June 02, 2005

BOOKS: Watch Your Back, Donald E. Westlake (2005)

12th in Westlake's series of comic crime novels about burglar John Dortmunder and his associates.

I was disappointed in the last installment,The Road to Ruin, which didn't have nearly enough Dortmunder in it; it felt as if he'd been shoehorned into a story that was conceived without him. But Watch Your Back is most definitely a Dortmunder story, and it's a terrific book.

Arnie Albright, a fence Dortmunder works with occasionally, is back in town after a vacation at a tropical resort, and he's brought a promising opportunity with him. While on vacation, Arnie met a millionaire who's been living at the resort for years (ex-wife problems) and isn't likely to return to his penthouse apartment anytime soon, making its riches a relatively easy target for John and his gang.

But planning the heist is a bit more complicated than usual, because their usual hangout -- the back room at the O.J. Bar and Grill -- is suddenly unavailable, the bar having been taken over by a gang of New Jersey mobsters.

The planning of the heist, the attempt to take back the bar, and the ongoing woman problems of that millionaire are woven together in fine style, with a particularly clever climax in which everyone gets just what they deserve, and all of Dortmunder's hard work nets him (as always) far less than he'd hoped.

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