Every society gets the kind of criminal it deserves. What is equally true is that every community gets the kind of law enforcement it insists on.
“What do you say; is it the bigger punishment to get sent out of this city, or to stay here?”
“You tell me,” I said. “Why’d you stay here long enough to get yourself into a bind like this?”
He shrugged. “Why do you stay, man?”
“I’m not dealing,” I said.
“Sure you are,” he said. “You’re dealing in machismo, man, just like I’m dealing in scat.”
Ever since drugs got tied in with the cultural revolution, the junkies have had a richer line of horseshit. “Anything you say,” I said, and turned away to look out my own window.
“None of us started out this way, man,” he said. “We all started out as babies, innocent and pure.”
I looked at him again. “One time,” I said, “a guy a lot like you, full of talk, he showed me a picture of his mother. And while I was looking at it, he made a grab for my gun.”
He gave a big broad grin; he was delighted. “You stay in this town, man,” he said. “You’re gonna like what it does to you.”
“There’s got to be a way out,” Joe said. He was clutching the steering wheel hard enough to bend it. He was enraged and bewildered because he was the hero of his life, and the hero always has a way out.
“Keep rolling,” Tom said. He expected nothing any more, but as long as they were moving it hadn’t ended yet.
I think anyone who has ever read this blog knows my reviews are spoiler-laden, and I’ve regretted that on occasion, but I’ve never really figured out a way to examine what a book is about, or decide how well it achieves the author’s ends, without talking a lot about what happens in it, because discussing the finer points of prose style or types of symbolism has never really been my thing, and terms like ‘post-modernism’ give me hives. I like to talk about plot and character, which I think is 99% of what makes fiction work–or not.
See, this may very well be the best book Donald Westlake ever wrote that isn’t in print right now–not even as an ebook and that’s a dirty shame. Used copies are cheap and plentiful online, but I feel a certain irritation seeing that the movie version is currently available on DVD (I saw it via Netflix a while back).
It’s not just a shame because it’s a thrilling and original crime novel, that keeps you guessing every step of the way, but even more because it’s a damned timely piece of work today, with all the controversy over ‘policing methods’.
This is not really a story about police work, though. It’s about a heist. It’s in that genre. But to explain why and how the heist takes place, Westlake has to tell us a bit about a policeman’s lot, which as W.S. Gilbert once pointed out, is not always a happy one.
Westlake himself was no Ed McBain when it came to writing about cops–his heroes are rarely lawmen of any kind, cops are often very unsympathetic and even frightening figures in his work, and we know a bit more now about why that was, as I mentioned in the previous article. His arrest and brief incarceration for stealing a microscope at college.
One gets the sense he could never look at a man in uniform without tensing up. And on some level, ever afterwards–even though that episode was presumably the beginning and end of his criminal career–his sympathies tended to lie with robbers, much more than cops. He just found it easier to identify with those who broke the law than those who upheld it. He wasn’t alone in that regard–you can point to Patricia Highsmith, Jim Thompson, Charles Willeford (though even Willeford had his biggest success writing about a Florida police detective). Still, rarely has any writer devoted so much of his career to chronicling the exploits of crooks.
So he has a prejudice, but it’s not a blind prejudice–he’s aware of it, knows where it comes from. He knows he has to allow for it. He knows not all cops are dirty, that most of them just sort of ended up in that line of work, that most are just trying to do their jobs, that it’s an exceptionally tough job to do right. He doesn’t say in that brief snippet of autobiography you can read in The Getaway Car that he was mistreated by the police in any way, that his rights were violated–he just says they broke him down, got a confession, stuck him in a cell, where he went through several days of inner turmoil and despair.
He knows part of his hostility towards them is really based on resentment at how easily they got him. He wants to be an honest storyteller, and that means he has to be honest with himself, above all. Everyone has reasons for how they feel, and how they act on those feelings. That doesn’t necessarily make them good reasons.
One of his three greatest series protagonists, Mitchell Tobin, is an ex-cop, of course–but that’s the point of the character, that he’s been rejected by that culture, permanently separated from it, and many of the worst people he meets in those books are policemen–and yet we know that he’s never quite relinquished that part of him that’s a cop. That culture has left a mark on him that can’t be erased, though he sees its failings with great clarity.
Very early in his career, even before Parker, Westlake started writing short stories about Abraham Levine, a decent New York City detective with an emotionally sound but physically ailing heart. One of those stories was the first thing he ever wrote that got adapted, for an 87th Precinct TV series. Skilled conscientious policemen do show up repeatedly in his work, along with one equally skilled policewoman at the tail end of it. He was never trying to say we don’t need good cops, or that good or bad, they’re any less human than the rest of us.
But what do cops need? What makes them tick? Why are they the way they so frequently are–the way that makes so many of us regard them with such mixed emotions? What would be a good way to get at that, without writing another bloody police procedural? That was one crime subgenre he had no affinity for whatsoever, and it’s not like there’s ever been a shortage of that kind of story, in any medium. Westlake did like to avoid going over too-well trodden ground, if possible.
If you look at the novels coming up to this one, you see a lot of ideas he’s processing, things he’s been going over in his head. The uneasy but often strangely intimate relationship between the police and organized crime (Slayground). A guy trained in law enforcement coming up with an idea for a big robbery (Bank Shot, though as I mentioned last time, you can see that in The Score as well). Truth is, if you started a list of all the story elements in this book that appeared in earlier Westlake books, you’d be at it a long time. Westlake is almost never working on just one book at any time in this period (or any period, really), and this means all his books, under any name, are always affecting other books, and being affected in turn.
This marks the second time Westlake turned a screenplay into a novel–the first being Who Stole Sassi Manoon?, his very first ‘comic caper’, and one of the weakest novels he ever produced. In that case, the movie was not made, and he’d retained the book rights, so he turned it into a book (waste not, want not). In this case, the film did get made, with Westlake as sole screenwriter, and the result is not terrible. It’s a decent little 70’s crime flick, with a good cast, nice New York area location shooting, and you should watch it sometime. But don’t feel like you’ve missed anything amazing if you never get around to it.
Westlake had a good relationship with the director of that film, Avram Avakian, who he admired as a film editor, and who he thought simply lacked the right personality to be a first-rate director (not pushy enough). Westlake was much more involved in the making of that film than he’d been with any prior production he’d been connected to, but said his job seemed to mainly be to reassure the insecure and overwhelmed Avakian that everything was going to be okay. And that’s basically all it was.
He said it struck him as a ‘surface treatment’ of an idea that he couldn’t help feeling was worth taking a more detailed approach to. And he had once more retained the rights to do a book version–not a novelization of the film itself. The book is very much its own thing, and differs from the movie in many key respects. Still, if you didn’t know the history, you’d probably just say the movies had taken one of Westlake’s great books and dumbed it down, as had happened so many times already.
No, in this case he took a so-so film and wised it up. A lot. He couldn’t even blame the screenwriter for the movie’s failure to blow anyone away, because he was the screenwriter. Not for the first time, we are moved to wonder if there is something in Westlake that just doesn’t translate to other mediums. But he was able to translate what he’d written for a film into something that holds up extremely well as a book. So go figure.
The book opens in early summer of the year 1969 (I’ll explain later why we know what year it is), with an on-duty police officer walking into a liquor store on West 79th Street on the Upper West Side, just a few doors away from the Lucerne Hotel; originally a high-end place, where Eugene O’Neill lived as a child (I vaguely recall his memories of it were not pleasant)–by the time of this story, a seedy dive for barflies. And just a few years later, gentrification would hit the Upper West, and they restored The Lucerne to something like its former glory, and you’d have to be a pretty well-off barfly to live there now.
The officer, one Joe Loomis, 32 years old, wearing the standard blue uniform of the NYPD, pulls out his service weapon, and tells the startled cashier it’s a hold-up. He gets $233.00–a lot more money in 1969 than it is now, but still hardly a fortune worth risking everything for. He parked his ride around the corner, so nobody who saw the robbery sees him get into a real police car. The witnesses can’t describe him well, because all they saw was his uniform. When the story hits the news, the department says it was some joker disguised as a cop. What else are they going to say?
This is recounted to us in first person, by Joe himself. The next chapter is in the third person, with the all-seeing narrator showing us Joe riding into the city with his best friend, fellow officer, and next-door neighbor, Tom Garrity. They’ve been car-pooling for years now. Tom made detective, so they don’t work together anymore, but they met on the job, obviously. Their wives are best friends too. Their children play together. It’s the stuff sitcoms are made of, isn’t it? They’re as American as apple pie–or in a short time, Bonnie and Clyde.
So it makes perfect sense that Joe, feeling the need to tell somebody what he did, impulsively spills the beans to Tom–who is dumbfounded–then disbelieving–then delighted. He thinks this is the greatest thing he ever heard. And as he proceeds through his own work-day, which involves heading over to a rich woman’s luxury digs on Central Park West (not far at all from the scene of Joe’s crime), and sees what real prosperity looks like, he tells us (because we’re back in first person mode again) that he’s not nearly so interested in catching the robbers as he is in how nice it would be to live like that.
This is the pattern for the whole book–first person chapters from Joe and Tom (always entitled ‘Joe’ or ‘Tom’) alternating with numbered third-person chapters, mainly from their perspective. It’s almost like those reality shows where they talk about a crime, and you go from some off screen narrator to a witness telling the camera his perspective of past events, and how he felt about them at the time. I don’t believe any such shows existed when this book was written. Westlake playing around with the format, as he often liked to do.
Neither man, as we learn, got into law enforcement because it was some deep-seated ambition, or he wanted to serve the public good, or like that. How many cops can honestly say that’s what made them become cops? Joe was in the army, he got routed into the MP’s, military cops, and when he got out of the service, cop was just the best-paying job he was qualified to do. Tom, smart as a whip but lacking the bread for a good college, took the civil service exam, became a clerk in the unemployment office, and it was boring. Already experienced at taking the exams, he switched over to the NYPD. He figured that would be more exciting. The excitement has mainly worn out.
Both men now hate their jobs–not just the jobs themselves, but the city they’re doing them in. New York has never been an easy place to live and/or work, and by the late 60’s, it was entering one of its periodic crisis periods, with crime skyrocketing, urban blight spreading, and a general sense that its best days were behind it. Then it got better, and now everybody wants to live here. We New Yorkers will be doing this two-step for the rest of history, if nobody nukes us and sea levels don’t get too high. Knock wood.
Throughout the novel, we see each man doing his job, and experiencing the worst side of it–intervening in horrible domestic disputes, dangerous chases after armed robbers, the constant knowledge that each day you go to work could be the last day of your life–Joe’s partner is seriously wounded when they break up a robbery not so different from the one Joe did a short time earlier. And just the general sense that everybody, of all races and classes, hates their guts on general principle.
Late in the book, Tom shows up when fellow officers are interrogating a gay man who was brutally beaten by a guy he picked up cruising in Central Park. Already distancing himself from his job by that point, he’s astounded to find himself revolted by the total lack of sympathy they show to the victim; the way they just turn off their humanity entirely.
He realizes that he would have been the same a short while ago–that policemen in New York (and not just New York) often stop seeing many of the people they’re dealing with on the street as fellow human beings–and he’s reminded of this hippie he picked up for drug dealing, who told him (see above) that the job and the city he does it in would destroy his soul. Change his identity. Yep. It’s about that again.
So no, they don’t much like their jobs, and when you don’t like your job, you don’t like your life, and when you don’t like your life, you don’t much care for yourself. Not such an uncommon complaint among working stiffs, but driving home one night after a late shift, Tom, mulling over what that hippie said to him, tells Joe he’s got an idea. A big one. They can just give up their jobs, change their lives, move out of the city, start afresh elsewhere–all they need is a million bucks. Apiece.
A few days earlier, see, they were having a cook-out in the backyard, and this snotty neighbor of theirs, who manages a supermarket, started talking about how dishonest New York City cops are, all of them on the take. Which Joe and Tom are not, best as we can tell–other than the money Joe took from the liquor store. Joe, who has a bit of a short fuse (like many in his line of work), reminded this jerk that he comes home every damn night with a big bag of groceries he didn’t pay for. The conversation got a little heated, and Joe ended up saying “In our position we could get whatever we wanted. We restrain ourselves, is all.”
So Joe has inspired Tom–first by sticking up the liquor store in uniform–then by making that remark. It’s true–up to a point. Police officers make the perfect criminals. They are in a position uniquely suited to commit perfect crimes. Disguised as cops. Joe, astonished by Tom’s suggestion at first, gets the joke immediately, and they both start to laugh.
So in the coming weeks, they start to toss around possible ideas, all of them centered around Tom’s notion that they can steal something really valuable and then sell it to somebody for two million. They need to find a buyer before they can know what to steal for him or her. So who has that kind of money, isn’t afraid of receiving stolen goods, lives in the general vicinity, and is easy for a police officer to find and contact? The Mafia. Naturally.
