Donald E. Westlake's The Cutie, previously known as The Mercenaries, works very well as a both first novel and a glimpse into the Westlakian future. The new Hardcase edition is welcome indeed.
Clay is the bought-and-paid for fixer of mob boss Ed Ganolese. If he dresses better than the others who work for Ganolese and is a little cleverer with the patter and is attempting to woo a woman who has serious doubts about the state of his soul , he is nonetheles a pretty typical foot soldier at heart. He does what the boss says and that occasionally means killing somebody.
Billy-Billy is a sad junkie-dealer who gets framed for a murder he claims he didn't commit. He turns to Clay for help because he too is a member of the Ganolese family albeit not an important one. Clay would just as soon give him an "accident." But for some reason this nobody junkie is important to the boss and the police alike. The city is being torn apart by people searching for Billy. But why? The plot twists back on itself beautifully at several points and the mystery becomes all the more mysterious.
All this will become familiar to Westlake readers not to mention Stark readers. Mobsters, civic corruption, paid murder, merciless cops and a man like Clay who doesn't question the morality of what he's doing--he just does it. The only difference between The Cutie and later Westlake is the style. It's more garrulous than even the two novels that would soon follow it. But this isn't to suggest that it's weak in any way. It isn't. It's a strong, tough, original approach by a man who would soon make the crime novel all his own.
------------The Long Silence After
John Shane is a young Chicago filmmaker who asked if he could turn my short story The Long Silence After into a short film to take to festivals. I think he did a good job. Thanks go to Ben Springer at Gravetapping who alerted me to it being on the net.
Take a look: