DONALD WESTLAKE writing as RICHARD STARK – Lemons Never Lie. Alan Grofield [solo] #4. World, hardcover, 1971. Countryman Press, softcover, 1990. Hard Case Crime #22, paperback, July 2006.

   I welcome being corrected if I’m wrong, but I believe that this is the last of four solo adventures of summer stock theatre owner-cum-heist man Alan Grofield. The other books that Richard Stark wrote that he appeared in he played second fiddle to the author’s other primary character, a really hard-boiled fellow by the name of Parker, whom you very well may have heard of before.

   And in Lemons Never Lie, we see that Grofield isn’t averse to a little violence himself, if (but only if) the situation calls for it. The only reason he pulls jobs, almost always in conjunction with others, is to finance his summer theatre, located somewhere in the middle of Indiana, which means of course that it needs a lot of outside financing.

   This one begins with Grofield arriving at the Las Vegas airport, trying a slot machine in the terminal after deplaning — and winning. Three lemons. He naturally takes this as a bad sign, and so right he is.

   He turns down the job he’s offered there, but the guy whose plan it is — a guy named Myers — does not take rejection kindly, and the two knock heads together for the entire rest of the book. It’s not much fun for Grofield, and in the end Myers ends up extremely badly, but it certainly is a lot of fun for the reader.

   Donald Westlake’s way of producing smooth, relaxed prose is on full display here. He was indeed a master of words. The plot doesn’t run all that deep, but I don’t know what kind of on-the-ground research Westlake ever did for the Stark books, but he sure makes it sound as though he’d been taken along on a few heists himself. He’ll probably convince you, too.