Thursday, August 22, 2013

Drowned Hopes by Donald Westlake

Well, John Dortmunder is certainly over his head in Drowned Hopes by Donald Westlake.

This is the seventh in the series of comic capers starring the unlucky professional burglar and his gang of crazy colleagues. Mr. Westlake has created a most elaborate and complicated puzzle for Dortmunder to solve. 

A former cellmate of John's, Tom Jimson, shows up at John's apartment having just been released from prison. With a promise to split the loot, he enlists John's aid in recovering a cache of $700,000 - the proceeds of an armored car robbery - that, before he went to prison, he had buried in a casket behind the library in Putkin's Corners in upstate New York.

Sounds simple, right? Only trouble is that while Tom was in prison, the town and surrounding area was commandeered by the state and flooded to create a reservoir. So now, not only is the money buried underground, it is also 50 feet under water.

Oh my. Does Mr. Westlake have fun with this one! 

Along with the usual gang members Andy Kelp, Stan Murch, Tiny, May, and Murch's Mom, the characters include:

Seventy-year old, cold as steel Tom Jimson, whose favored way of solving any problem is "Kill 'em!"; Wally, the reclusive geek who plays fantasy save-the-princess type games on his computer; town librarian Myrtle Street who lives on Myrtle Street with her mother Edna in the town near the reservoir; Guffey, a former partner of Tom Jimson's who has lived alone so long he has forgotten his own first name; and, Doug, dive shop owner and wooer of the fair Myrtle.

Usually the action in these fun books takes place in New York City, but now the group has moved to Dudson Falls near the reservoir and Dortmunder and Tom make trips to Oklahoma and South Dakota to retrieve cash for the caper that Tom has stashed there. 

Somehow Mr. Westlake manages to work in to all this a ghost town, an alien spaceship sighting, Raquel Welch movies, a shotgun wedding, the QEII, the left nostril of Abraham Lincoln, and the usual bounty of stolen cars with MD license plates.

Mr. Westlake can twist a plot faster than you can say "Dortmunder". He leaves me laughing all the way. 

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