Saturday, February 8, 2014

Drowned Hopes - Donald E. Westlake

   1990; 453 pages. New Author? : No.  Book #7 (out of 14) in the Dortmunder series.  Genre : Crime Comedy.  Overall Rating : 8*/10.

    After serving 30 years, Tom Jimson’s been released from prison.  He’s 70 years old, and just wants to move to Mexico and live off his retirement fund.  Which happens to be $700,000 in stolen money.  Which he buried behind a library in some upstate New York hick town called Putkin’s Corners before starting his prison term.

    Ah, but things have changed a bit.  While Tom was incarcerated, the state of New York built a dam, and Putkin’s Corners is now submerged under 50 feet of reservoir water.  Plus three feet of dirt.  Well, mud now, actually.

    So Tom comes calling on one of his old cellmates, John Dortmunder.  If John will help in recovering the loot (i.e., figuring out how to do it), Tom will split the 700 grand with him 50:50.  But be careful, John.  Most of Tom’s former “partners” met untimely ends right after pulling a caper with him.

What’s To Like...
     Tom has a simple proposal – blow up the dam, even though it means 900 or so people would die in the resulting reservoir water tsunami.  It’s up to John to come up with an alternative, and the usual Dortmunder mayhem abounds as each of John’s plans go awry.  In fairness, recovering the stash is quite the challenge.  How would you tackle it?

    Tom is a thoroughly bad guy, without any redeeming qualities, and it is impressive to see how Donald Westlake blends him into the lighter-hearted storyline.  But the rest of the one-&-done characters are delightful, including a virginal spinster with a crotchety mom, a diving instructor whose ethics quickly go downhill, and a poor reservoir employee who keeps seeing ET’s and hearing voices.

    John’s “gang” seems to get more ink than usual here, and it’s neat to watch Westlake flesh them out.  There’s a bit of wooing, but always with ulterior motives, and you’ll keep changing your guesses as to how it will be resolved.  The ending has a nice twist to it that you won’t see coming.  There’s a smidgen of cussing, but nothing excessive, and good luck on predicting who does most of it.  All books in this series are standalones.

    Last but not least, Drowned Hopes was published in 1990, and it is funny to read about the “new” technology at the time.  Things like cell phones, PC’s, Donkey Kong, WordPerfect, answering machines, speaker phones, etc.  Wowza.

Kewlest New Word. . .
Frammis (n.)  :  A nonsense word used in replacement for any technical word you don't know.  Similar to “thingy”.  Here : Somewhere in through there, a fellow named Mitch Lynch came in, doing a heavy term for a long-con frammis against an oilman in Tulsa.

    If it isn’t bad manners to ask, John, what was this pal of yours in for?”
    “He’s not my pal.”
    “Sorry.  Ex-cellmate of yours.  What was he in for, do you know?”
    Dortmunder drank beer, thinking back.  “As I remember it,” he said, “it was murder, armed robbery, and arson.”
    Kelp looked surprised.  “All at once?”
    “He wanted a diversion while he pulled the job,” Dortmunder said, “so he torched the firehouse.”
    “A direct sort of fella,” Kelp said, nodding.  (pg. 37)

    Was she even related to Tom Jimson?  But the name couldn’t be a coincidence, it just couldn’t.  In the first place, coincidence does not exist in the world of the computer.  [Randomness (a.k.a. chance) has been factored into some of the more sophisticated games, but coincidence (a.k.a. meaningless correspondence other than junk mail) violates the human craving for order.  Which is why puns are the pornography of mathematicians.]. (pg. 188)

 “The trouble with real life is, there’s no reset button.”  (pg.  332)
    Drowned Hopes was my 4th Dortmunder book, and the longest by at least 50 pages.  I enjoyed watching Tom get more impatient to detonate the dynamite each time a failed plan sinks to the bottom of the reservoir.

    However, if you’ve never read anything from the series before, this “spinning of the wheels” could get tedious as you wait for the plotline to advance.  Bottom line - fans of this series will love Drowned Hopes, but newcomers probably shouldn’t make this their first Dortmunder book.

    8 Stars.  Add one-half star if you figured out how to recover the loot before our protagonists did.

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