REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:


DONALD WESTLAKE – Kahawa. Viking, hardcover, 1982. Tor, paperback, 1984. Mysterious Press, hardcover reprint, 1995; paperback, 1996.

   This was originally published in the early 80s, as I’m sure most of you knew but I didn’t. Evidently it sank without a trace then, and now Mysterious is re-publishing it with a new introduction by Westlake.

   Lew Brady, a good, old-fashioned soldier-of-fortune, is stranded in Alaska, reduced to teaching truckers how to fend off union strong-arms. He’s only partly assuaged by the fact that he’s with his lover, a bush pilot.

   Then comes a call from an old mercenary friend who wants him to come to Africa and help steal a train. That’s right, a train. It belongs to Idi Amin, the Uganda strongman, and it’s full of some very pricey coffee. Brandy and his lady pilot hie themselves to the Dark Continent, where they find good and bad guys of all races, and enough excitement to banish boredom forever.

   There are few if any who do caper novels better than Westlake. All the old pro’s skills are in evidence here, if not in quite as polished form as they are today. He created a fascinating cat of characters, with the real-life portrait of Idi Amin hovering chillingly over them all.

   Uganda was a bad, bad place to be in those days, and Westlake brings it to life for you. It’s a thick book, 496 pages, and therein lay my only cavil — it’s hard to maintain the level of intensity a caper novel requires for that length, and I thought that Westlake occasionally failed to do so.

   But it’s still a decent book, by one of the best. If no one made a movie of this, they missed a damned good bet.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #18, February-March 1995.