Category Archives: Under An English Heaven

Ultimatum: The Westlake Review and World Domination–Greenland Edition

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It was just a bit over three years ago I informed you all that my blog stats, so helpfully supplied by WordPress (how could I ever have considered Blogger?)  indicated that I’d gotten hits from a hundred different countries, each represented by its own flag. I am here today to inform you the flag count is now 165.  I think.  I don’t feel like recounting.

Okay, in many cases we’re not talking countries so much as regions.  Dependencies, semi-autonomous domains, remote and nebulously affiliated territories (the kind you might light out for, maybe).

Often islands.  Really tiny islands, the kind Gilligan & Co. might find a tad confining, however entertaining the guest stars might be.  Like for example, Anguilla.  Be pretty bad if I couldn’t get Anguilla, since Westlake wrote one of the very few books in all history about it, but thing is, there’s not even 15,000 people living there, and they have lives, you know.  The odds of anyone with a life ever learning of this blog’s (or any blog’s) existence–not great.  But I’ve had 23 visits from Anguilla.  An independent-minded dependency of the UK, which is mindful of Anguilla in much the same way a dog is mindful of a flea, but fleas don’t build good boats like Anguilla does.  (And it better keep building them.)

Guernsey.  After which I would assume the cow is named.  A self-governing crown dependency, one of the Channel Islands, though what they are channeling I could not possibly say.  Two visits from them, two from Jersey, and what is it with the Channel Islands and cows?  Four from the Isle of Man, which makes do with a tail-less cat.

Do you sell Seychelles by the seashore?  I’ve had 35 visits from that now-independent member of the Commonwealth and various other international groupings, the inner workings of which most of us are a bit vague about.  That’s a lot of islands all bunched together, and very well they’re doing at present, but sea levels are rising, as the Dutch will tell you.  (513 visits from the Netherlands, which currently administers another sometimes-visitor here, Curacao.)

Two visits from the Cayman Islands, from whence our rescue mutt came, and to whence what ought to be our tax revenue goes.  A sort of import-export arrangement, you might say.   But the dog worked out great.


(This is Burren.  She is a very good girl.  Remember the name, it figures into the scheme me and J.C. Taylor cooked up over some bourbon.)

The Aland Islands, believe it or not, are not to be found in any George R.R. Martin novel yet published, but are to be found in the Baltic, all 6,700 or so, where they are yet another self-governing dependency, this time of Finland.  Even though they mainly speak Swedish.  Don’t even ask.  Anyway, they only came here once.  I think I was out of vodka that day.  Sorry guys.

So as you can see, I now control most of the known world, as well the parts nobody knows.  Not bragging or anything, but take a gander at the map up top.  Still a bit of mopping up do in Africa and Asia (Little Rocket Man is proving a minor obstacle on the Korean peninsula), but by and large, my suzerainty is achieved.  If only Alexander the Great had run a blog.  (He didn’t, right?)  All significant land masses are now claimed for Fred-onia.  Save one.

Yeah.  That one.  You see where I’m going with this.

Greenland, what is your problem with me?  Denmark, your mother country (kind of), came along like a lamb.  1,563 visits–#6 on my hit parade.  More than Australia, which is a continent (or so it claims).  And yet you remain this vast empty space on my map.  Not.  One.  Visit.  (And you never write either.)

Yes, I understand you’re mostly frozen wasteland, now rapidly turning into melting wasteland, but that is neither here nor there.  Resistance, as they say, is futile.  You shall be assimilated.  But by whom?   Ah, there’s the question.  Here is one potential answer–


Don’t look at me, wasn’t my idea.  This reality’s Max Fairbanks has fixed his covetous eye upon you, for reasons future historians and psychiatrists shall long debate, and never mind what that nice lady in Copenhagen says.  How many divisions does she have?  That many?  Well, she needs them all to keep an eye on the Shirtless One, who just snatched up The Crimea (of all things) with no regard whatsoever for historical anachronism.  Forward into the Valley of Dumb ride the 56,000–unless something saves you.  But what?

