DONALD E. WESTLAKE – Nobody’s Perfect. Dortmunder #4. M. Evans & Co., hardcover, 1977. Detective Book Club, hardcover reprint, 3-in-1 edition. Fawcett Crest, paperback, 1979. Mysterious Press, paperback, 1989.

   I was talking about funny detective fiction a little while back. Standing and looking on from the sidelines, it’s obvious that it’s much easier to write a funny mystery story when you don’t have to work some detective work in to go along with it. Funny crime stories are a lot more common.

   Donald Westlake, while he doesn’t have a patent on it, does have a particular genius for this sort of thing. The caper story, that is. He’s written a number of them, and many of them have starred, if that’s the right word, a small-time thief, a crook named Dortmunder. Even his name is funny, but what makes the crimes he and his gang commit so funny is not that they’re so badly planned, for they’re not, but that all of a sudden, beyond a certain point, everything unavoidably goes wrong.

   In this book Dortmunder is hired to steal a painting. He’s hired by its owner, who can use the insurance money, but who is naturally reluctant to part with the painting itself. He’d also rather the insurance company didn’t get too suspicious.

   Somehow, however, the painting ends up in Scotland, of all places, and to save his very hide, Dortmunder has to commission a forgery, And steal that. Which doesn’t work out either.

   Now, all of this may sound as though it would be very easy to write, but a good part of what makes this story funny is Westlake’s way with words, a sardonically understated sort of slapstick, if you will. If Hollywood were to get their hands on it, or from the typewriter of a lesser mortal, you can bet it would end up just· being silly.

   Westlake also has a well-developed knack for describing a world and its inhabitants where the life of casual, amoral crime is nothing but another plane of existence. It’s almost funny, for example, to discover how easy it is to steal a typewriter just whenever you need one, but not quite, considering who always ends up paying for such petty pilferage. Sure. You and me. You better believe it.

Rating: B

–Very slightly revised from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 5, No. 1, January-February 1981.