Sunday, October 30, 2005

361/Donald E. Westlake

I’ve read a lot of books by Donald E. Westlake over the years and have always preferred his more hardboiled novels to his comic capers (although those are pretty good, too). His series about the thief Parker, written under the pseudonym Richard Stark, is a high-water mark in the genre, and I like his novels about disgraced detective Mitch Tobin, written under the name Tucker Coe, almost as well.

361 is one of Westlake’s early hardboiled novels, published in 1962 and reprinted earlier this year as part of the great Hard Case Crime line. (It also happens to be the only Hard Case Crime reprint so far that I didn’t own in the original edition.) A few lines from the back cover copy sum up nicely what sort of book this is: “The men in the tan-and-cream Chrysler came with guns blazing. When Ray Kelly woke up in the hospital, it was a month later, he was missing an eye, and his father was dead. Then things started to get bad.”

That told me right away this was my kind of book, a real nose-buster of a novel, to use a line of cover copy from a different publisher. As it turns out, though, it’s more than a simple vengeance yarn, as Westlake springs a couple of decent plot twists that just make things worse for his protagonist/narrator Ray Kelly. The writing is terse throughout. Overall, an excellent book, and I’m glad the guys at Hard Case Crime brought it back into print.


Anonymous said...

I really, really, really wanted to like 361. I really, really did. But I just couldn't finish it. Can't say why, don't understand why (it's Westlake!) but I was less than enthused. Which was disappointing, because I really, really, really wanted to like it.

James Reasoner said...

Well, the protagonist is a pretty unsympathetic character at times, and there are a few places where the book hasn't aged all that well. In fact, I kept thinking that it read more like a book written in the early Fifties than the early Sixties. I still liked it, but there are those little glitches.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I have been a big fan of Westlake but only recently I read this book. Considering his recent works this is rough (not surprisingly, this was written before I was born - and I am over 40), but I agree this is a good one. Anyway, do you happen to know what "361" means? In fact I found your diary looking for the answer.
Masaharu, Japan, Tokyo