Democracy, you say?  The sound even-tempered reliable judgment of the American voter?  I somehow feel no editorial comment is needed here. Anyway, that’s over 15 months off.  He could annex you between the election and the inauguration.  Probably put John Bolton in charge, just so he doesn’t have to look at that mustache anymore.  (You have walruses there, right?  Like that, but worse.)

No, my tiny reindeer.  What you need is John Dortmunder.  (And maybe Parker for some of the wetwork.)   You need The Westlake Review.  I hereby offer you sanctuary beneath my vaulted ceiling.  (Notre Dame being presently indisposed.)

And if you accept my gracious offer, as indeed you must, I shall appoint Burren (see above) as your territorial governor.  I mean, she won’t live there, obviously.  But she shall speak eloquently for your interests in the world community.  And never once use the word “huge.”   (Also, no pussy-grabbing.  She’s a bit wary of cats.)  An islander  herself, please recall.  She’ll get you.

The choice is yours, Greenland.  My benevolent sway.  Or–


And if you think it’s less than credible for some threadbare blogger to make such an offer of protection–you guys get the news where you are, right?  What does ‘credible’ even mean anymore?

And the best thing about my offer is, you don’t even have to formally agree to it.  You just have to visit this blog and read about it.  Even once.  And Greenland will no longer be a white empty space on my map, as of course it already is on most other maps.  And in reality.  Though global warming will fix that.  As Andy Kelp predicted.  I think I’ll put him in charge of your Ministry of Nature and Environment.  Maybe don’t leave any valuables there.  Or park any vehicles with MD plates outside.  Welcome to the family.   God save us, every one.


Filed under Donald Westlake, Under An English Heaven

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


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:

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,


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…..)



Filed under Under An English Heaven

Review: Under An English Heaven


An té nach bhfuil láidir, ní foláir dó bheith glic.  

If you are not strong, you had best be cunning (Old Gaelic Proverb)

There are many different versions of this story, but the way I heard it, an English biologist (probably J.B.S. Haldane, but not definitely) was asked what his studies of the natural world indicated regarding its Creator.   He replied that God must have a an ‘inordinate fondness’ for beetles since He’d created hundreds of thousands of different species (not to mention the most famous rock band of all time).

If we were to pose the same question of Donald E. Westlake (whose existence is not currently disputed, that I know of), we might easily deduce that he had a weak spot for independents of all stripes–individuals who fly their own flag, determine their own destiny, go their own way.  Individuals and also nations–he liked small nations so much that he ended up inventing them by the bunch.  Klastrava, Descalzo, Undurwa, Talabwo, Guerrero, Ilha Pombo Island, Tsergovia–that’s by no means a complete list.  He might also sometimes stick in a real small country like Belize, but that entailed more research.

These nonexistent republics of his could be found in Central Europe, Africa, South America, the Caribbean–he was bemused and delighted at the sheer variety of small nations around the world, and as I pointed out a few weeks back, my blog stats would tend to indicate he still has ardent readers in many if not most of the small nations out there today.  Call it a mutual admiration society.

He even had one of his characters, the inimitable J.C. Taylor, invent her own country, the island nation of ‘Maylohda’, and con various official personages into believing it truly existed–she’d learned that once you’re a country, all sorts of revenue streams (and schemes) are opened up to you, if you can learn how to navigate the bureaucracy.  The trick, of course, is to be the maker of schemes, as opposed to the object of them.  The fleecer, not the fleeced.

Westlake’s admiration for the independents didn’t blind him to the fact that small nations may have many crosses to bear; greedy oppressive dictators, corrupt ineffectual administrations, limited natural resources, and they very often have sad histories of being dominated and exploited by their larger, richer, more aggressive neighbors, or by distant colonial powers.  It’s a fine thing for a nation to be small, because that means its identity can be more focused, its people more united against common perils, but it’s never an unmixed blessing.  Life is simpler in a small nation–until the bigger nations insist on complicating it.

I don’t know when he first became interested in Anguilla, one of the Leeward Islands, which are in turn part of the Lesser Antilles Chain, way out in the Caribbean Sea (and mercifully free of pirates who look like Johnny Depp).  Certainly no later than the time he was doing research for I Gave At The Office, though the Caribbean island that book is partly set in bears no resemblance to Anguilla in its government or the immiserated condition of its people (I have a strong suspicion as to which Caribbean locale he did base Ilha Pombo Island upon, but we’ll get to that soon enough).

