Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Hot Rock by Donald Westlake

Let me introduce you to the world of John Dormunder, the hapless professional thief created by author Donald Westlake. He is a brilliant planner of jobs and his band of merry men are rarely violent but always funny.

When we first meet Dortmunder in The Hot Rockhe has just gotten out of prison and his friend Andy Kelp has the perfect job lined up: steal an emerald that is on display at a museum. That sounds like such a simple plot, but things go wrong and wrong again and Dortmunder's plans for the heist get more and more outlandish.

Kelp is Dortmunder's long-time friend and fellow thief and has a much more positive outlook on life. He exasperates Dortmunder sometimes but Kelp is the one who finds the jobs for the gang. Stan Murch is the driver for the crew and spends most of his time telling whoever will listen his route to and from the planning meetings which take place in the back room of a Manhattan bar. The bartender doesn't know anyone by name, only by their drink.

Murch can drive anything and when his character is introduced in The Hot Rock, which came out in 1970, he has just purchased a record of the sounds of the cars zooming around the track at the Indianapolis 500 which he listens to at full volume. It soothes him.

Over the course of the novels, other thieves, safe crackers, and thugs appear to help Dortmunder achieve his ends. These ends are usually a long time in coming as something always goes wrong and plans have to be remade. That is the fun. Just to what lengths will our Mr. Dortmunder go?

I have read the Dortmunder books - there are fourteen of them - over the years and now that my library has them all available as e-books, I am re-acquainting myself with these crazy fellows and the impossible situations they get into.

Westlake also wrote another series under the name of Richard Stark which features  Parker, a hard, professional criminal that is so opposite from Dortmunder. I have only read one of those. The Parker character is a bit dark.

I prefer Westlake when he is at his wittiest.  He is a terrific writer and I dare you to read The Hot Rock and not fall in love with Dortmunder.


  1. I know you recommended Donald Westlake to me. I'll look for the Dortmunder books. The Hot Rock looks like a good book to read on the holiday.

    1. Ah Frisbee, you can't go wrong with Westlake.

      I tried to rent 'The Hot Rock' with Robert Redford as Dortmunder - he may be a bit handsome for the role - but my DVD store did not have it. It did have 'Bank Shot' which is the second in the book series with George C. Scott as JD. It looks to be a perfect Saturday night movie.