2006; 360 pages. New Author? : No. Book #12 (out of 14) of the Dortmunder Series. Genre : Crime Humor; Comic Capers. Overall Rating : 9*/10.
The worst that could happen has befallen the Dortmunder gang. No, no one died or got thrown in jail. Worse than that. Namely, the backroom at the O.J. Bar & Grill, where they do all the planning of their capers, is now off-limits to them.
Oh sure, other bars have other backrooms, but it just isn’t the same. Neither is Dortmunder’s living room. So the gang must get to the bottom of why Rollo the bartender won’t let them use their usual meeting place, and quickly. Because they have a very lucrative heist to plan.
What’s To Like...
Watch Your Back! has three plotlines. First, there’s the heist itself, which involves a challenging break-&-entry into a venture capitalist’s penthouse. Second is the gallivanting of the VC himself, one Preston Fareweather, who’s been camped out in a Caribbean Club Med for a long time, and who has no intention of leaving his tropical paradise. Particularly as long as ex-wives (and there are a bunch of them) continue to send process-servers after him. The third storyline concerns the O.J. Bar & Grill itself, and why our plucky antiheroes are being encouraged to take their patronage elsewhere.
The pacing is fast – it seemed like there was more action and less talking/planning than in the other Dortmunder books I’ve read. Everything builds nicely to a particularly strong ending. It’s fun to watch Donald Westlake weave the three plotlines, gradually drawing them seamlessly together for an exciting and surprising climax.
The core of the gang is here – Tiny, Andy Kelp, Stan, and of course John Dortmunder. And a new, wet-behind-the-ears-but-willing-to-learn member is introduced – Judson Blint. WYB! is a standalone novel. I am not reading the series in order, and didn’t feel like I was missing much by not doing so. There are a couple cusswords, and one or two adult situations, but nothing vulgar or lurid. The violence is minimal, bordering on being cozy-ish.
Rollo leaned close over the bar. Very softly he said, “I just wanna say, this isn’t the best place right now.”
“We noticed that, Rollo,” Kelp said, and nodded, and smiled in an amiable way, inviting confidences.
“The thing is,” Rollo said, more sotto voce than ever, “there are people around here right now, what they are, they’re criminals.”
Dortmunder leaned very close to Rollo over the bar. “Rollo,” he murmured, “we’re criminals.”
“Yeah, John, I know,” Rollo said. “But they’re organized.” (loc. 891)
“Stan, it’s a hijack!”
“I don’t need this,” Stan told the world, and something tapped the windowglass to his left. When he looked over there, what was tapping was the metal end of the sawed-off double-barreled shotgun the right front passenger in the Jeep was aiming his way. The guy had a whole lot of neck and nose, very little hair, and a smile meant for pulling wings off flies. (loc. 3673)
Watch Your Back sells for $6.64 at Amazon. Almost all of the Dortmunder books are available for your Kindle; and most of them are in the $6.64-$7.69 price range. A couple newer ones run a bit higher. I borrowed Watch Your Back through my local library for free.
”On one beer you’re turning philosophical?” (loc. 901)
Watch Your Back! was my fourth Dortmunder book, and I’m beginning to get Westlake’s formula down pat. There is always an opportunity for gain (aka, “theft”) that poses significant obstacles which require meticulous planning with frequent revisions. Our protagonists somehow pull off the caper, but through cruel twists of fate and plot, never get to keep their ill-gotten (but morally semi-justifiable) loot. In the end, everyone gets their just desserts.
Well, it may be formulaic, but it works because you can’t see how the threads are going to fit together, and Westlake keeps you guessing what’s going to happen next with numerous twists and turns. Plus, the wit, the humor, and the writing style are all excellent.
9 Stars. About the only negative I can give is that the book seemed to be done rather quickly for Amazon purporting it to be 360 pages long. But maybe that’s just an indication of how much I enjoyed it.