Saturday, February 18, 2012

Patti Abbott dedicated this week's Forgotten Book Friday to Donald Westlake, in celebration of Hard Case Crime's publication of his last book, The Comedy is Finished. Westlake, who died in 2008, wrote more than 100 books. My review of Trust Me On This was included in Patti's roundup.

Trust Me On This (Mysterious Press, 1988)

Reporter Sara Joslyn, driving down a deserted road on the way to her new job, passes what looks like a body hanging out of a car. She makes a U-turn, because she is, after all, a reporter, and discovers that the person halfway out of the car is better than dead—he’s been murdered. First day on the job and she’s going to walk in with a story about a man with a bullet in his brain.

Poor Sara. She fantasizes accolades when she presents her discovery to her new editor, Jack Ingersoll, but instead gets: “On what series is he a regular?”

As you may have guessed, this isn’t The New York Times. It’s the Weekly Galaxy, a supermarket tabloid with a hunger for celebs and a very relaxed attitude toward truth in journalism. Forget the body, Jack tells Sara, and assigns her instead to a piece on the beer and potato chip diet.

Sara will eventually do some sleuthing, and Westlake pulls off a nice suspenseful climax, but the murder is an afterthought. We’re here to hang out in a newsroom where editors pace their squaricles—taped lines on the floor delineating walls and doors—trying to stay alive and earn their enormous salaries by pitching stories like “Jogging Causes Nymphomania” and “Desperate Aliens Search for Rogue Planet Earth.”

The characters are an appealing mix of evil, lunatic and charming: the despot publisher whose office is an elevator; the three perpetually drunk Australians known as the Down Under Trio; Sara and Jack, whose initial antipathy guarantees that they’ll end up together.

And then there are the wildly comic scenes that read like something out of a Marx brothers movie. Here’s a glimpse of the Down Under Trio in the Veterans’ Bar & Grill:

“The sight of a fairly respectable-looking, neatly dressed in suit and tie, fifty-one-year-old Australian leaping about the bar, up onto chairs and back down onto the floor, suitcoat tail flying, hand firmly holding drink as both hands pretended to be tiny kangaroo paws boxing, the whole while honking, was so captivating that everybody had to do it, beginning with the retirees and finishing with the widows.”

In the end, the murder is solved, of course, and Jack and Sara go off into the sunset, but you’ll be glad to know you can meet up with them again in Westlake’s Baby, Would I Lie?

Part of this review ran previously at Women of Mystery.

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