Chet Conway, a cabbie in the Big Apple, gets a tip on horse race from an appreciative fare who enjoys Chet’s conversation. The horse comes in to the tune of $900.00. At the time the story was set, 1969, that’s about $5,300.00 in our post-modern dollars.
Chet, a gambler, badly needs the cash to pay off markers. But when he goes to collect his winnings, he finds his bookie dead on the floor, his chest looking as if he’d been “hit with anti-aircraft guns.”
Though he hasn’t a clue whodunit, Chet finds himself in the middle of struggles among the cops, two rival gangs of thugs, and the dead bookie’s hottie sister. Abbie’s a card mechanic in Vegas. She has flown in from Las Vegas to avenge her brother’s murder, since she figures her cheating sister-in-law is the perp. Chet and Abbie have slapstick adventures while they avoid the bad guys and get to the bottom of the murder.
Readers looking for a comic-caper stand-alone mystery will be entertained by this novel. Since many chapters end with a cliffhanger, it keeps us readers turning the pages. Westlake is deft with twists and turns and creates interesting characters. He keeps the language simple, so this is extremely easy to read. Westlake is a master of the quip. For instance, Chet ruefully observes that impetuous Abbie has “all the self-preservation instincts of a lemming.” The author is firmly in the tradition of mystery writers poking genial fun at the conventions of mysteries.
I hadn’t read Westlake, whom fans remember fondly for his humor, since I was teenager during the Nixon administration. Clearly, I don’t read in the comic-crime genre much. The reason is that for me comedy, however refreshing witty or farcical or absurd, pales into the merely facetious over the course of a 250-page book. In a mystery, character, setting, plot and suspense have to trump burlesque and high jinks. Still, I liked this return to reading Westlake and will read another of his before another 40 years go by.