Tom takes the train down to Red Bank, New Jersey (a great little town, and that was true long before anybody ever heard of Kevin Smith), to visit Anthony Vigano, a mob boss of some influence, who has an estate there. He makes damn sure he’s carrying no ID, because one thing he and Joe agreed on is that they are not going to pull this job if the buyers know who they are, and where to find them. Not to mention Vigano’s house is under constant FBI surveillance. And what a house.
It was a strange house. Either Vigano had bought it furnished from the previous owner, who had been somebody with a lot of good taste, or he’d had the thing done for him by an expensive decorator. We went through rooms filled with obviously valuable antiques, graceful furniture, flocked wallpaper, crystal chandeliers, heavy draperies, all sorts of tasteful and quietly expensive things; just the kind of surroundings I’m happiest among. But then on the wall there’d be hanging some lousy painting of a crying clown, with real rhinestones sprinkled on his hat. Or a lovely marble-topped table would hae one of those ashtrays on it made of a flattened gin bottle. Or a modern black parson’s table would have a lamp on it composed of a fake brass statue of two lions trying to climb up the trunk of a tree and the shade would be cream-colored with a purple fringe. Or a room with a beautiful wallpaper would have one of those porcelain light-switch plates in a free-form star shape. Absolutely the most amateurishly done bust of President Kennedy I’ve ever seen was sitting on a huge gleaming grand piano, next to a green glass vase with pussy willows in it.
Tom isn’t counting on merely a lack of ID keeping his identity secret–he’s gotten into a room where disguises for undercover officers are kept, and gotten a wig, a false mustache, and thick dark horn-rimmed glasses. Which really can change the way a person looks–as evidenced by the author photo on the back of this book.
Here’s a later back cover pic of him without the beard (a relic of his Greenwich Village days he seems to have given up on), and with different glasses.
If you saw him like he is in the first photo, and then were given the second–would you know it was the same guy?
They finally take Tom in to see Vigano, after searching him carefully, but they leave his disguise intact–otherwise there’d be no deal to make. Tom will only say he’s a policeman–that he and his partner are willing to try and steal anything Vigano wants, as long as the pay-off is two million. They have this discussion in Vigano’s own personal bowling alley down in the basement (crime does pay), and Vigano, not sure whether to believe Tom is a cop, but knowing this can’t possibly be some crazy sting by the Feds, says what the hell–bearer bonds. Ten million in negotiable bearer bonds. Nothing too small or too big. They can change the numbers, cash them in. They have the connections–Tom obviously doesn’t.
Tom agrees, but makes it clear he’s not just going to come back to Vigano’s house with the goods–he knows who he’s dealing with here. He’ll call a pre-arranged phone number (identifying himself as “Mr. Kopp”), after the job is done, and they’ll work out the exchange. This is just a one-time thing for him. He’s an amateur at this. He knows if these career criminals can get the ten without paying the two, they will. And the easiest way to make sure the heist never gets back to them would be to make the heisters disappear, permanently.
And as Tom leaves, we get a chapter for Vigano, entitled ‘Vigano’–one of two–but not in the first person. No attempt to identify with him–as we’ve seen, Westlake never really identifies with mobbed up guys–he’s with the independents. So in third person narrator mode, we see Vigano tell some of his men to follow this guy, get on the train with him, find out who he really is, set things up for the double-cross–just in case these guys can actually steal ten million in bonds.
Tom figured they’d try that, so he arranged for Joe to be there at Penn Station, in uniform. Joe blocks a staircase after he sees Tom pass–he doesn’t have to say why he’s doing it, he’s a cop–giving Tom plenty of time to make his escape, while the hoods just have to stand there and fume and look for alternate routes that don’t exist, because Tom planned it that way. And just as with the liquor store hold-up, all they see is the uniform–they couldn’t pick Joe out of a line-up if their lives depended on it. Which they just might, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.
So now our heroes know what they are stealing, and they know who they’re stealing it for, and they also know that the people they’re stealing it for will happily steal it from them and give them a few square feet of the New Jersey Meadowlands in exchange (I’d say introduce them to Jimmy Hoffa, but that’s still a few years off).
