Tag Archives: Graham Greene

Addendum: Genealogy of a Hunter

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Generally speaking, I don’t think writers know who they are; it’s a disability–and an advantage–they share with actors. And it’s probably just as well, really. Self-knowledge can lead to self-consciousness, and in a writer self-consciousness can only lead to self-parody. Or silence.

Whereas actors receive an endless supply of surrogate identities in the roles they’re given to play, writers tend to begin their search for identity in their predecessors. Every one of us began by imitating the writers we loved to read. Those writers had made their worlds so real and appealing for us that we tried to move in and live there.

Donald E. Westlake, from the Introduction to the Gregg Press edition of The Hunter

I’ve had this article in mind for quite a while now, and I’ve put off writing it for a reason. I didn’t have all the pieces to the puzzle. And I still don’t, and it’s increasingly clear to me that I may never have them all.   I keep coming across another piece, then still another, and they’ve started to accumulate.  I’ve got a pile of books on my desk to prepare for writing this, and I just realized, the morning I started writing this, that there’s another book I have to read, and thankfully it’s on Kindle, so I can download it, finish it in a day or two, and see if it’s worth adding to the pile.  But the pile will probably never stop growing.  So maybe I better start writing.

The Hunter is a deceptively simple book, much like Parker is a deceptively simple character.  There are hidden depths under all that bare bones language, those emotionless onyx eyes.   It runs 155 tersely worded pages in the original paperback edition–a book that was specifically designed to fit any decent-sized pocket, which is why the publisher called itself Pocket Books.  I’ve often taken that quite literally, when in the process of reading one in the course of a workday.   That image of the book up top is substantially larger than the book itself, at least on my computer screen.   Your device may differ.   But the book itself, in any edition, never changes, never dates, never needs an upgrade.

You can get lost in those 155 pages.  I’ve no idea how many online reviews there are (in all languages?  hundreds, at least), but a while back, somebody actually started a blog devoted to nothing more than analyzing the entire book, chapter by chapter, paragraph by paragraph, sentence by sentence.  And I thought that a worthy endeavor, and also thought maybe he didn’t have quite enough context to pull it off yet, but look who’s talking.  He stopped updating, and now I can’t find it anymore.

Those who try to bring this story to life in another medium invariably founder on the rocks of its seemingly simple narrative, adding bells and whistles, subtracting sense–of all its adapters, the late Darwyn Cooke (sad to type ‘the late’ before his name, but everybody’s elevens come up sometime) got closest, by sticking closest.   Still far from a match.  I doubt anybody will ever really capture it.  Like its ‘hero,’ it just can’t adjust to life in captivity.  It always breaks out–slips through the cracks, and it’s gone.

I’m not a deconstructionist–I don’t really want to take it apart like a watch to find out how it works–I can’t do that with a real watch, not that I wear one anymore (even they’ve become obsolescent, except as status symbols).  Westlake often admitted he never fully understood what makes Parker tick.  But he wasn’t averse to explaining what made him, personally, tick–as a writer. What, and whom.  If he liked another writer, learned something from that writer, somewhere or other, he talked about that writer, made his admiration known.  Some he liked much better than others, but a useful lesson–positive or negative–might come from anywhere.

So before I get lost in prologue, let me state the point of this article–I’m looking for all the stories that went into the making of this particular story, and the intimidating figure at its center.  In that introduction I quoted up top, Westlake made it clear there were many.  I’ve made it clear I may never know how many.  Westlake was a voracious and omnivorous reader, who also cheerfully admitted to borrowing heavily from the movies (or had Stark admit it for him).   Maybe you’ve seen some things I’ve missed.  Maybe that’s what the comments section is for.

When I first discovered the Parker novels, only a few years back, I saw people speculating on their influences.  They would mention books, and I’d read them.  I usually ended up feeling that yes, there were parallels, but not very close ones.  Then I’d read something I didn’t connect at all with Parker, more or less by chance, and I’d find something that seemed very direct and obvious to me.  Like this book.

That’s the first edition to the left, from 1936, but I read the 1955 Bantam Books reprint edition to the right, with the title changed to match the Alan Ladd film–and not nearly so pristine a copy as you see above, either.  Picked it up vacationing in Colorado–one of those tiny paperback exchange shops you sometimes find in aging strip malls.  There’s a lot of Greene I’ve yet to get to, and this was one of those.

Believing then, as I do now, that Parker is a wolf in human form, and that Westlake at least sometimes wrote him that way on purpose,  I couldn’t help starting when I saw how Raven, the titular gun of the story, was described as a ‘mangy wolf in a cage.’  That probably helped me to notice that the entire story of his single-minded vendetta against the men who had double-crossed him –that’s Parker’s story in The Hunter.  Very freely adapted.  Raven is an assassin, not a thief.  He was hired to kill an idealistic politician on the continent, who was proving an impediment to a British industrialist who hopes to get another big war going –good for business.

Raven’s employers had betrayed him to the cops after he’d done the job.  They wanted to cover their tracks–he’d resist arrest, get shot down, loose ends all tied up.  In retrospect, this seems like a bit of a plot hole.  Why would they risk him being captured alive, talking to the law?  It’s a fine book, but it has quite a few weak spots, that Westlake would have noted as aptly as its strengths.

The point is, Raven’s hunting the rich man’s paymaster, Cholmondeley, following him to a little industrial town–Raven knows his number is nearly up, and he just wants to take the guys who screwed him over down with him. A compulsion he can’t shake, a driving obsession–maybe even an instinct–he can seem very human and vulnerable at times, but at others he really does seem like some kind of predatory automaton–a killing machine who finally gets pointed in the right direction.

Cholmondeley, a fat frightened flunky, has delusions of being an impresario, uses his money to fund cheap music hall entertainments, and sleep with the showgirls.  That’s how Raven gets him–through that weakness.  Then from Cholmondeley to Sir Marcus, the rich man, a sort of legitimate mobster.  Then the cops kill Raven.  Because he’s still a villain, a murderer, and he’s got to be punished.  Even though technically he just averted, or at least delayed, a second world war (in The Assassination Bureau, Oliver Reed is decorated as a hero, and gets to screw Diana Rigg–unfair!).

It’s more complicated than that, as well as a bit preachy and Little Englander at points, and though Greene was certainly right about a war coming (not so hard to spot on the horizon from Britain in the mid-30’s), it’s rather unfortunate that his rich warmonger is Jewish–that book has actually dated a lot in some respects, but it’s still Graham Greene, and Westlake couldn’t have thought he was going to improve on it–just streamline and repurpose it–get rid of all the excess baggage.

