hope not.)

Hi Fred [editor’s note: he didn’t call me Fred, but you know…]

I’m the publisher of Silvertail Books and I’m getting in touch because we will shortly be bringing out UNDER AN ENGLISH HEAVEN by Donald E. Westlake. His son Paul suggested I get in touch with you in the hope this might be of interest to you? I know you’ve written about UNDER AN ENGLISH HEAVEN before, but I wondered if this new edition might be something worth you mentioning? The book doesn’t seem to have got the attention it deserved when it first came out, and I would love to correct that now. There is some more information here:

http://www.silvertailbooks.com/portfolio-post/under-an-english-heaven/

Silvertail is best-known for being the only UK publisher willing to put out books critical of the Church of Scientology. In recent years, among others, we have published Lawrence Wright’s GOING CLEAR, and Leah Remini’s TROUBLEMAKER. Having Donald E. Westlake on our list is a huge moment for us, as I’m sure you can understand.

I look forward to hearing back from you.

Best wishes,

Humfrey.

It’s not one of the great houses (which by Westlake’s account were not always so great to work with), but sounds like they have some good writers.  We’re going to see more and more of this, as small publishers, mainly hawking their wares online (though as mentioned, there is a paperback edition from Silvertail as well), look to boost their profile by publishing long out of print works by well known writers.

There’s been a lot of that going on with Westlake of late, with the digital publisher Open Road, in unholy alliance with The Mysterious Press (which lives on in ghostly form) putting out one long-neglected opus after another.  But much as I appreciate this, the cover art has been, shall we say, sketchy.

What you see above is by no means the best imaginable specimen of the illustrator’s craft, but I find it thoughtful and well-conceived, all the same.  The planes for England, the eel for Anguilla.  (Some dolphins would have been nice, but what the hell).  And we don’t have to gaze at the bared lilywhite bums of confused British soldiers, as in the original (and up to now only) edition of this book.

Not a masterpiece this cover, but much better than you’d expect for a reprint of such an obscure and little-known book, about an obscure and little-known island, which was indeed largely ignored when first published (and probably contributed to the end of Westlake’s professional relationship with Simon & Schuster).

Fact is, the only place you’re ever likely to find the original edition in a shop is on Anguilla itself, and their supply must be running low by now (if there are any shops left there, after Maria had her winsome way with them).

So why now?  Well, first of all, I’d assume they got the rights pretty cheap, and with the ongoing Westlake renaissance, they get some new readers for their other books.  Unlike the original, this edition comes out under an English publisher, and this is a fascinating and forgotten chapter of England’s imperialist history, though no Anguillan has ever forgotten it.

They could probably break even on this edition just from sales to Anguilla and its far flung diaspora, as well as tourists to that blessed yet beknighted isle, who want to read up on its history.  For all of them, this book is pretty much the only game in town, or at least the only one with decent prose.  Eventually the original hardcovers will be read to death, and now there’s finally a new edition, that you can buy in a shop, or just download to your device while lounging on a beach, or dolphin-watching from a pier.

And finally, I would surmise, a publisher this small and spirited (taking on the deep-pocketed Scientologists with their vast army of legal lions takes guts) certainly must empathize with other slippery eels in a sea full of bigger fish, biting above their weight level (eels don’t punch).  Whatever the reason, I applaud the revival of any Westlake.  And the fact that so little of his work is out of print now attests to the growth of his reputation.

Westlake hated colonialism, celebrated the independent spirit of small nations, but still had an interest in how past exploiters could become present-day protectors (he revisisted this idea in High Adventure, also recently reprinted).

The irony of this story is how Anguilla, living in the shadow of its hated enemy St. Kitts, could only retain its cherished independence by remaining a colony (in name only) of the British Empire (ditto).   It’s the kind of sly sardonic literary journalism the late V.S. Naipaul was best known for, and with the rebirth of interest in him following his death earlier this month, the timing of this relaunch seems fortunate (not that the critics are likely to pay any more attention this time than last, but fuck them).

So anyway, I let Humfrey know that I’d comply with his request, once I was back under a New York Hell, and boy am I ever.  Have to get back to the air conditioning now.   See you next month, fellow eels.  Stay slippery.

PS: Note to Humfrey.  Nobody’s reprinted Adios, Scheherazade in a good long while, and it’s one of his best books, albeit controversial on matters sexual, and this is the #MeToo era–but if you’re not scared of Scientology…..)

 

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18 Comments

Filed under Under An English Heaven

18 responses to “Promo: The last Westlake I ever thought would be reprinted. On paper yet. With decent cover art even.

  1. Tom

    Okay, this is weird. For a long time I’d been interested in the book and finally bought a copy this month. Now I find out it’s being reprinted? Jeez…

    • Personally, with Westlake, I often like having both a physical edition and an ebook. With Stark, never. Not one Stark do I have on my Kindle. I can just imagine Parker looking at me, while I flip through the digital edition. That look he gets. You know the one.

