Posted by: Gregg | April 4, 2007

The Hook – Donald Westlake.

Last weekend’s class really took it out of me and I think I’m still in the process of mentally recovering from it. On Saturday I had to wake up early, drive the hour and a half to Emporia, be in class all day, drive the hour and a half back, pick up my wife, and then immediately go the half hour over to the Missouri side of the state line to my mom’s surprise birthday party with the extended fam. I’m sure I looked like a complete zombie, throwing down cup after cup of coffee during dinner in my completely futile attempt to retain focus.

Ah, well. I knew this grad school thing was dangerous when I signed up for it.
I’ve been reading mystery author Donald Westlake of late. No particular reason for it – he’s a big name in the genre, plus his books have the ability to be both well-written and fast reads at the same time. It’s been by experience that the more I like a book, the more time I take while reading it; I’m not a slow reader as much as I am a deliberate one. But when it comes to Don Westlake, I’m Jesse Owens.

“The Hook” is a fine example of what I mean – it’s a psychological thriller where two writers – one on the way up and the other on the way down – are unhappy with where things stand in their lives and they conspire to commit murder to solve all their problems. It’s very similar to Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, and as the novel progresses they get more entangled in each others lives. One of them starts to crack, and the other one has to hold it all together, and Bad Things happen.

Westlake’s been around for a while, and the novel, while written this decade, has a 1970s vibe to it. It’s actually sort of refreshing. (I’m getting tired of novels feeling the need to explain every last character motivation to us. Sometimes in life things happen without all the angsty emo backstory, and that’s okay. We’re readers, we have imaginations, we can handle it.) For example, we know very little of the characters’ internal lives . We only know their thoughts through what they say and what they do. Also, very few of the characters are ever given physical descriptions outside what is essential to the plot: so-and-so wears glasses, or so-and-so has a unruly mop of blonde hair. Again, it’s sort of refreshing.

But wait: the new Anchee Min book just appeared on my hold shelf.  More in a bit.


  1. Westlake writes under several pseudonyms. My favorite Westlake “brand” is Richard Stark, under which he writes spare, hard-boiled noir thrillers featuring a career criminal named Parker (no first name). There are over 20 Parker novels, and I have read and enjoyed every single one. Many have been adapted for the screen, but skip the movie versions. They suck. Check out this funky web page for lots of good info on Parker:

    Westlake’s four novels written as Samuel Holt are also favorites of mine; they’re first-person narratives, and the protagonist is an actor. All four have recently been reissued in tpb under the FELONY & MAYHEM imprint. Each Holt novel has a number in the title, e.g., “What I Tell You Three Times is False,” “I Know a Trick Worth Two of That.”

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