He was writing in Caribbean settings much earlier than that–in Who Stole Sassi Manoon?, for example–that might have been the genesis of his interest, since that book owes its existence to Westlake being tasked with writing a screenplay about a movie star kidnapped in Jamaica, and he’d have needed to study up a bit on the Caribbean (and probably do some traveling there, hopefully at studio expense).

But the fact is, Mr. Westlake had long demonstrated an inordinate fondness for tropical climates, as might anyone who was raised in upstate New York (it’s really cold).  He liked spending time in the Caribbean islands, notably Puerto Rico (much larger than Anguilla, with a similarly nebulous status with regards to its ‘mother country’), and he liked writing about them.  But it must be said, his best books were rarely set in them.  You can take the boy out of New York….

This is a different kind of book for him.  It’s not fiction.  Everything in it happened more or less the way he describes it, even if others might interpret those events differently.  It’s a work of history–one of the very few ever written specifically about Anguilla.  A British journalist named Colin Rickards, an old Caribbean hand, was working on a book that covered much of the same ground as this one, and was generous enough to share his research with Westlake.  It does not seem the late Mr. Rickards’ Anguilla book ever got finished.   I can’t find it anywhere, and working in a library, I know how to look.

So Westlake basically had this very specialized area of history all to himself–this is presumably why he’s cited as a reference in an article from the Spring ’85 issue of a Canadian quarterly bearing the rather generic name of International Journal.   The article is bleakly entitled Militarization of the Caribbean: Concerns For National And Regional Security.  And informs us in a comforting footnote that Anguilla presents absolutely no such concerns, that its secession movement was ‘somewhat peculiar’, and cites Westlake’s book as a source.  Well, he was one of the world’s leading authorities on peculiarity, as is well known.

It is not a scholarly work–Westlake was not a scholar, a trained historian.  As many authors of fiction had done before him (such as the Trinidad-born V.S. Naipaul, who Westlake quotes in this book), he was applying his talents as a storyteller to the field of nonfiction journalism.   He’d only done this at book length one time previously–writing a biography of Elizabeth Taylor under a pseudonym.  I may review that book sometime, but then again I may not.  I have read it.  It’s available for kindle as we speak (because Elizabeth Taylor).

This book we’re looking at today is not currently in print, nor is it available in electronic form (because no Elizabeth Taylor), but copies aren’t that hard to find.   I assume there’s still plenty in Anguilla itself.  They should probably set up some kind of depository, to make sure this vital record of their glorious victory over the British Empire is not lost to posterity.   Though one could argue this book had already been written back in the 1950’s, in novel form, only set in Europe and America, and there were longbows in it.  And in the movie, Peter Sellers.


The popularity of the 1955 novel and its sequels (one of which was published not long before Westlake wrote this book), along with the 1959 film and its sequel, may be one of the reasons Simon & Schuster agreed–I’d guess with some misgivings–to let Mr. Westlake publish a work of foreign affairs journalism/history in place of the crime novel they were doubtless expecting from him.  No question, people were drawing analogies, spurious though they might be, between Anguilla and the Duchy of Grand Fenwick (there were references in the papers at the time), because that’s what people do when faced with something they can’t understand–look about for a story they’ve already heard that somewhat resembles it.  The appropriate pigeonhole.

Westlake wasn’t out to make any such analogies–he was out to document what really happened, and he’d already had a good start, in a piece he wrote for the 5/23/71 edition of The New York Times Magazine–I believe the only article he ever got published there.  Entitled In Anguilla, It’s The Spirit of ’71, it’s basically an essay-length version of this book, which according to the little author squib at the bottom of its opening page was going to be called I Fear The Worst–a working title that somebody must have decided did not work.  The only other book of Mr. Westlake’s that is mentioned there is I Gave At The Office, which Simon & Schuster was just then trying to hawk in paperback form.   His far more substantial achievements in the mystery field were not considered relevant, I suppose.  Not in the Times magazine.