There’s a nice girl caught up in the story, just to remind us what nice people look like, provide a moral underpinning, a witness to Raven’s partial redemption (and someone to point him, like the gun he is, at the real villain of the piece).  But that’s basically the whole story.  Raven’s quest for retribution, which indirectly makes the world safe for Democracy, or whatever.

He’d never had a chance, being raised the way he was, in the class he was born into, with a nasty birth defect (harelip–they never put that in the movies, somehow), but God, Greene quietly implies, was using him for a higher purpose.  And part of me thinks that purpose was to give Donald Westlake the bare bones idea for a book that wouldn’t be even the least bit preachy, about a wolf without a trace of mange in his coat.   Better in every way?  Of course not.  But The Hunter holds together as a narrative in ways A Gun For Sale does not.

Westlake referred to this book more than once (as in the Samuel Holt novel What I Tell You Three Times Is False).   He didn’t come close to plagiarizing Greene’s very different story and protagonist, but he still wanted to quietly admit the debt.

He was never going to come out and say “I got part of the idea for Parker’s hunt for Mal Resnick in The Hunter leading him to (eventually) kill Arthur Bronson in The Outfit from Graham Greene, and that’s why Parker finds Mal with a high class call girl, and Parker is, in some ways, an idealized version of Raven, translated into a Gold Medal style crime fiction paperback.” I mean, just reading that over, you’d see why no professional writer would ever say something like that, unless it was about something long in the public domain.  (Anyway, that probably wasn’t even his only influence for that part of the plot, but another template I’ve since located will have to wait a bit.)

He just saw a fascinating but imperfectly motivated story and protagonist that he thought he could improve on.  And on reflection, I’d say that’s exactly what he did.  It’s not one of Greene’s more highly regarded books (one of his ‘entertainments’, as he called them), and I doubt Greene would have minded that much had he ever noticed, but better safe than sorry.

And I talked about some of this already, in my review of The Hunter, but see, I didn’t stop reading books not written by Westlake after that, so these things keep jumping out at me.  Even just rereading Greene’s book a bit today, I came across a section relating to Anne, the young woman who Raven abducts to keep her from going to the cops, and then her kindness brings out something resembling a conscience in him.

Some other minor villain has bound and gagged Anne, and when Raven finds her that way, unconscious, he’s terrified she’s dead–then she wakes up, and their adventure continues. His emotions on finding her like that are wild, contradictory, confused.  He’s swearing to avenge her before he revives her.

In The Hunter, Parker needs a place to scope out the mob hotel Mal has taken refuge in, and towards that end he knocks out a woman in a beauty shop, binds and gags her, and when he returns, he finds out she’s asphyxiated–she had asthma.  He didn’t mean to kill her, as there was no reason to do so, but feels no remorse, just irritation at the pointlessness of it.  This marks the only time in the twenty-four Parker novels that he causes the death of a (presumably) innocent person.  It sticks out a bit–the shop could just as easily have been deserted, or the woman could have lived. Why put that in there at all?   Aside from the fact that something similar happens in Greene’s book?

Westlake, intrigued by that moment in Greene’s book, wants to test his protagonist’s reaction to having caused the death of someone he had no quarrel with.  He intends for Parker to die at the end, just as Raven did–though he wrote later that this seemed wrong to him at the time, false.  Is life really fair like that?  Death isn’t a moral ending slapped on by the Hayes Office.  Everybody dies, often sooner than they expected.

Westlake’s point is to prove to himself that this character isn’t Raven, who is still very much a human being under all his bloody-minded cynicism.  Parker isn’t eaten alive with resentment and guilt.  We’re not going to hear about his unhappy childhood.  He has no class consciousness, because he’s in a class by himself.  There are certain things he’s got to do, and he does them.  There’s no moral other than “Know yourself, know your capabilities, know what has to be done.”  Someone like Anne might be safe from him, but she’d never get to him.   She wouldn’t be able to appeal to his conscience, use him like a weapon.

That’s the first major influence I found–the most recent relates to Rose (aka Wanda), a bright enticing redhead working for The Outfit as a call girl, who knew Parker in the past, and self-evidently has been carrying a torch for him.  He goes to her hoping she can help him find Mal.  She does, eventually.  It doesn’t work out very well for her.  Parker is carrying no reciprocal torch.

That’s another odd little episode that somehow fits into the book, yet sticks out.  The point of all these encounters is to tell us who Parker is, how he’s different–but in this case, different from whom?  Well, in this case, from Philip Marlowe, Private Eye.

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I’ve read very little Chandler.  I’ve long known Westlake wasn’t his biggest fan (as has been multiply attested to, by Lawrence Block and others), but I didn’t really know why. In hardboiled detective fiction, there’s the Hammett School, and there’s the Chandler School, and Westlake was firmly in the first column.  But sometimes he took a little from Column B, just to see how it tasted.

Chandler is basically the guy who invented the popular and deeply stereotyped image of the private detective–yes, Hammett and many others got there first, and Hammett was much better, but Chandler really created most of what we now would call the romantic clichés surrounding private detectives in hardboiled crime fiction.  “Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean.”  Really?  Then how far do you suppose that man’s going to get down those streets?   Is what Westlake was thinking.

Anyway, I’m as much of a sucker for those clichés as anyone, and I had a chance to read a vintage first edition of Farewell My Lovely a short while back, so I took it.  I get why people liked him so much, and still do.  He had some serious skills.  Crafting a solid believable story featuring properly motivated characters was not one of them.  Westlake was on the money, as usual.  But he still would have read quite a bit of Chandler before reaching that conclusion.

No, there’s nothing I can find in the second Marlowe novel (Chandler’s favorite among his books) that reminds me of The Hunter.  Though Moose Malloy reminded me of a less hulking more dimwitted version of Tiny Bulcher.   Different franchise.

Reading the novel put me in mind of the short-lived 1980’s cable series, Philip Marlowe, Private Eye.  Not a creative high point for HBO, but also not without its pleasures, not least of which was Kathryn Leigh Scott’s take on Anne Riordan, a bright enticing redhead who Marlowe first met in Farewell My Lovely (she’s not the title character).  Anne didn’t appear in any subsequent Marlowe novels, but after many years, she made her second and final appearance in 1959, when Chandler published the very last Marlowe story, The Pencil.  He died that same year.

