So the mind having boggled a while, here’s what I know:
Donald Westlake published a novella entitled Call Me A Cab in Redbook, which is not particularly known for crime fiction, comic or otherwise. Which makes a certain measure of sense, since all indicators are this book isn’t crime fiction, has a female protagonist, and is in essence a romantic comedy with an adventure angle to it, or misadventure, if you prefer.
This was the June 1979 issue, seen above, also featuring a Sally Field interview where she apparently talked about her burgeoning romance with Burt, and why she didn’t play aviatrix nuns anymore. Unless there are Westlake collectors far more obsessive than me, which is doubtful, my guess is that other piece is why I can’t order a used copy online. I don’t like you, Sally. I really don’t like you. (Oh, of course I’m kidding, loved you in Lincoln.)
Based on the minimal data available, that may be a truncated version of a novel he wrote but couldn’t find a publisher for. Or the novel we’re going to be reading in the near future (I don’t know how near, naturally, because nobody tells me anything) is an expansion of the novella, because he got good feedback from the Redbook readership. (Not like any lit critics would have opined.) Or he may have begun it as a film treatment/script that never became a film, and that was an old story for him by then. One thing I can say for sure is that the estimable Sweet Freedom blog got the issue and cover wrong. Like I’m in any position to judge, since I didn’t even know this story existed.
Westlake didn’t write a lot of books with female protagonists for most of his career, though during his several sordid seasons in the seamy steamy cellars of Sleaze, he wrote quite a few, and I know of one that featured a peripatetic heroine on a road trip with a clueless male hitchhiker she eventually falls for, but I would not call that romantic comedy, since Westlake had to write a moderately explicit sex scene between her and some random dude (and one dudette) into every other chapter, and only the final one was with the hitchhiker (and much less raunchy), because that’s the form. You keep fucking away until you find The One, or you end up back with the guy you started with. Or you die some horrible death, but this one wasn’t written in the Pseudo-Dreiserian/Flaubertian vein. (And it’s not misogynist at all, believe it or not. It’s looking at the problem of sex from a female POV, and that POV is absolutely scathing about the masculine attitude towards coitus.)
Westlake wrote rather well for women, and rather empathically. He went out of his way to see things from a woman’s POV, even when it was just a supporting character, so this was nothing new for him. It was just harder for him to write the kind of story people wanted from him if the protagonist was female (and, of course, cute). The engine gears would keep turning energetically, but they weren’t hooked up to the wheels of the getaway car. He knew what to say, not how to say it.
He did better writing about female criminals, because a crook’s a crook, right? The reason crime fiction was so right for him was that he needed a genre where nothing was off the table. Where “do what thou wilt’ was literally the whole of the law. Then he could just let his girls have fun, same as the boys.
But he always wanted to expand the list of options open to him as a writer. Almost exactly ten years after the Redbook novella, he had one major success in this arena–Trust Me On This. Where a pretty blonde journalist working for a supermarket scandal sheet discovers both the best and worst of herself while doing so, and her co-protagonist discovers to his horror that he’s in love with her, and it sort of works out, but there’s this delicious air of moral ambiguity about the entire exercise, to the point where you literally don’t know who or what to root for, so you just root for the book to never end.
Is this as good as that? I’m thinking if it was, would have gotten published before now, but the proof is in the reading.
So Mr. Ardai–any news?