Now in The Mouse That Roared, you may recall, that grand little bit of Ruritania named Grand Fenwick was faced with an economic crisis, and determined to address it by invading the United States–in a Viking-style longboat, armed with swords and longbows and chain mail–in order to be conquered themselves, so they could then apply for aid money–this being how the United States tended to deal with defeated enemies.  But then there’s this business with a doomsday device, and the plan goes slightly awry.

The main point of Wibberley’s book was to extol the virtues of small nations, and to suggest that they should get more say in world affairs, which in this case was achieved by one of them getting an all-powerful nuclear device that would render the great powers more cooperative–with the Cold War in full swing, it seemed a whimsical alternative to the existing situation.  Perhaps not so amusing anymore, eh wot?

Anguilla’s situation was far more prosaic–having been colonized by the English centuries before (Westlake writes a brief engaging summary of its history up to that point), it was quite content to remain a crown colony forever.  A mere coral atoll,  three miles wide at its broadest point, and 16 miles long, it was simply too small and poor for the British government to ever pay it much mind–the Anguillans mainly ran their own affairs, employing a form of direct democracy (which you can do when you’re an island roughly the size and shape of Manhattan, with around six thousand people living on it), and the British simply provided a small amount of aid to bolster their meager economy, and handled their foreign policy, which was simple enough because they didn’t have any to speak of.

Here’s the thing about colonizers–they get very contrary.  If you want to leave, they insist you stay–particularly if you have resources they covet, or are strategically located.  But if you want to stay, and lack the aforementioned revenue sources, they may decide you’re not worth the bother, and try to fob you off on somebody else.  This is what happened with Anguilla, and with the deep cultural sensitivity for which it is world-renowned, the British bureaucracy wanted to make Anguilla part of an confederated grouping of former island colonies–which would be headed up by the island of St. Kitts–Anguilla’s most hated enemy.

About 70 miles away from Anguilla, St. Kitts was then led by one Colonel Robert Bradshaw–not quite exactly a dictator, but close enough until one came along.  He and many of his countrymen disliked Anguilla and Anguillans on general principle.  The two islands had incompatible cultures–St. Kitts had a plantation economy, and its people were mainly descended from former canecutters,  mingled in with a handful of the descendants of the people they were cutting cane for.  Anguilla was more racially mixed, and though slavery had existed there, it had been arranged differently, because of the different economy and society of Anguilla, which tended to encourage a more free-wheeling outlook on life.   They were, you might say, free in spirit before they were free in fact.

Westlake calls Anguilla a nation of petit bourgeois, and being no Marxist, he means that as a distinct compliment.  They were shipbuilders (far and away the best in the area), small land-owners, and confirmed egalitarians, with nothing much resembling a class or caste system.  They were all very much in the same tiny boat, and saw it that way.  You get the sense that in describing their society, he’s almost describing his own democratic ideal–neither socialist nor capitalist–perhaps a tinge of libertarianism but with an important codicil–they can be the way they are because they’re small.  And because Mother England is there in the distance, to keep them from getting swallowed up and dominated by the larger islands.  Their independence depends upon their dependence.  As perverse as that may sound.

Westlake spends much of the book rather relishing the perversity of the story he’s telling.  It’s like one of his comic capers come to life, only without the heists (though at one point the Anguillans did have to break into Her Majesty’s safe containing a small amount of money–with deep remorse–they needed the cash).  He also spends quite a bit of time looking at an odd phenomenon that occurred once the Anguillans more or less accidentally declared their independence from both Great Britain and St. Kitts.   It seems that the notion of a tiny island practicing direct Democracy–and being fundamentally a creole nation, therefore presumed to be somewhat childlike and easily molded–led to a number of people out there with big ideas figuring this was their chance to make history on a small scale.

There was the kilt-wearing, cigar-smoking Jewish Chinaman from the United States who wanted land for some sort of ill-defined “thousand-year-old European religious sect,” which the Anguillans decided translated into “free-love farm plus abortion clinic.”  There was the young American hippie couple who appeared on the island one day with nothing but a tent and a shotgun and began cadging food from the natives.  There was the American in a business suit who seemed impervious to heat and who promised to solve all the island’s economic problems in two weeks if he were simply given a free hand and the title “Economic Minister.”