The relationship between Marlowe and Riordan is frustrating.  I mean really frustrating.  They meet cute at a murder scene, and she spends the rest of that book and the subsequent short story throwing herself at him, and he likes her as much as he’s liked any woman.  She is, when you get right down to it, the girl of his dreams, and he keeps giving her the brush-off.  She’s basically too perfect–she likes solving mysteries, she can match Marlowe wisecrack for wisecrack, she doesn’t scare easy, she’s smart as a whip–she’s a dead cop’s daughter.  She knows the score.

And in The Pencil, taking place years after their first encounter (which ended with her asking to be kissed), she lets it drop that she’s still a virgin at 28, and none too pleased about it, and not asking for any jewelry, and they should just adjourn to her nearby bedroom right now.  He doesn’t want to ruin her.  Whatever that means.  So he keeps giving her the brush, and she keeps taking it, and running whatever errands he has for her.  And this is generally regarded as the most convincingly three-dimensional female character Chandler ever created, folks.  I mean, she’s not his long-suffering gal friday, like Sam Spade’s Effie–he’s not even pretending to pay for her services.

Now I head-cast Marlowe as Robert Mitchum a few pages into Farewell My Lovely (Mitchum in the 40’s, I mean–how it took until 1975 for Hollywood to get around to that, I’ll never know–would you believe they wanted Richard Burton for that movie?).  In the books, he’s frequently described as a very attractive man, and he leads an exciting life, and he’s good with the banter. So bearing all that in mind, it’s not implausible Miss Riordan would hold onto a wee torch.  But she’s toting a torch that would snap the Statue of Liberty in half.  (See, you get into the habit of making colorful expressions like that when you read Chandler).

So anyway, why is Anne Riordan in The Pencil, if Marlowe isn’t going to make a dishonest woman of her at last (and didn’t he get married to some simpering heiress in the last novel, that Robert B. Parker finished)?    Because he needs a favor.  He’s got a client who’s had a hit put on him by the syndicate.  Or, as it is known in that 1959 story, The Outfit.

Yeah.  That got your attention.  You thought Westlake was doing research on the Chicago mob for a story set mainly in New York?  Westlake never cared about getting the fine details right when he was writing about organized crime–to him, that’s just a metaphor for corporate culture, organization men.  He got The Outfit from Chandler, or at least the name for it.  But again, what he does with it–entirely different.

Marlowe needs to find out who the hitters the Outfit is sending are, where they’re staying.  So he sends Anne to the airport to spot them, and report back to him.  He’s worried about the risk to her (bizarrely, he’s less worried about this than his mobbed up client, who hasn’t even met Anne), and it seems a bit perverse to use her that way when he could just as easily hire some stringer, but it gets her into the story.

He can talk to her about the wrap-up to the case at the end of the story, when they have dinner at the famous Romanoff’s in L.A., with champagne and everything, and this is the last we see of Philip Marlowe and Anne Riordan, and once Chandler wasn’t around anymore to hold them back, I say they tore each others clothes off right there in the fancy restaurant and did it on the table, while the waiter looked on with a mixture of disapproval and arousal.   Try and stop me, copper!

So again–the same story, turned on its head.  Parker goes to Wanda’s apartment seeking help, appealing to ‘the loyalty of friendship’ as she puts it, somewhat sarcastically.  She’s throwing passes the whole time and he’s not catching any, because he’s Parker.  It’s been explained to us.  No sex while he’s working.  He sort of hints maybe they could get together after he’s done, but only because he needs her help.   If she happened to be there when he was done, he’d give her all she could handle and more, but Parker couldn’t carry a torch if you welded it to one of those big veiny hands of his.

He’s just using her.  And he’s not pretending otherwise, at least not to himself.   Not the way Marlowe uses Anne, while never quite admitting that he’s doing that.  Marlowe has a tendency to say things like “If I wasn’t hard, I wouldn’t be alive.  If I couldn’t ever be gentle, I wouldn’t deserve to be alive.”  I can appreciate the sentiment, and still think to myself that’s a big stack of baloney, and so’s Marlowe, most of the time.

When Parker thinks Wanda’s betrayed him (like Lynn), tipped Mal off, he’s in a rage–much less in control of himself than in the later books.   But she hasn’t, and now fearing for her life, she gets the information he needs, but by a less discreet method, that leads back to her. When Parker leaves, she’s getting ready to pack up and run, before her employers get wise.  He should be guilty about this.  He’s not.   No champagne at Romanoff’s for Parker and Rose/Wanda.  She’s never heard from again.  And the point is that Parker, unlike Marlowe, is an honest bastard.  He’s not dishing out any baloney.

So is that it?  Not even close.  But I think I’m going to need a Part 2 to deal with it all.  And by all, I mean all I’ve found up to now.   There’ll be more, I’ve no doubt.  But let me get something out of the way here–all the books people might think were an influence, but aren’t.  Why?  Because I say so.  But I’ll say why I say so, because that’s what I do here.

People often point to a book written by a different Marlowe, name of Daniel J.   You know the name of that game.  And there’s another book Westlake made no secret of his admiration for (and therefore, a book he’d be damned cautious about taking anything too obvious from).  You may note my title is itself an homage.  And finally, Parker’s one true rival in the field of cold blooded crime fiction bastardry.  Who beat him to the bookstands by seven years.

I’ve read Dan J. Marlowe’s bloody masterpiece maybe three times now–I have a British reprint of the Gold Medal original paperback I cherish like it was made of real gold.  In many ways, it’s the best novel ever written about a bank robber (much more specialized than Parker).  But it’s in the first person, multiple chapters are devoted to telling us where this guy came from and why he is the way he is (short version–it’s always somebody else’s fault), and even though there’s a revenge subplot, it’s got nothing in common with Parker’s.  Telling a story about a thief and killer who has no guilt over being a thief and killer isn’t a plot idea, it’s just a concept that could occur independently to many people. Westlake took nothing from this book.

And that’s not just my opinion.  Because he couldn’t have taken anything from it if he’d wanted to.  Because as we now know, those two books were in the gestation stage about the same time.  (So was I, actually.   Must have been something in the air.)  Westlake showed Lawrence Block the manuscript of the book he was planning to submit to Gold Medal sometime around the end of 1960 or the start of 1961.   And thanks to Charles Kelly’s brilliant biography of Marlowe, we know that at that same time, he was living with a couple in Florida, working on his book.  No way of knowing who finished first, but we can be quite sure there was zero influence on either end–which is not to say they never influenced each other.  That’s an entirely different article I keep putting off writing.

Anatomy of a Killer is clearly a book that influenced Westlake in many ways (he drops little references to it here and there), and elements of it may have gone into the creation of Parker–it came out in 1960, so there was time.  But since that book is itself clearly following in the wake of A Gun For Sale, I’d call it a secondary influence.  Rabe’s assassin is a rather pitiable, almost adolescent figure, who switches off his humanity to do his job.  Rabe usually made his hit men menacing supporting characters, with little in the way of an inner life, but here he wanted to delve deeper into what might make a man choose that job.  Basically the job chose him, and he went along with it.  Then he  meets a pretty girl, and gets confused. Confusion is almost invariably deadly in a Rabe novel (in a Stark novel as well).

Some of how Rabe gets into his characters’ heads, describes their emotions, certainly impacted Westlake.  But that would be just as true of Rabe’s other books, some of which Westlake liked even more.  Point is, it’s mainly a stylistic influence, the way the story is told, much more than the story itself–I’ve read pretty nearly all of Rabe’s books, and I didn’t see much in the way of direct influence–except maybe Westlake was trying to improve on one of Rabe’s weakest books, The Out is Death, when he wrote The Jugger, and as I mentioned in my review of that book, Westlake ended up thinking he’d failed in that attempt (I disagreed, and you can read that review to find out why).

So that leaves Mr. Ripley.  I don’t doubt Westlake read the book within a few years of its publication.  He probably read most of Highsmith, adapted her once (it didn’t work out), admitted to finding her both fascinating and repellent, which was a common enough reaction.  Perhaps he had some problems with Highsmith’s intriguingly convoluted writing style that sometimes makes even her most ardent admirers throw up their hands in despair, but he would have appreciated her gift for looking below the surface of things.  It’s one of the most original pieces of work in all of crime fiction–I’m not sure the qualifier is even needed.  It would be difficult to find a previous story in the annals of popular storytelling where somebody who committed cold blooded murder–not of some stranger, but a friend!–was not punished in some way.

But Ripley and Parker have little else in common.   Ripley feels guilt all the time–it just doesn’t stop him from doing what he feels he has to do. He sees himself as a force for evil.  He doesn’t live in the present like Parker does–the past is always haunting him, often in physical form.  We’re told in almost excruciating detail what he’s thinking and experiencing at all times.  That’s the point, from Highsmith’s POV–to get all the way into  his head, which I’d argue is actually her head–an aspect of her own personality, that she both dislikes and wishes she could give freer rein to.  Ripley is a sociopath, not a wolf in human form.  He’s very much a human being, but with some crucial parts left out, which makes him at the same time more and less free than the rest of us.

And most importantly, Ripley is a dabbler in crime, a dilettante–the ultimate amateur.  Parker is the ultimate professional.  He’s not playing games.  Ripley never does anything else.  Nor does Ripley have that weird trigger in his head like Parker, that when pushed, leads him to incessantly hunt down those who have offended him in some way.

But what both books have in common, of course, is their lack of moral pretense, embodied by a ‘hero’ who defies all social norms, and somehow never pays the price.  So I could see Westlake reading that and wondering if he could get away with it–but he wasn’t in Highsmith’s position.  She wasn’t a huge bestselling author, but she had a certain prestige most crime writers never had, partly because of her association with Hitchcock via Strangers on a Train.  Partly because she became a sort of protege of Graham Greene’s, who rather oddly found her a kindred spirit.  But mainly because most of her books were published in hardcover.  She didn’t do series fiction until the 70’s, and she never did much of it.

She was in a somewhat more refined area of publishing, and she was writing about more refined sorts of characters, and the rules were different.  She was pushing the envelope pretty hard, but she had that option open to her.   Westlake didn’t think he did.  He didn’t even think he could let Parker live past the end of The Hunter, until Bucklin Moon told him that would be the condition for Pocket Books picking up the option Gold Medal had passed on.  Which those who have read my earlier review of The Hunter will know I think was an offer Mr. Moon made for reasons as much personal as professional.

Bad guys are supposed to die, no matter how much you like them.  It’s a fictional convention that stretches far beyond the confines of genre.  You can find it in Tolstoy.  You can find it in ancient mythology.  You can find it in the goddam bible.  Exceptions are rare.  Dan J. Marlowe’s protagonist was only a half-exception, since at the end of his first book he’s alive, unrepentant, but in a sort of living hell.  Ripley is still looking nervously over his shoulder for the cops at the end of his book.   That final shoe doesn’t drop for him until the last novel.

And by the time Ripley came back for another go, Parker had already appeared in a dozen outings.  He, more than than any character in fiction that I know of, would define what it meant to be a really bad guy and get away with it–over and over and over again, with a lot less excess verbiage along the way.   And what makes him so different from any of the other literary badmen I’ve compared him to here is that he keeps his secrets a lot better.   He’s a protagonist treated almost like an enigmatic supporting character.  Because that is, in many ways, how Westlake conceived him.

And when I get back to this–this week, next week, not sure yet–I’ll delve deeper into his consciousness–and his antecedents–without the slightest hope of ever fully comprehending either.  Because Parker always gets away.  The Hunter is never successfully hunted.  But I’ll do my best to stay on the scent.

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Filed under Donald Westlake novels, Parker Novels

Review: The Spy in the Ointment

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“You should dream more, Mr. Wormold. Reality in our century is not something to be faced.”

From Our Man in Havana, by Graham Greene.

The borderline between crime fiction and spy fiction has always been sketchy, to the point where one could argue it doesn’t exist in any meaningful sense (some might argue the line between real crime and real espionage is equally porous). Westlake once argued, rather convincingly, that his acquaintance Robert Ludlum was writing best-selling crime novels dressed up as espionage thrillers. Graham Greene wrote about criminals and spies alike under the general heading of “Entertainments” (later, he repented of making even that cursory distinction between those and and his ‘serious’ books about conflicted Catholics and such).

Dan Marlowe created one of the most hard-boiled crime protagonists of all time in The Name of the Game is Death–that character being a murderous bank-robbing sociopath with a somewhat redeeming affection for animals and redheaded tomboys–but by the third novel in the series Marlowe had transitioned his anti-hero over to the ranks of spy fiction, where he remained.

The character stayed at Fawcett’s Gold Medal division the entire time–there was no need to relocate him, because Gold Medal did both genres, and probably encouraged Marlowe to make the switchover, due to changing trends–it was assumed that people who read sexy violent paperback crime novels were every bit as inclined to read sexy violent paperback spy novels, if not more so. After all, Mike Hammer had never made any distinction between fighting gangsters and commies. A crime is a crime is a crime–and what’s more, a genre writer is a genre writer is a genre writer.

