Sunday 10 January 2021




In the funniest crime caper ever from Grandmaster Donald Westlake, four teams of international thieves race through Paris to steal a king's ransom from the walls of a disassembled castle.

When four groups of international heist artists team up to pull off the theft of the century - stealing an entire castle, and the treasure secreted in its walls - what could possibly go wrong? Well, consider this: none of the master thieves speak each other's languages...and no one knows precisely where the loot is stashed...and every one of them wants to steal it all for him or herself. It's Westlake at his wildest, a breathless slapstick chase through the streets of France with the law in hot pursuit...

One which I enjoyed without feeling like it was anything close to amazing. It's a forty year old comedy heist caper from Westlake which is in the process of being re-issued by Hard Case Crime. I think what the book has confirmed for me is that I prefer the harder, edgier pseudonymous Richard Stark books to the ones published under his own name. That aside I do fully intend to read more Westlake books in the future.

A dictator has been fleecing his country and ahead of an impending overthrow of his regime, has smuggled his ill-gotten gains out of the country in a castle, which is being rebuilt and displayed at an international event in Paris. Word of the scam has leaked and a plan is set in place to recover the riches and split the bounty between the liberators of the wealth ie a gang of thieves, with the other half being returned to the country and its people.

Looking back a few weeks on from reading, finer details are already fogotten - character's names and the kingdom which is significant insofar as it's the start point and set-up for all that follows, probably some fictional South American creation of Westlake's imagination - but that's fine. I do remember the main events as they unfold. I was amused at the difficulties which emanated from a multi-national team of villains - British, French, German and Italian - none of whom could communicate with each other readily. I enjoyed the mistrust and oneupmanship which was at play as each faction tried to commandeer the spoils for themselves, and on occasion to the exclusion of fellows within their own group. Events border on the ridiculous at times, but it was one I'm glad I read. 

Plusses - setting - Paris and a bit of time in London, character interactions, the daft plot and it's execution, the outcome and the fact that it's not too long either.

Negatives - not all the jokes hit their mark, but then comedy in books is very subjective, no real wow or grip you by the balls factor, no real tension, all played for laughs.

Enjoyable, fun, amusing without every being laugh out loud, fall off the chair funny - a la Hiaasen, entertaining and never boring. 

3.5 from 5

Westlake's The Busy Body was enjoyed during 2020 also.

Read - December, 2020
Published - 1980
Page count - 208
Source - review copy from Edelweiss - Above the Treeline site
Format - ePUB file read on laptop


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  2. It's interesting, isn't it, Col, how the same author can strike very different notes in different work. I give Westlake credit for doing that. This one sounds a bit like his Dortmunder stories, which are not as gritty, etc.. as the ones he writes as Stark. Fun, as you say, perhaps not gripping or haunting, but still solid yarns.

    1. Yes, definitely a lot closer to Dortmunder than Parker. Worth reading and not one that I regret giving over some time to.

  3. I might enjoy this because of the heist, but I will read the other Westlake books that I have before I look for this one. I do like his Richard Stark novels.

    1. I hope you can squeeze it in at some point. I'd forgotten you had read some of his Stark books.