Saturday, 15 August 2009


Get Real
Donald E. Westlake
Quercus £18.99 ISBN 9781849161053

When Donald Westlake died on New Year's Eve, he was still as prolific as ever, so Get Real is a fitting coda to his writing career, because although you could see it as just the next book in a long line of books past and books we expected in the future, it does showcase Westlake at his comic best, doing what the youngsters would call 'deconstructing' the genre of so-called 'reality' TV while providing the Dortmunder gang with their most laid-back and funny caper in some time. For Westlake, who always used his language precisely, economically, and simply, a misnomer like 'reality television' is too good a target to pass up. Because, of course, there is nothing 'real' about it, and, as Westlake the writer can't help but remind us, it exists primarily to scrub the writers out of the creative process.

So when the Dortmunder gang gets involved in filming a reality TV show, based on their pulling off a heist, you know that the battle between street-wise thieves and TV-wise thieves can only go one way. The gang sees the potential for a score, which they can pull off while using the show as a cover, and doing the small-time score they've suggested to keep the producers happy. And, for a time, they are happy as clams, especially since the planted characters they've added to reality, one of them there to keep tabs on the gang, have fallen in love, providing them with the story arc they need.

If I need to tell you Westlake has immense fun with all this, you're clearly a stranger either to Dortmunder or to fun. It's hard to tell whose perception of the producers is lower, Dortmunder's or Westlake's, but let's just say that the latter has more fun describing the producers' project which preceded the heist, a reality show set around a floundering fruit stand by a roadside in upstate New York. I'd say 'you couldn't make this stuff up,' only Westlake always did make this stuff up. If you think I'm kidding, read the appreciation I wrote back in January, you can find it here. And ask yourself who else would have his thieves stealing a Chevy Gazpacho?

At times Dortmunder has been the criminal with the raining cloud hanging over his head. Without giving too much away, let's just say it's a pleasure to watch him and Andy Kelp walk away into the sunset, with Dortmunder one last time surrendering to what he is, a thief. 'Oh all right', he says. It was the way it should end, and I find it immeasurably sad to think I will never have another new Dortmunder to read.

NOTE (1): this is a slightly revised version of a review which also appears at
NOTE (2): the book pictured above is the US edition, whose cover reflects the book better than its UK equivalent...

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