Westlake had experimented with several different genres in his early days as a writer, but since publishing his first crime novel, had focused more or less exclusively on that form, perhaps feeling the need to better define himself, stake a claim on a specific market. Having started out doing what could best be described as ‘noir’, he had recently started experimenting with a comic approach to the crime/mystery/detective story, against the advice of his agent (because comic mystery novels had been defunct as a subgenre for years).

His first two novels in this vein had been notably successful, and this would have encouraged him to stretch out even further–hence, a comic spy story. But in this case, he was not bucking existing trends in the publishing industry. Quite the contrary.

There may have been comic spy novels before Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana, but I can’t find any, and as was typical of Greene, he did it first and best (and got an astonishingly good film adaptation to boot). And in writing this book, he laid out the most enduring theme of the comic spy story–which is that the people working in ‘Intelligence’ are often surprisingly devoid of that quality. Misunderstandings abound. Comedies of errors are never-ending. Also, and much less surprisingly, many of the people working in that area of endeavor have a remarkable talent for telling stories.

Working for MI6 during WWII, Greene had learned that German agents in Portugal were passing on completely fictitious reports to their spymasters, which were being taken quite seriously, not only in Berlin but in London. Having nothing of any significance to report, and wanting to keep their comfortable well-paying posts in what must have been one of the safest places in Europe during the war, these enterprising informants had simply made stuff up.

This was the core of Greene’s book–his protagonist, an unsuccessful British businessman selling vacuum cleaners in Batista’s Cuba, shortly before the revolution, is recruited by a British spy agency, which assumes for some reason he’ll know how to recruit assets and collect vital information–and they have no end of money to dole out towards this end.

Not having any idea how to do any of this, but desperately needing the aforementioned funds, he begins crafting bogus reports full of bogus intelligence, and nonexistent assets to draw very real paychecks–only to learn to his horror that his opposite numbers in Havana are taking his accounts as seriously as his London employers, and that real people are being endangered by his doctored dispatches. Enemy agents who have broken his code are zeroing in on people who seem to correspond to his fanciful descriptions of his operatives–one of whom is actually killed. He himself is being targeted for assassination. It’s as if his creations have taken on a life of their own–the novel is as much about fiction itself as it is about espionage–and human folly.

The book was a great success, as was the delightful Alec Guinness movie that followed it, and whether it was the first true spy comedy or not, it served as the mold for nearly all such stories ever since. Spy comedies are, most often, about amateurs somehow confused with professionals–mistaken identity. Ah-HAH, you can hear Westlake thinking to himself.

Before long, you had Bob Hope in My Favorite Spy (1951), where a comedian is recruited to fill in for a real secret agent he coincidentally resembles–a plot that was later recycled for Fred Flintstone, of all people–in 1966. That very same year, the late James Garner appeared in A Man Could Get Killed, which was at least a bit more realistic than a movie about cavemen with ICBMs, but still revolved around its hero being mistaken for a spy.

More interesting to a novelist in 1966 would have been The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax–about a bored elderly widow who actually wants to be a spy, but only succeeds via a bureaucratic snafu, combined with her own previously unrecognized talents. That led to a very long-running series of books, as well as a 1971 movie. The joke here is that Emily Pollifax was born to be a spy, but doesn’t look like one. Which of course is probably true of most actual spies.6900202-M

Only a short time earlier, there was The Liquidator, published in 1964, with a film adaptation in 1965. John Gardner wrote it as a direct satire on the Bond novels (which he ended up writing himself, after Ian Fleming’s death), about a tall good-looking Brit named Boysie Oakes, who looks like a ruthless coldblooded killer–you see, under extreme stress, he has this facial tic that makes it seem like he’s leering diabolically (Gardner filched that from P.G. Wodehouse’s The Smile That Wins, if anyone cares), but he is actually a tenderhearted soul, incapable of harming a mouse, let alone a man.

His only real vice is–well–vice. Meaning women. For Boysie, “Make Love, Not War” is a way of life, not merely a slogan for protest rallies. All he wants is to get paid and get laid. He may resort to violence when given no option, and he’s even semi-competent at it, but he could never act with malice aforethought.

He is recruited to be a government assassin by an otherwise highly competent spymaster who has formed an unshakeable but entirely mistaken view of Boysie’s character due to a wartime incident–needing the money, Boysie accepts the job. Then realizing he can never actually do the job, he hires a contract killer in the private sector to do the dirty work for him, and everything is fine until–well, read the book. Seriously, it’s a lot of fun. It’s no Our Man in Havana, but what is? Well, aside from that, I mean.

The Liquidator led to yet another long-running series of books, and as already mentioned, a remarkably faithful film adaptation with Rod Taylor, Trevor Howard, and Jill St. John, that flopped miserably at the box office, which I’ll always think is because they didn’t actually let Boysie and the Jill St. John character knock boots in the movie, though they do so repeatedly in the book (did the producers never see any actual Bond films?). Perhaps also because Jack Cardiff, the greatest cinematographer who ever lived, does not even rank in the Top 1,000 as a director. Yes, I digress. Don’t I always?

My point in recounting all of this is that Westlake was hardly breaking new ground here. His agent, when told he was working on a funny spy story about mistaken identity would not be the least bit concerned, since at that point in time, everyone was doing this story. Though the French, for some reason, didn’t get to it until 1972. And that may be the best spy comedy ever made (not the American remake, though). The last shall be first, they do say.

Neither last nor first on this particular scene, Westlake was content, as usual, to be different. The Spy in the Ointment, his eighth novel for Random House, is a departure for him in several senses–first of all, it’s not a murder mystery, as all his previous Random House books had been, at least nominally. (You will note the first edition cover doesn’t have the legend ‘A Random House Mystery’ on it).

There are murders, but there’s not the slightest confusion over who committed them, so the hero is not a detective, reluctant or otherwise–he’s a spy, which is not the same thing, though there is some overlap in that they both go around looking for information. A detective typically figures out who did what to whom and why, after the fact. A spy ideally figures out who is doing what to whom and why, before it’s actually done.

It’s the first novel Westlake published under his own name without a murder mystery somewhere within, and his delight at being able to at least temporarily put aside the onerous duties of whodunnitry is palpable. This is, I think, one of the reasons he decided to try the spy genre, since nobody ever asks James Bond to solve murders. Well, Bond is usually the murderer himself, right? That’s what the ’00’ stands for.