      Would you mind getting an overpriced used copy of Adios Scheherazade? Humfrey said he’d look into it, but just to help things along. 🙂

      • Tom

        Already have a copy, thanks. I bought a bunch of Westlake books some time ago off ebay. I couldn’t get into that book, though I may try again sometime. Something about that type of story irritates me, like Paris When it Sizzles

        • The movie with Audrey Hepburn and William Holden?

          I see the connection (a blocked writer retreating into fantasy), but it’s a pretty faint one. Westlake’s doing something utterly different with it. It’s not about writer’s block, or fantasy. It’s about self-knowledge. And, of course, sex–our fantasies about it, and the underlying reality of it.

          I’d rank that one in his top ten–perhaps his most personal work–but I’m weird.

          Anyway, it should be in print. All his work should be in print. Except maybe Sassi Manoon.

  2. I’m looking forward to this one, also. It would be interesting to see if Westlake’s portrayal of colonialism as any more nuanced than what I’ve seen already (just the one Parker book: The Black Ice Score).

    • It would certainly be different, in that the colonial power is the unwitting patsy here, suckered into intervening in a matter it has no real interest in.

      The only heist in the book (sadly constrained by the fact that it’s based entirely on real life events) is the Anguillans breaking into a safe on the island, where some of Her Majesty’s currency is stored, just to get some working funds for the rebellion. Which isn’t really a rebellion at all. They’re rebelling against independence. In order to remain independent.

  3. Robert Lopresti

    I LOVE this book and will certainly buy another paper copy if the price is reasonable. It is one of the two funniest nonfiction books i have ever read.

    • You realize you’ve begged a question there. What’s the other?

      • Tom

        My previous comment on ‘Paris When it Sizzles’ got me thinking about the writer of the film, George Axelrod. Writer of such films as ‘The Manchurian Candidate’, ‘How to Murder Your Wife’ and ‘Lord Love a Duck’ as well, of course, ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’. He also wrote novels, one of which was published by Hard Case Crime. I don’t know…I keep thinking there must be some sort of Westlake-Axelrod connection, but I’ve been googling and can’t really find one. Am I just off my rocker?

        • Quite possibly, but Westlake knew a fair few screenwriters–he even was one, from time to time. Maybe he knew Axelrod through his buddy Hal Dresner. He was on chummy terms with William Goldman as well.

          However, I don’t see much of a connection in the films you mention, and I haven’t read his novels.

          • Tom

            It was more out of intuition than a fully-thought out conclusion, I’ll admit. I was thinking of some of Westlake’s early stuff, like the Fugitive Pigeon. Axelrod’s whole playboy bachelor thing somehow put me in mind of the book.

            I know you thought of Winona Ryder for the role of Chloe. Not a bad choice, but how about Lizzie Caplan? I’m particularly thinking of her sultry bohemian sexiness as Amy Burley on True Blood.

            I always see Dortmunder through Victor’s eyes in Bank Shot, where he’s described as looking like Bogart in High Sierra, a film also mentioned in the previous book. What about Harrison Ford as Dortmunder? Some might think I’m nuts, but in the Indiana Jones movies he’s very good at that comic tone of annoyed confusion that sums up the character for me.

            • Well, they’re both too old now (just like Mark Wahlberg is too old for Charlie), but of course Lizzie Caplan could do it (she’s an inch taller, but still probably short enough). I’d also love Kat Dennings, who might just barely still be young enough, but there’s not ever going to be a movie, so who cares?

              Smart funny gutsy sexy Jewish girl with a good heart and a very mild death wish. Seriously. Go to a party in Hollywood. Wait for the guys to go watch a game on TV. Throw a rock. If it doesn’t hit a shiksa, you’ve probably got your Chloe. Then run like hell cuz she’s gonna kick your ass.

              Harrison Ford would be a horrible Dortmunder. Not as bad as Robert Redford, but bad. Basically ANY A-lister would be bad. You need a D-lister. Hence the name.

              Understand that Victor sees everything through pulp-colored glasses. The point of that passage isn’t about how Dortmunder really looks. It’s about how Victor sees the world. I tried to capture a bit of that in my Dortmunder pastiche last year. And am crossing my fingers that he’s been a busy boy since then. Sic ’em!

              As to Axelrod and Westlake, understand that neither of them invented anything. They are both responding to existing pop cultural memes and storytelling conventions. Looking for something that will sell. The basic protagonist you describe, playboy bachelor, has been around a long time. But each age puts a new spin on the old record.

              • Tom

                ‘there’s not ever going to be a movie, so who cares?’
                Well, that’s the fun of playing the imaginary casting director, isn’t it? You aren’t limited by time, budget or realism! One quibble: you seem to lay a lot of emphasis on the physical description of the characters, while I care more about whether the actors match the spirit of their conception.

                I’ll think we’ll probably have to agree to disagree on Ford as Dortmunder. I think people perhaps forget that Ford can be comic in his anger and his facial expressions often have me thinking: ‘that’s exactly what Dortmunder would look like when he’s ticked!’ And I crack up.

