Monday, March 25, 2013

The Fugitive Pigeon by Donald Westlake

This is how Donald Westlake describes one of the characters in The Fugitive Pigeon (1965):

Up till then I'd assumed the "Gross" was the man's name, but it was his description. He looked like something that had finally come up out of its cave because it had eaten the last of the phosphorescent little fish in the cold pool at the bottom of the cavern. He looked like something that better keep moving because if it stood still someone would drag it out back and bury it. He looked like a big white sponge with various diseases at work on the inside. He looked like something that couldn't get you if you held a crucifix up in front of you. He looked like the big fat soft white something you might find under a tomato plant leaf on a rainy day with a chill in the air.

Mr. Gross is one of the members of the 'organization' that is out to get Charlie Poole. Because of a misunderstanding, Mr. Gross believes that Charlie, a rather aimless young man who works as bartender in his Uncle Al's bar, is a police informant. Two big guys with guns, Trask and Slade, come in their big black car to take Charlie away. He escapes and spends the next three days on the run trying to find out why these guys are out to get him. He works his way up a chain of gangsters (including his Uncle Al) attempting to determine why he is on the organization's Kill List. 

The action takes Charlie from Queens to Brooklyn to Greenwich Village to Long Island and back again. Sometimes he is chasing around in a black Packard driven by the part-time girlfriend of his school buddy Artie. Sometimes he rides the subway. Sometimes he has to resort to walking on foot. 

Whatever Charlie is doing, Mr. Westlake makes the action funny and outrageous. It all turns out well for Charlie in the end. Not only does he prove his innocence and get his life back, he gets the girl.

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