Secondly of all, and distinguishing it not only from Westlake’s previous work, but from all the other spy comedies discussed here, other than Greene’s, the book is full of politics. Not electoral politics, but the other kind–the kind that would like to dispense with those messy noisome elections, and use more direct efficient methods to effect hope and change, mainly firearms and high explosives, and the occasional garrote.

There was politics in Killing Time, as well as firearms and high explosives, but it was all of a very local nature, and we’re never told which parties any of these machine politicians are affiliated with, because it doesn’t really matter. Mainstream politics is about money and power (though it aspires to ideology). Fringe politics is about ideology (though it aspires to money and power). And the people our hero runs up against in The Spy in the Ointment are about as fringe as fringe can get.

But our hero himself, much as he’d object to that term, is also quite ideological. He is that ultimate in oxymorons–a militant pacifist. J. Eugene Raxford (Gene for short) is somewhere in his middle 30’s; as perpetually impecunious and lecherous as Boysie Oakes himself, but differing in one very key respect–he’s got principles. Studying at City College in the early 1950’s, he got involved in the Citizens’ Independence Union, fairly popular among his fellow students then, partly because it advocated against them being sent to die in Korea, and partly because it was a good way to hook up.

Gene fell under the sway of Ethical Pacifism at this time, and when most of the CIU membership drifted away (no longer worried about the draft, and figuring there were easier ways to get laid), he and other pacifists of varying bents took over the group, and have continued to write and disseminate pamphlets no one reads (except the FBI) and organize protest rallies no one attends (except ditto). This is his life, and for all its little deficiencies (mainly of a financial nature), he seems to be enjoying it.

Most of all, he’s enjoying his current girlfriend, Angela Ten Eyck, a raving beauty in black stretch pants and a Chinese red bra, who enjoys the dubious distinction of being Westlake’s first dumb blonde of any consequence–perhaps ditzy would be a more tactful way to put it. Ethereally lovely, sweet-natured, mechanically gifted (comes in handy when the mimeograph machine breaks down), and as devoted a pacifist as Gene, mainly because her father is a massively wealthy and thoroughly unpleasant munitions manufacturer. Imagine a felicitous co-mingling of a 20-ish Blythe Danner and Teri Garr as she appeared in Young Frankenstein

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Like that. But dumb. There really is no other word for it. And Gene spends a good part of the book complaining about this deficiency in his lady love, while simultaneously conspiring to rip her clothes off. Which she’s perfectly fine with, as long as she’s not busy fixing something. A fine specimen of The Girl, that essential factor in all of Westlake’s ‘Nephew’ books, but his girls have not, up to now, been so endearingly yet irritatingly helpless, or so–blonde. The operative term here is “Shiksa Goddess”, and once again we see why Westlake never has any trouble identifying with nebbishe Jewish guys. Spiritually, at least some of the time, he is one.

As the narrative begins, Gene tells us how one Mortimer Eustaly came to his door one day, inviting him to a meeting to be held uptown, at the Odd Fellows Hall at Broadway and 88th Street–there never was an Odd Fellows hall there, best as I can tell, but maybe Westlake knew something Google does not. In any event, an Odd Fellows hall is certainly the appropriate setting for this event–

“Mr. Raxford,” he said, leaning forward and pointing a tapered clean finger at me, “have you ever heard of the American Sons’ Militia?”

“No.”

The National Fascist Reclamation Committee?”

“No.

“The Progressive Proletarian Party?”

“No.”

“The Brotherhood of Christ Defense Fund?”

“No.”

“The Sons of Erin Expeditionary Force?”

“No.”

The Householders’ Separatist Movement?”

“No.”

“The Pan-Arabian World Freedom Society?”

“No.”

“The Eurasian Relief Corps?”

“No.”

“The Gentile Mothers for Peace?”

“What? No!”

“The True Zion Rescue Mission?”

I shook my head.

Gene is bewildered by Mr. Eustaly’s seeming assurance that he has anything in common with this motley assortment of seemingly overspecialized enthusiasts. Only later does he learn that his devoutly pacifist group–the Citizens’ Independence Union–has been confused with a devoutly non-pacifist group who called themselves the World Citizens’ Independence Union, before one of their bombs exploded prematurely at a meeting and wiped out the entire membership.

The State Department published a list of dangerous terrorist organizations, and through a regrettable clerical error left out the ‘World’ part of the now-defunct organization’s name. Not knowing of the WCIU’s untimely demise, Eustaly has mistakenly assumed Gene is the leader of a group of violent bloodthirsty fanatics who want to eliminate all borders everywhere. This would be the mistaken identity component of the plot, we may safely assume.

Eustaly intimates that the goal of this meeting is to unify all these highly disparate but individually rather small and ineffectual groups under a single umbrella, and channel their combined energies into something suitably impressive–say, blowing up the United Nations building. Unmindful of Gene’s horror-struck reaction to this (which he probably interprets as astonished delight), Mortimer Eustaly departs.

Gene (who is under constant FBI surveillance, because wanting to end all violence is subversive), tries to get the Bureau interested in his predicament, but they just assume he’s trying to play them for fools–which in all fairness, he’s been happily doing for years–Aesop could have warned him about that kind of thing.

Advised by his close friend and attorney Murray Kesselberg that if he doesn’t attend the meeting, its attendees will probably come gunning for him, he decides to go there, with Angela, and since he’s constantly tailed by the FBI (because wanting to end all violence is subversive, remember?), he figures they’ll follow him there, and deal with the bad guys.

What he doesn’t figure is that the Feds tailing him will lose him at Columbus Circle, and having been there many times, I can tell you he should have figured that. Westlake, it should be said, is none too impressed with J. Edgar’s boys.

At the meeting, Gene and Angela are admitted by a looming monstrous individual who goes by the name of Lobo and seems rather less intelligent than your average Golden Retriever (and far less affable), but as Gene puts it “brains aren’t everything.” They are then treated to a succession of increasingly bizarre political manifestos from the leaders of the various groups–all of whom seem to hate each other even more than society at large (and that’s saying something).

But with Lobo’s help, Eustaly is able to keep order, until one of them–who seems to be the head of a disgruntled order of plutocrats (perhaps distantly related to the Koch Brothers?)–refuses to play nice, and says he’s going to report all of them to the authorities.