                ‘Understand that Victor sees everything through pulp-colored glasses. The point of that passage isn’t about how Dortmunder really looks. It’s about how Victor sees the world.’

                I figured you would say something like this, and I should have anticipated your objection in my last post. Westlake seems to write about Victor with some love, and I’m not so sure his perspective is as different as you think. Dortmunder is the comic version of Parker (which is why Westlake has him follow a Parker plot in Jimmy the Kid).And Parker is about as pulp as it gets.

                ‘The basic protagonist you describe, playboy bachelor, has been around a long time. But each age puts a new spin on the old record.’

                Yeah, as someone who enjoys collecting old Playboys from the 50’s-60’s, particularly the ones with bachelor pad layouts, I’m aware!

                By the way, in one of your posts you mention reading Westlake at restaurants sometimes getting hot sauce on the pages. Any particular type of place you like to hang out? I often head out at night to my favorite local Chinese restaurant with a Westlake under my arm. One of life’s small pleasures!

              • Tom, you magnificent bastard, you read my blog!

                The way I play Imaginary Casting Director is that I look for actors I think can match up to the image I get in my head when I read about the character in question. Chloe Shapiro is described as a sloe-eyed raven-tressed beauty, Also as very short, and having a sort of Chinese-French-Negro look that Jewish girls who study art in New York get.

                That’s a very specific image–so much so that I feel certain she’s based on somebody Westlake met, or at least saw, back in his Village days. If a composite, then a composite of that general type.

                And how much do we ever see that type in the movies? You’re going to cast some tall blonde blue-eyed goy-gal from Texas in the role? Or maybe Emma Watson? (I could sort of see Emma Stone, but no. Blue eyes, and her looks don’t go with dark hair.)

                No shortage of WASPy looking girls in movies–even the ones who are Jewish often look WASPy. Because movies are largely cast by guys who grew up with girls like Chloe, went to school with them, and the lure of the exotic is a thing–but Westlake grew up in upstate New York, went to Catholic school, and for him the lure of the exotic works differently. He’s intentionally making her not the usual type of girl the hero falls for and (presumably) ends up with.

                As to Dortmunder, the problem with casting any very famous actor is that a guy like that, for whom the world is just one big oyster, is never going to get Dortmunder. With rare exceptions. Of which Ford is not one. Even when he plays a loser, it’s a glamorous loser–an Indiana Jones, a Han Solo. A loser by choice. A roguish soldier of fortune. That ain’t Dortmunder.

                Pizza, Chinese, Mexican. Nothing too fussy, and nothing too expensive. Though I’ll make an exception for really good Chinese. Which I can’t really find anymore. They closed my favorite place. If you really do read this blog, you know the name.

                PS: Humphrey Bogart was ugly. In a good way. Harrison Ford isn’t. In either way. But since we understand that Victor is glamorizing Dortmunder even by comparing him to Bogie–in the much less lenient 70’s–we must assume that Dortmunder would have struggled to make the grade even back then. Though you know, Cagney, Eddie G.

                Man. Those really were the good old days.

  4. Tom

    ‘If you really do read this blog, you know the name.’

    I had to sheepishly look up which post that was. I often hop around the site, checking out the posts relating to the books I’m most interested in. Reading that had me in mind of the Chinese place I go to. It’s nowhere near as cool sounding as yours, but I’m in a small town. Anyway, some woman on heroin drove into the restaurant and it got boarded up for several months. Thankfully it opened up again.

    I sometimes fantasize about taking a copy of Nobody’s Perfect to an upscale Italian place (if I had the money) and ordering what either Klematsky or Kelp orders. Sambuca and spaghettini with clam sauce. Especially around Christmas.

    I was surprised to find that you discovered Westlake and Parker so recently. I see you were a teenager in the 1980’s, which is funny because I was born in 1980. My discovery of Westlake came when I was twelve years old and my mother took me to a Salvation Army thrift store. Jimmy the Kid. The one with the Mickey Mouse cover. I asked Mom to buy me the book. The characters sure said ‘goddam’ a lot. But I was hooked. Imagine my joy in finding out there was a whole series of books based on these characters!

    I actually thought ‘Richard Stark’ was a fictional writer dreamed up by Westlake for the book. It was only in reading Stephen King’s The Dark Half that I found out that Stark was Westlake’s pseudonym and Parker had a whole series of books too!

    • I wasn’t even marginally aware of Westlake as a kid. Could easily have seen some of his books at stores, garage sales, etc, but none of the covers made it to long term memory.

      But I was better prepared to understand him after everything I’d read and experienced during the interim. Or so I tell myself. Still would have been nice to know Parker, Dortmunder, Tobin, et al, sooner in life.

      I wasn’t a teenager in the 80’s for very long.

  5. Tom

    Okay…I was dreamily musing about finding a good Italian place in some town near me so I could have my Kelp-Klematsky-Nobody’s Perfect experience..I found a place on the internet where the menu looked damned good and decided to check it out. Guess the name of the street it’s located on? West Lake Ave.! LOL!

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