They know the bearer bonds can be found at a number of Wall Street brokerages. Pretty tight security there (including some brother NYPD officers on permanent Wall St. detail, who we’re told know more about the financial world than most CEO’s), but Tom does some casing in his time off, and finds one that fits the bill pretty well. It goes by the moniker Parker, Tobin, Eastpoole, and Company. Oh very good, Mr. Westlake.
Thing is, up to this point, it’s all been a game–for both of them, but particularly Joe, who never really believed they were going to pull a big robbery–when he did that liquor store thing, it was really more of a gag than anything else. He needed a bit of extra cash for his daughter’s swimming lessons. He did it on a whim, more or less. He’s the guts of the operation, the one who can act on pure instinct when the time is right, but Tom’s the brains, and Joe’s not so sure Tom has enough brains to pull this off.
But Tom’s a natural at it–he keeps turning it over in his head, and he finally figures out that the one time he thought they should definitely not pull the job is the exact moment in time they should pull it. See, there’s going to be a big ticker-tape parade for the moon astronauts. That would be the parade they did after the Apollo 11 lunar landing, which was held on August 10th, 1969, in the celebrated Canyon of Heroes.
See, at first Tom thought the crowds and traffic jams would prevent them making a clean getaway, then he realizes that’s exactly the distraction they need–and the perfect cover for a truly ingenious maneuver he’s figured out. It’s such a neat twist, I won’t even tell you what it is. I just won’t risk being the one to spoil it for anybody. Read the book (or see the movie, but I really can’t overstate how much better the book is, so please read that first).
Now what I can tell you, if you haven’t twigged to it yet, is that Westlake is plagiarizing himself again. He already wrote a version of this heist, in short story form, entitled Just One of Those Days, and you can read about that in my review of The Curious Facts Preceding My Execution.
Evidently Westlake was figuring out the heist for this book, and he saw the coverage of the Apollo 11 parade (maybe he went to see it, I dunno), and a light bulb appeared over his head. See, in the short story, the astronaut parade in a small city louses everything up for some luckless Dortmunder prototypes, because they didn’t figure it into their plan. A good planner uses whatever he has to work with, whatever is going on at the time of the heist, and in this case, that’s the controlled chaos that such an event inevitably leaves in its wake.
So they do the job. Seriously, that’s all I’m going to say. If you’ve read the book, we can discuss it in the comments section, where those who have not read the book should tread carefully, if at all. I think this may actually be the cutest caper Westlake ever dreamed up. It’s that good. I pity all the people who went to see the movie first (the movie actually does a pretty good job with the heist), but since the movie didn’t do such boffo box office, a lot of people reading the book when it came out were relatively unspoiled, as I was.
Most of the time, reading these types of books, by Westlake and others, you have a pretty good idea what’s going to happen–if the storyteller knows his business, he’ll keep you guessing about certain things, keep you off-balance, hit you with a few odd twists and turns, defeat expectations–but you’re still going to have a pretty good idea where it’s all going. Because you’ll know what kind of characters you’re reading about. You know if they’re winners or losers. You know if it’s a dark story about a failed heist (and most heist stories were about failure in this time period), or a light-hearted comic caper, where somehow it all comes out right in the end.
If they’re series characters, obviously they’re going to survive. If they’re one-shot characters, you can tell from certain things you’re told about them whether the author likes them enough to let them at least get out with their skins. You know enough about their identities to form a good assessment of their chances, and you will usually guess right about their ultimate fates.
But these guys are cops. Who have become robbers. But they don’t want to be robbers, they just want to pull one big score to become rich. They have nice families, but they fantasize about other women–in one chapter, Joe fantasizes about screwing Tom’s wife. That he does not tell Tom about. Joe also had a girlfriend in the city for a while, that his wife never found out about, and he’s not the least bit guilty about it. Joe also gives tickets to rich guys just because they irritate him (in his defense, he doesn’t seem particularly racist–in my nabe, just driving while black can get you pulled over).
Tom is a bit less mercurial, but still has a dark side, as the hippie informed him. He lives maybe a bit too much in his head. They’re not bad guys, but they’re not saints either. They’re out for themselves. They are strongly loyal to each other, but that loyalty has its limits. And ultimately, they plan to live far away from each other, which somehow seems wrong. But at the same time, it makes a lot of sense.