(Donald?  The other Donald, I mean.  That you?  Oh never mind.  Continuing–)

Another American offered twenty-five thousand dollars a month for an indefinite period if the Anguillans would mortgage the island to him for security.  Another businessman said he was buying a floating hotel from Montreal’s Expo 67 and wanted permission to moor the thing offshore.  An Englishman wanted to dump his freeloading brother on Anguilla, and a Canadian offered to build the islanders a radio station if they would give him a couple of beaches.   A man named Dino Cellini, said to be a representative of Meyer Lansky, who in turn was said to be the head of the Mafia in Florida, dropped by either to chat about gambling casinos, or just to get a tan.

(Both Colonel Bradshaw and the Her Majesty’s government would later use this one-time visit from Mr. Cellini as a pretext to say the Anguillans needed to be protected from being turned into a wretched hive of scum and villainy, not that this reference would resonate for another five years or so, and where is Alec Guinness when you need him?  Organized crime was already well-established on many other Caribbean islands under British authority, and there was just not enough infrastructure–or electricity–or water–or interest–to support a casino there.  Oh and did I mention Colonel Bradshaw was already funneling basically all the British aid money for Anguilla to his own treasury?  They didn’t need any more bloodsucking gangsters than they already had.   Just one more paragraph and we’ll move on.)

A doctor from America wanted land on which to build a clinic for the machine he’d invented that cures all diseases.  A group from America–they were coming over in flocks after a while–wanted the Anguillans to join them in a partnership to make gold from sea water.  Yet another American wrote a letter saying he represented Aristotle Onassis, who was prepared to offer a million dollars a year for the use of the island as a flag of convenience for his shipping, in the style of Panama and Liberia.

As the saying goes, you can’t make this shit up.  Of course you can, but then they call you a comic novelist, and never take you seriously, and give all the major literary prizes to more sober-minded scribes.  Unless your name is John Kennedy Toole, and you’ve been dead for twelve years.

But surpassing all these hooligans, halfwits, and hucksters in sheer unbridled wackiness was The San Francisco Group, which Westlake devotes a great deal of space to in the book–the author of God Save The Mark would feel himself on very familiar ground here.  See, he must have realized as he went on that as fascinating as the subject was, a lot of the actual story which he was bound as quite possibly the only book-length chronicler of this historical episode to fairly and fully document, was bound up in governmental memos, and reports, and long boring conferences where absolutely nothing got accomplished, and the real story was happening on Anguilla itself, which he only visited after most of the really interesting stuff had already happened.

So he did indulge himself with several chapters largely about The San Francisco Group, an amalgram of (shall-we-say) enthusiasts, inspired by the writings of a Austrian-born professor of economics named Leopold Kohr.  There was, at this time, a movement based on the principle that “Small is Beautiful”, the title of a book by E.F. Schumacher.  Kohr was part of this movement, feeling like the essence of a happy well-run society is smallness, and that the big nation-states should be broken down into tiny regional units, or would just spontaneously break down into them, it’s a bit unclear.  You know, like with Marxism.  Well really, as with any idea anybody ever had about how to reorganize society along some radical new concept.  Devil in the details, don’t you know.

Now Westlake ought to be sympathetic to this.  As I said, he likes Anguilla precisely because it’s small, its people independent-minded and egalitarian, and nobody there has much use for big guvmint, except that they need financial assistance and protection from a larger state in order to go on living in Anguilla, and to protect them from those nasty Kittitians (actual word used in book).

This book is dedicated upfront “To anybody anywhere who has ever believed anything that any government ever said about anything…”  That would certainly seem to agree with Kohr’s notion of small local government–except isn’t a small local government still a government?  And therefore not to be trusted, no matter how small it gets?  Just because you can drown it in a bathtub doesn’t mean it can’t drown you first.