What happens then is not entirely clear, because Gene, our pacifist narrator, closes his eyes, and we’re treated to a succession of highly suggestive sound effects. But the general gist is that Lobo rips the rich twit’s head off and rolls it down the aisle like a bowling ball. That is not meant as a figure of speech. Have I mentioned that Westlake really really did not like The One Percent? I probably have, yes.

So any hopes Gene had that this was just a gag, or that these people were all talk are now thoroughly flushed, and it’s only going to get worse. Because Eustaly and Lobo are not actually the worst people he’s going to meet here. In comes a man introduced as Leon Eyck–“tall as an eagle is tall, lean as a wolf is lean, quick as a cheetah is quick. Lupine, saturnine, sure of himself and contemptuous of everything around him, he was dressed, inevitably, in flowing black, as black as his hair, as black as his eyes. His face, sallow and cruel and sardonically handsome, glinted like an evil thought.”

And just to throw one more gasoline-soaked log on the fire, he’s really Angela’s brother, Tyrone. A truly dangerous revolutionary who fled the country years ago, after a happy childhood of torturing cats, servants, younger siblings, and anyone else unfortunate enough to command his attention. He’s been selling his services to the Red Chinese and anyone else who’ll have him, but his loyalties are only to himself. And he’s always hated Angela. Who is mortally afraid of him, as well she should be, but Gene tells her to just stay calm and he’ll never notice her. Which he doesn’t, until in her panic she knocks down a whole row of folding chairs.

Somehow, they manage to get away, and finally they talk to somebody who believes them–not the FBI, but one of those shadowy fictitious intelligence groups, so much more hush-hush than the paltry likes of MI5 or CIA, that nearly always crop up in this type of novel. It should be mentioned, by the by, that nearly all the various agents Gene and Angela meet are identified by letters of the alphabet, and now I have mentioned it.

An agreement is reached–Gene will infiltrate this new patchwork organization, the League for New Beginnings (is it just me, or does that sound like a glee club?), learn their evil plans, and try not to get too dead in the process. They will accept him back because the newspapers will report that he murdered Angela, and even the regular police will have no idea the story is a plant. Gene is not overly thrilled by this scheme, but since his alternative is to wait for the League to come to him, and he’s already seen (or rather heard) what happens to informers…..

He goes through a rushed five-day training program, in which he’s schooled in self-defense, among other things. He makes it very clear to his trainers that whatever the provocation, he is a true pacifist–he will not resort to violence even in defense of his own life. Not for any reason. Never. This is the one part of his conception of himself that he will not bend on.

J. Eugene Raxford is anything but a saint–he’s actually something of a cad, self-centered as all hell, and his manners leave much to be desired, but he is not calling himself a pacifist just to avoid having to fight anyone. Though that certainly doesn’t hurt. Not like getting shot, or having your head ripped off, anyway.

The plan works–up to a point. Gene contacts a young member of the group, a blonde, muscleheaded young Nazi living in Queens named Jack Armstrong (a much funnier joke in 1966), and through him meets Sun Kut Fu, leader of the aforementioned Eurasian Relief Corps (also from Queens), who takes him to Tyrone Ten Eyck. And in the process, he loses his shoes, which were full of transmitting equipment that was going to keep him in touch with his handlers.

Gene is completely on his own now–the spy is fully immersed in the ointment. He can summon the spy cavalry by submerging a coin they gave him in a glass of water (don’t ask), but until he has actual information, there doesn’t seem to be much point. His faith in the efficiency of his handlers is less than 100%, and he wants to make damn sure there’s nobody left in this group to come after him once he’s been outed as a spy. His natural cowardice is leading him to discover heretofore unsuspected reserves of courage.

But he feels the strain of putting up this facade most sorely–he thinks “What a nerve-wracking way to live! If I’d never found any other reason to advocate pacifism, this would be it; it is so much easier on the nerves not to be perpetually circling your fellow man, hand warily on the hilt of your knife.”

So he spends several days in the company of this assorted bag of nuts, this ‘volley of terrorists’ as he calls them (Westlake’s original title for the book) noticing to his surprise that they are all quite human, and getting on better than you’d expect now that they’re all living in the same house, and working towards the same goal. He also learns that Ten Eyck is gradually eliminating them, as they cease to be useful to him (many never were to begin with). It’s like Big Brother, only with an actual Big Brother, in the Orwellian sense.

Ten Eyck is an interesting villain, and I am quite convinced, an alternate take on Parker (you’ll note the physical description is highly reminiscent)–he’s similarly ruthless and amoral, but being brought up in an obscenely wealthy family seems to have corrupted his nature, driven him insane. A wolf cursed with ideology is a mad wolf. Though he’s more often described as a panther.

He thinks Gene is a fellow carnivore, and Gene does a good job faking it–and just by accident survives an attempt by Ten Eyck to have him eliminated while out on a little trip to Canada to pick up explosives. Which just further convinces Ten Eyck of Gene’s formidability. Gene has figured out that one way to avoid violence is to convince others you are supremely good at it, and are only refraining from it out of a dislike of wasted effort. But he knows that’s only going to work for so long. He hands Ten Eyck a pistol with which he could have tried murdering him in response to that attempt on his life–only he couldn’t–only Ten Eyck doesn’t know that.

He looked at the pistol in his hand, and then at me. “You amaze me, Mr. Raxford,” he said.

“I prefer reason to violence,” I told him. Which was the absolute truth; in my groggy state, my true and false personalities had found a basis for merger. (If I had come to Ten Eyck under my true colors and advocated pacifism to him, he might have murdered me merely in rebuttal. But coming to him now in the guise of another panther like himself, advocating the identical pacifism, I seemed to him a dangerous and capable man, an awesome opponent, and he embraced my ideal [in this limited and local application] with pleasure and relief.)

“Reason,” he said, his glinting smile touching me and the pistol in turn, “is always preferable to violence.”

Gene’s penchant for tangents, as you see, often makes him place bracketed asides within parenthetical remarks. Westlake is putting a lot of himself into Gene–he knows one of his weaknesses as a writer is going off on tangents (it’s one of mine too, which I guess is one reason I like him so much). He turns it into a strength here by making it a window into Gene’s confused personality, his overly glib but nonetheless acute intellectual capacities.

Gene is a true Nephew–somebody with lots of potential, who has been drifting, liking his bohemian existence, but not committing to any part of it. Unlike his predecessors in the previous two Nephew books, he’s found his life’s work, but he’s never been fully serious about it. What’s missing is focus–and as Dr. Johnson so aptly remarked, nothing concentrates the mind like knowing you’re going to be hanged tomorrow. If not sooner.