They’re a complicated mix of traits–and heroism isn’t really one of them. Greed most certainly is. Greed for money, but even more for life. To just know what it’s like to live differently than they do–to leave the lousy jobs and the lousy city behind, and remake themselves. And we know, those of us who read Westlake, that this kind of crisis can go a lot of different ways in his books. Identity transformations are never easy to pull off. Sometimes they work out, sometimes they don’t.
So reading this one, I was trying to figure out whether Joe and Tom are doing the right thing–not morally, certainly not legally, but personally. What are we supposed to think about them? We know Westlake doesn’t really like cops, but they’re trying to stop being cops. We know he often identifies with robbers, but they’re not really trying to become robbers. They’re just trying to become–themselves. But they don’t seem to have a very clear idea of what the new Joe and Tom will be like. They need the money to find that out. Don’t we all?
So as they move into endgame–getting the money from Vigano and the mob, without getting killed in the process–even the sharpest reader is left in suspense, knowing it really could go either way. They don’t have to worry too much about the police, because as with Joe’s liquor store hold-up, the powers that be don’t want to admit that real policemen could have pulled the job. Everybody keeps insisting they were robbers disguised as cops. The union is threatening dire consequences to anybody who suggests otherwise. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
Joe and Tom had agreed to wait two years after the heist to quit the force, but as it becomes clear that nobody is on the trail, they change it to a year, then six months. Which seems–dangerous. Careless. The kind of thing that trips you up in the end.
So I don’t know that I can discuss this one any further without giving the game away. And I don’t want to do that. This is one you should read for yourself, and make up your own mind what you think about it. Make your own guesses as to how it comes out in the end. And why. Joe and Tom never appear in any later books by Westlake–that I can tell you. But that’s the joy of non-series characters–you can do whatever you like with them.
Westlake was determined to break out of the molds he’d set for himself in the 1960’s–Parker–Tobin–The Nephews–even his standalone noirs had this feeling of inevitability to them. But what he’d be writing for M. Evans & Co. in the 1970’s–the house that published Ex Officio, which he would now be writing for under his own name–wouldn’t stick closely to any previous form he’d worked in.
It would mainly be humorous, but would often have a dark edge to it. If he wrote a Dortmunder for them, it wouldn’t be like the other Dortmunders. If he wrote a Nephew book, it would be so different from the earlier books that you almost wouldn’t recognize it as being part of that informal grouping. The next book he wrote (actually co-wrote) for them is not a favorite of mine, but it was different, give it that.
At M. Evans, he began to seriously expand the parameters of what a Westlake novel could be, and that began right here, with Cops and Robbers–a book where he conquered his fear of policemen by temporarily putting himself in the place of two (Tom in particular seems like a pretty direct self-portrait, even though Joe is the former military man)–and yet demonstrated more vividly than ever before why he had good reason to feel that way.
See, we need cops. We really do. Nobody can take a good hard look at the way people are, everywhere, and think otherwise. Somebody has to keep us in line, save us from the worst in ourselves, and can you imagine a tougher job? I can’t.
But cops are also people, cut from the same flawed cloth as the rest of us, and that’s why they need policing as well. And maybe a bit of sympathy and support–but no more trust than they earn, on a daily basis. Because they’re like us. Only in a much better position to take what they want. Do they restrain themselves? Depends on the circumstance. The job makes the man–and can just as easily unmake him. Thus endeth the lesson. Oh who am I kidding? The lesson is going on every day, on the news. And when, for the love of Mike, are the flatfoots going to figure out that everybody has a smartphone now?
But even as Westlake is moving into new frontiers as a writer, he’s still got some unfinished business to conclude with his sixties stalwarts. Including that most conflicted and confessional of cops, Mitch Tobin. And next up is his final case. I reread it while I was on jury duty last week, and I think I understand it a little better now. All kinds of cops in this one–good, bad, in-between. Just like the rest of us. Only more so.
PS: This one seems to have made an impression, internationally speaking–well, conflicting emotions over policemen is about as universal as you can get. The cover art was pretty consistent, and often quite good–
I particularly like the one below for the Wall Street theme–please note, Westlake showed basically no empathy for the people Joe and Tom were robbing, because empathy has its limits, and the biggest thieves somehow never do get caught, do they? He might show a bit of understanding for policemen, for psychiatrists–but the very rich remained on his shit list to the very end. Because as F. Scott Fitzgerald so aptly pointed out, they are not like the rest of us. They’re much much worse.