And who is easier to get around?  The huge distant impersonal bureaucracy, or your nosy overbearing neighbor who got himself elected mayor or sheriff or head of the local homeowners group, and thinks you don’t cut your grass often enough, or supervise your children properly, or maybe has stated in public that he will not rest until he has turned your home into a desert?  Which not coincidentally, is precisely what Robert Bradshaw said (in public) that he would do to Anguilla (and then denied it).  He made many similarly ominous statements about Anguilla that he later denied making.  Colonel Bradshaw might have gone far in American politics, methinks.  Or at the very least, talk radio.

You can’t say the leader of another tiny island 70 miles away from Anguilla represented big government, any more than you can say Bull Connor, his firehoses, and his badly socialized police dogs were representing it in Memphis, back in the early 60’s–they were vigorously fighting the ‘oppression’ of big government telling them what they could do with (and to) their minorities, and made no bones that they were doing so.  That’s the paradox, that Westlake is keenly aware of–the most oppressive abusive authority people face is usually local, not federal.  Sometimes big government, for all its undoubted failings, is the only friend the little people of the world can count on.   A necessary evil is, by definition, more necessary than evil.

So anyway, the Anguillans desperately needed ready capital to last out their stand-off with the Brits and St. Kitts–the latter of which had cut off all medical supplies (or supplies of any kind), and Her Majesty’s government, not recognizing Anguilla as an independent state, would only provide aid through St. Kitts.  The San Francisco Group really didn’t have much in the way of money, but they intimated that they did, or at least would.   The practicality of this organization can be gauged from the fact that their name derives from Kohr’s original goal of making San Francisco an independent city-state.  That did not work out as planned, you may be surprised to learn.  So Dr. Kohr’s ideas would be applied to Anguilla instead.

Dr. Kohr’s theories boiled down to a suggestion that Anguilla, having removed itself from St. Kitts, should now remove itself from the twentieth century.  Dr. Kohr is a fervent admirer of the Pennsylvania Amish; what he had in mind for Anguilla combined an Amish forswearing of machinery with a sort of feudalism-sans-barons.  He had no desire to make a profit out of the Anguillans–no, he wanted them to make a prophet out of him–which made him different from ost of the other people the Peacekeeping Committee met around that time.  They listened carefully to his suggestions before declining them with thanks.  Untroubled, Dr. Kohr went away to regroup his arguments and returned about a week later to start all over again.

He met some idealistic young Americans who were impressed by his ideas (::sigh::, of course they were), and they formed the San Francisco Group, which proceeded to try and create a currency for Anguilla, a flag with naked mermaids on it (it has dolphins on it now, fitting enough given that swimming with our cetacean siblings is a major attraction for tourists there now),  and many other ideas that could never possibly work in reality.

It must be said though, they did eventually raise some cash, and (somewhat grudgingly) give it to Anguilla, which spent it on various dull practical things like food and medicine, and that’s at least something, right?   The relationship between Anguilla and the Group eventually broke down entirely, with each accusing the other of bad faith, though as Westlake tells it, the real problem was mutual incomprehension.

See, Westlake himself says that the Anguillans practice something very close to Athenian direct Democracy–that’s what Kohr aspired to, so what was the problem?   That he was trying to impose his ideas on them–to reshape their identity into something that fitted a philosophical template in his head.

Everybody wanted the Anguillans to be something they weren’t.  The Brits wanted them to be part of St. Kitts and Nevis–they were all island wogs a few bloody miles apart, what’s the difference?  St. Kitts wanted them to accept permanent subordinate status, and whatever crumbs they might allow to fall Anguilla’s way from Her Majesty’s table.  The San Francisco Group wanted them to be some model city-state, with Dr. Kohr as their philosopher king.   America just wanted to be sure they wouldn’t turn commie like the Cubans.

But they just wanted to be themselves.  That was the one thing they all agreed upon, and they would accept no less.   And Westlake loves their guts for that.   He’s not even pretending to be objective about it.   He’s on Anguilla’s side, and all the other sides can go fuck themselves.  Anguilla for the Anguillans.

