February 16, 2012
HIGH ADVENTURE by Donald E. Westlake
Now having said all that, do I really need to tell you what a delightful confection this book is? There is no weight to the book at all, despite Westlake's wryly humorous reflections on government corruption, academic corruption, and the general ineptitude of the human race. The story is a charming bonbon, aiming solely to amuse the reader, and it succeeds admirably, though the book does not quite rise to the levels of hilarity achieved in the author's Dortmunder series.
Westlake rounds out all of his characters, finding as much humor in their assets as in their liabilities, and he sets up scenes worthy of the finest screwball comedies in which to mentally torture his characters with their misinterpretations of situations and identities. There is one particularly funny scene in a hotel restaurant in which Kirby's various customers and the archaeologist are all trying to have dinner, trying not to be recognized, and everyone in confusion (and no small amount of fear) as to identities and motives. That the scene plays out with very little in the way of dialogue is testament to Westlake's skills of characterization and the third-person point of view.
Besides being a master of the plot twist -- Westlake's mind was positively labyrinthine -- the author also wrote fine prose, full of imagery, often beautiful yet lacking any pretention. For readers familiar only with his Parker novels and their lean style of prose, this book is a real change of pace. Fans of Westlake's Dortmunder series will find much to enjoy here, but will still miss the crazy gang in that series.
THE COMEDY IS FINISHED, probably the last we will see of Westlake's previously unpublished works.