Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Bank Shot

This second installment of Donald E. Westlake's "Dortmunder" series combines familiar, bumbling criminals, a reluctant, curmudgeonly mastermind, and oblivious members of the constabulary, to lighthearted comedic effect.  This is a Robert Redford caper movie in novel form, with Bugs Bunny dialogue, only slower and with less Mel Blanc-sy voices; in contrast, however, Robert Redford and Bugs Bunny always come out on top.  Here, you get the feeling after each episode falters that John Dortmunder will invariably be back on his home turf, conning moms and widows out of their tens and twenties in his fallback encyclopedia sales scam, shortly after the big bank job that he and his henchmen have conceived, planned, and taken farcical pains to execute washes away, just out of reach.

The second novel in a series is the hardest, so they say.  Westlake succeeds by reducing the degree of difficulty, relative to the series opener, the serial gem heist caper The Hot Rock, while maintaining the same mad, mad sensibility.  It's a comedy writer's version of productivity growth: the same laughs for a simpler book.

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