So skipping way ahead, past the revelation of the villain’s evil plot (which is pure MacGuffin, and never really the point of the story), Gene’s hangman faces him at the Ten Eyck Mansion, where Angela has been hiding out with her father, who Tyrone intends to murder, along with his sister, to inherit the family fortune, and just because it’ll be a fun thing to do. By the way, this is the point you really need to stop reading if you have not yet gotten to this book.

Seeing Angela is alive (and that therefore Gene did not murder her), Ten Eyck’s pantherish illusions about Gene are dispelled. “What are you?”, he asks Gene–not whom, but what. Gene takes advantage of his momentary confusion to grab Angela’s hand, and run out of the room–they hide in the attic, but Angela once again manages to betray their location. Gene is beyond exasperated with her now. How dumb can a girl get? He manages to turn Sun Kut Fu and his men against Ten Eyck and Lobo, but the ensuing battle leaves one survivor–and sadly, it’s Ten Eyck.

Luger in hand, Ten Eyck points the gun at Angela–he knows Gene is no panther now, but some kind of double agent, and unarmed, anyway. He’ll attend to him in a minute, but sister dearest comes first. He tells her how much he’s going to enjoy killing her, while she stands there like the proverbial deer in the headlights. And Gene runs.

He runs right at Tyrone Ten Eyck. He takes the Luger out of his hand and tosses it away. He then somehow channels his five day intensive training course in self defense into an all-out adrenaline-driven physical assault on the most frightening man he has ever met. He does this without thinking, without any conscious choice, though he is painfully aware all the while that he is flagrantly violating his most sacred principles. He lays Ten Eyck out cold on the floor. “That was a terrible thing for a pacifist to do, Gene.” Angela says quietly.

He is neither proud of himself, nor relieved to be safe once again. Instead, he asks himself a question he says he may spend the rest of his life trying to answer–“If I’ve been right all my life about who I was, how came I to be where I was?”

How indeed? Not via his instincts for self-preservation–the gun wasn’t aimed at him, and he could have just run away again–he’s always been good at that. Anyway, he’d had a perfect chance to push Ten Eyck off a cliff a short time earlier, and hadn’t taken it, because of his principles.

No, it’s because J. Eugene Raxford, much as he may not want to admit it–much as he never once admits it in the entire course of the story–is a man in love. And what he cannot express in words can still be expressed through violence. What he could not, would not, do for himself, he can do for her. In fact, he could not stop himself from doing it. This was a part of himself he never acknowledged, but it was there all the same, waiting its time.

All well and good, and after a few more wrinkles, the case is closed, the plot is foiled, Gene is eventually cleared of Angela’s murder (the police have a hard time processing the fact that she isn’t dead), the remaining terrorists are rounded up, and Gene’s alphabetized Federal agents all say he’ll be left strictly alone from now on, having proved his loyalty beyond all question, and anyway he surely realizes now that his pacifist ideals are just a big joke, right?

Wrong. What happened only served to show him, more vividly than ever before, how much true pacifism is needed in this violent world of Tyrone Ten Eycks and all their ilk. He and Angela rededicate themselves to that cause for which so many others have given the last full measure of devotion. He tells us that he’s related this story not as an account of his unexpected bravery and proficiency, but as an admission of guilt.

The fact of the matter is, my activities before all this mess were pale and half-hearted attempts by comparison with my pacifist work thereafter. Since that night with Tyrone Ten Eyck outside Tarrytown, I’ve had something to live down, to pay penance for, to equalize.

It’s only the fool who, because he’s fallen once from grace, believes he should never have tried to be in the state of grace to begin with. I fell, when sorely tempted by Tyrone Ten Eyck, but I stand again, and I hope eventually to have made up for that slip.

And Angela helps me. We discuss it from time to time, as she fixes the mimeograph machine or we drive together in her convertible to peace rallies, and she has admitted to me that when I attacked her brother she was glad, she stood there delighted, urging me on with shouts of encouragement that in the excitement of the moment I never even heard. So we are both struggling back.

Man’s nature is violent because man is partly animal. But we’ve come into an era in which that violence must be quelled, and if it must be, it can be.

And who would know this better than a man supporting his family by crafting supremely enjoyable tales of mayhem and bloody retribution? This book, in a very real sense, is Donald Westlake’s own personal act of penance–the lapsed Catholic inside of him comes out in full force here, and you can see that effect on the language. You also see that Angela’s name was not chosen merely because it sounded pretty.

He must have spent a good bit of time talking to his editor at Pocket Books, Bucklin Moon, who as I discussed in my review of The Hunter, was himself a dedicated lifelong advocate of ethical pacifism–who got denounced as a subversive and had his writing career ruined as a result. So this book is also a tribute to Mr. Moon, to whom Westlake owed a great deal for seeing the potential in a series of books about a wolflike armed robber who kills without qualm–the contradictions in human nature really can seem insurmountable, can’t they? But what was true in 1966 is even more true now–that violence in our natures must be quelled. And if it must be, it can be. Right?

As his story concludes, Gene describes how, accompanied once more by truly perplexed Federal agents, he and Angela picket the United Nations building–still there, unexploded, in spite of the worst efforts of Ten Eyck and his volley of terrorists, who have been exposed to us not as evil geniuses, but as deluded buffoons, like the rest of us, only better armed and less inhibited.

Gene and Angela carry no weapon but signs, and you know what those signs say? They say BAN THE BOMB. That’s how the book ends, and years later, in an interview, Westlake recounted how he’d just received a very upset letter from a woman who said she didn’t expect to read radical propaganda in a nice spy thriller.

But to Westlake, that’s not what it was at all, and he couldn’t see how this woman (who sounds herself like a potential inductee to the inaptly named Gentile Mothers for Peace), could possibly have come to the conclusion that this was a political book in the sense that she meant it. Gene, after all, had very narrowly escaped being blown up himself–his message is not political, but personal. Pacifism is not a partisan ideological stance, or shouldn’t be. We can argue about politics all day if we like, but the point is, let’s keep arguing. For as long as we possibly can.

But in the meantime, I still have many violent novels to reread and review, and I expect to vicariously enjoy them all, as I have before. Including the extremely violent Richard Stark novel that comes next on our list, where Parker (the non-ideological one) takes out an entire island–and then commits an act of mercy that would probably confuse the hell out of Tyrone Ten Eyck. As Saint Augustine used to pray–before he was Saint Augustine–“Oh Lord, make me virtuous–but not yet.” He was actually a lot more likable before he was a saint, but never mind that now.

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