Thursday, July 03, 2008

Somebody Owes Me Money

For some reason Somebody Owes Me Money rarely gets mentioned as one of Donald Westlake's comic masterpieces. Yet that's what it is.

From the start where luckless NYC cabbie Chet Conway accepts a tip on a horse as a gratuity rather than hard Yankee cash, Westlake takes us into a world where the dark gods are lying in wait to pounce. And pounce they do.

When Chet learns that he's won a longshot on the tip he was given he goes to collect from his bookie but finds him dead. Enter the cops, the mob, touts and myriad others as Chet tries to find a) who he can get his winnings from b) who killed his bookie because everybody seems to think that Chet did it.

Westlake's comic novels work because he buttresses the comedy with reality. As larky as the story gets at times there's always the underpinning of Chet's everyday life (wife and job, for example) to keep the reader satisfied that Chet is not, after all, so different from most of us.

The relentless pace, the cunning plotting, the colorful cast all serve a finely wrought mystery story that show Westlake in complete command of every vivid scene and every comical moment. Masterful and hilarious.

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