Friday, September 04, 2009

Get Real by Donald E. Westlake

Is there any writer whose last book is his best? Or even among his best? I suppose I have to specifically exclude one-book writers, like Margaret Mitchell or Harper Lee -- and the kind of writer who retires early, like Baudelaire. But have there been solid working writers whose last novel was indisputably major? I don't think so.

Get Real is, unfortunately, Westlake's last novel, since he died very unexpectedly on New Year's Eve, seven months before this book was published. And it's not his best book -- but we all expected that.

It's the latest and last in the series about the hapless New York burglar John Dortumunder and his crew; the thirteenth in all. And, to be honest, the last two or three books in this series weren't quite up to Westlake's peak, either -- they were funny, and they moved well, and they had lots of good business for the various characters, but Westlake wasn't bringing anything new to the series.

Get Real is along those same lines -- a solid, dependably entertaining comic crime caper from one of the most professional writers in the business, with a lot of funny moments, but nothing at all surprising. The caper's a bit thinner in this one than even the last few books -- Dortmunder and his associates get involved with a reality TV producer, and decide to do a secret heist under cover of doing a different heist for his TV cameras -- and the twists and setbacks have a perfunctory feel. There's also a very cliff-like ending -- it's in about the place the ending should have been, but Get Real doesn't end as well as it should.

Get Real makes a fine swan song for those of us who have been reading Dortmunder for a while, but it's not a good introduction to the series, just as you wouldn't start Wodehouse with Sunset at Blandings. If you want a great funny novel about criminals, drop back and read Drowned Hopes or Bank Shot. Get Real is bittersweet, since it's the last new Westlake novel, but there is plenty of sweet in there with the bitter.


bingol said...

Have you read A Likely Story? I suspect you have--but if not, you're in for a treat.

And at least _Stark's_ final novel was v. strong!

Anonymous said...

This made me think of Agatha Christie.

In mid-career she wrote a strong Poirot novel and put it into a bank vault with instructions to publish after her death. So at least it seemed her last book was very good.

Shrewd, that.

-- Reep

wdstarr said...

I'd say, start with Dortmunder at the beginning. THE HOT ROCK is no slouch at humor.

Anonymous said...

Actually, Westlake has one more novel coming out. If I remember correctly, it's a couple of decades old, one that Lawrence Block unearthed. I think, though am not sure, that Hard Case will be doing it.



Andrew Wheeler said...

Bill: Yes, that's Memory, coming from Hard Case next year. It is a trunk novel from nearly forty years ago.

It'll be Westlake's last-published novel -- unless there's something else sitting in a file somewhere, which with a writer as prolific as he was is always possible -- but Get Real is, as far as I know, the last novel he wrote.

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