It took a small-scale military invasion by the British military (who were welcomed with open arms, and ended up having a lovely time there–absolutely nobody was killed as a result of Anguilla’s brief rebellion, which is a miracle in itself), but Anguilla won its victory.   Public opinion in the UK shifted their way, and Her Majesty’s government was forced to back down, and accept a compromise.   Technically, Angulla would remain part of the Federation with St. Kitts and Nevis, but it would go back to being directly governed as a crown colony (so their small but vital funding would no longer pass through Colonel Bradshaw’s sticky fingers).

I think they don’t even bother to pretend Anguilla is part of the St. Kitts Federation anymore.  Anguilla is, to this very day, ‘an internally self-governing overseas territory of the United Kingdom.’   They say heartfelt prayers for the Queen’s good health, have the Union Jack on their flag, and do exactly what they bloody well want, 99% of the time.   Hey, if you Brits had offered us that deal back in 1776–well, never mind.

And of course they still have problems.   Like for example, global warming–their island might be under water someday–just like the island I’m typing this on. There is apparently a problem with under-age sexual trafficking there, at least according to one source I found, but you know what I think Westlake would say to that?   He’d say they should see to it that the kids have something to sell besides their bodies.   God bless the child that’s got his own.

He spends a bit of time profiling Anguilla’s leaders during the crisis–and an admirable, if quirky bunch they were; Ronald Webster,  Peter Adams, Atlin Harrigan (the uncompromising publisher of Anguilla’s only newspaper, and how tickled Westlake must have been that he had an Irish name), and the just slightly Trump-ish (on an Anguillan scale) Jeremiah Gumbs, who being the richest Anguillan (actually living in New York., among the surprisingly large Anguillan immigrant community there), obviously comes off worst of the bunch, but he isn’t rich enough to fully trigger Westlake’s kneejerk hostility to the moneyed classes.  Still mainly sympathetic.

But the book isn’t about leaders, or followers–to him, the heroes of the piece are the Anguillans as a whole, who stuck to their guns (literally and figuratively, though they never did have many guns of the literal variety).  They may have chosen leaders, but they could never stomach a dictator.  They are the heroes of this book for the same reason anyone else in a Westlake book is a hero–for knowing who they are, and refusing to let anyone else define them.  Is Westlake, perhaps, also guilty of imposing his ideas and ideals on Anguilla?   Possibly. How the hell would I know?  If I ever get there, I’ll try to find out.  I suspect this is one time when the shoe fit pretty well.

You can’t hold a work of history to an overly high standard when it’s basically the only work in its field.  That being said, there’s a reason this isn’t one of his best-remembered books.   Lots of good writing in it–here’s a deliciously catty little aside–

After a summer as jampacked with incident as Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe, the fall and winter of 1967 passed with placid serenity on the island of Anguilla, as free from action as a Saul Bellow novel.

There are many other passages to savor, but the book as a whole is handicapped by its author’s lack of famliarity with this form of writing, and with the fact that he’s less interested in telling a good story than he is in telling the whole story, accurately and fairly.  Which is, after all, the most important thing for a book like this, not entertaining the masses.   Though Simon & Schuster might have disagreed.  Well, they and Westlake were on the verge of parting ways, anyhow.

This is a book to read if you 1)Are really interested in Caribbean politics and history, 2)Are interested in self-determination movements everywhere, or 3) Just have to read everything Donald E. Westlake ever wrote.   I fall into all three categories, and will thefore jealously guard my first edition to the last.  But perhaps, as my final years are upon me, and the New York City winters become too punishing for my aged bones, I shall take it with me to beautiful sunny Anguilla, and read it in the evening twilight, as the dolphins swim nearby.  And I hope to see a free and  happy people there.  Hopefully still above the waterline. Stay afloat, guys.  Don’t let those Kittitians keep you down.

But for the present time, here I remain, in New York City.   Setting of our next book, which for a change of pace is authored not by Donald E. Westlake but by the vibrant J. Morgan Cunningham.  Or so the cover of my first edition paperback says.  It bears a blurb from none other than Westlake himself–“I wish I had written this book!”    If you want to know why that is, this one you can get for Kindle, quite cheaply.   A surprisingly short read, for an airport novel.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go visit the restroom.  Who knows what adventures might await me there.


Filed under Donald Westlake novels, Under An English Heaven