Thursday, November 28, 2013

Book Review: THE COMEDY IS FINISHED by Donald E. Westlake

Donald E. Westlake Turns
70's Kidnap Caper Into Comedy ...
(And You'll Laugh 'Till It Hearst!)

A Review of
Hard Case Crime's
The Comedy Is Finished


Blood on the Mink Proves
Sky-Fi's Robert Silverberg
A Master of Space & Crime!

by Don K. Barbecue

Sorry, dear readers, if I seem to have got a lil behind in reviewing the ole Temple of Schlock stock of mysteries and then scum, but Faust thing after I'd worked up Choke Hold I got all upset when I learned a) that my mysterioso his own self Unk belongs to some super secret organization called MANIC, of which I still know naught and b) right then he tore outta here to rescue some old gal friend named Pyrrholoxia after telling me nothing else than she was named after the state bird of Arizona, and her dad had really wanted Tucsons.

Now, I dunno howl much of that was a line, but I do know some things oh pun Pyrrholoxiaviation, and the Pyrrhol is NOT the state bird of Arizona. Dunno what maply info Unk was using and abusing, butthead he got it wren - er, wrong, off course.

So, here I sit waiting for word on my 60's-drivenUnk and his “bird,” even though I now figure he's got more than himself to free her from whoever's clutches, being he belongs to some, like he sez, “thigh spy gore-gun-ization.” The man is my oldest surviving relative, and after all this time missing, I gotta wonder if his and “Pyrry”'s enemy's bullets are missing them.

Still, it's kinda cool I got an Unk from MANIC, but with him gone so long I'm Solo I, like they say over in Coletown, PA., feel “kinda ill, ya?” And having missed my morning curry, I'm achin'.

Plus, no new Hard Case Crime's winged my way lately, and without more of those bullets and big brassy babes books to Philip my room, I feel even Marlowe ...

Then there's ...

A sudden shout of “Incoming, head's up or go DOWN!”

Oh, no, it can't be, voice came from in fronta me, there's nobody, but that sure sounded like Unk's back. Oh no, back like behind me no less. Shee-oot and criminals-net-me! I start to turn, spin and then WHAMMO FRISBEE!

My head clears a bit. I see what seems to be another terrific Gregory Manchess cover on a hardback Hard Case Crime. There's a pair, I SAID there appears to be this naked blonde in shades in, uh, front of a tied-to-a-chair feller facing her.

I can't help myself. I see this word balloon over captive guy's head, and it sez “Look lady, with you standing nekkid that close to my puss and me tied to this bleep-ed-e-bleepin' chair, it ain't the chair got the harder wood!”

Book seems to be on the ceiling. Looks bloody. Something smells bloody. My head's sticky, too. Huh. Oh yeah. Something “Incoming!” hit me unaware like a craniyummy dummy.

Okay, so why is the floor up above me and why is it spinning already? Wait, does this mean I'm gonna fall on my face now? No, wait, I seem to be looking up a pair of legs, and oh what a pair, in a pair of shockings that are stocking. Uh, stockings that are shocking. And hose that talking?

“Dang kid forgot to duck.” At least I think he said duck. Either that or my head's quacked.

A hand reaches up, pulls me up. Wait, I wasn't on the ceiling, okay, but my head feels like it hit it. Maybe I just had the worst ever case of roofer madness. Quick, where'd that gal with the legs go, I'll plaster.

“Kid, gotta fly. Get up and fire up that typewriter of yers, I broughtcha the new Westlake book from Hard Case Crime!”

I rub my achin' haid. Huh. The “Incoming!” voice had come from ahead'a me, book hit me from behind. How does Unk do these friggin' master assassin stealth tricks, anyslay?

“Westlake, huh?” I groan. “So that's the reason ya hit with on the head with it, so I go Stark ravin' mad atcha?”

Unk gives me a vague, puzzled but never, of course, hurt or apologetic look. “Kid, ya worry me sometimes. You, my favorite nephew ...?”

“I'm also yer only nephew.”

He doesn't miss a beat. “ .... and ya act like I did somethin' to make mad.”

I flinch at the goose egg on my crown. “Yeah, Stark ravin' BONK!-ers.” I calm down. “Who's the gal in the '50's lingerie, or was I just seeing stars and garters?” I leer. “Or did she just have that kinda getaway ... face?”

“What?” Unk leers. “Oh, her! Oh shoot, lookit the time, we gotta get offta the next HCC artist posing, and ... “

I can about digest that, since Unk's alibi had the legs for it. “That's, uh, some lady ya got there, Unk.”

“Not some lady, kid. Shamelady. Pyrrholoxia Shamelady.”

Whoa! Now there's a 60's-bent MANIC man's woman friend name to conjure twist! “Hold on. Last that I heard, that lady named Pyrrholoxia had been kidnapped ... “

“L.U.S.T.?” Unk snorts. “They had nuttin' to do with it, that agency got Drummed out ... eh heh heh...schlong a gal. Plus, they were summa the good thighs, I mean, guys.”

“I SAID last, but they say you 60's guys, the hearing's the first to go-go. Still, I know what you demean. I'll try again. Last I knew, you flew outta here to rescue her all in a dither ...”

“I never mentioned her tithers,” Unk sez. “Bedsides, when I finally found her she'd already escaped any fiendly clutches.” Then he laughs, adds, “That's why I always lay on her, I mean, say to her she shoulda been named Pyrrhol-unlox-ia!”

That does it. I point front doorward. “Out, out, damned Sputnik shooter-downer!”

Hah. I hit a sore spot. Unk about shuffles his feet. “Yeah, yeah, I know I was spozed to capture the stupid thing, but ... “

“Don't tell me. Ya prob'ly had some lady cosmo-naughty up there with ya and you were all in a Russian!”

Outside, a horn honks. And I wonder, how can a car horn sound ... female? And like it simply can't wait for, uh, service?

Unk leers. “Sounds like I gotta flah, kid. Part the petals in the middle.”

Next thing I know Unk's gone, there's a squeal of wheels, a rush of heated air and an upward WHOOSH! I gaze out the window, and what I see? Well, whatever ya call that supersleek beast of a vehicle to the stars car, Unk sure never earned it in the MANIC '70's from playing jetPAC-Man.

And the last I hear of Unk over a chortling gaggle of feminine giggles from above is his yell of “Enjoy the book, kid, it's funny as helliumite! Right now, up here? The Comedy Is Rocket-fin-ished!”


And you know what, Unk with his Pyrr bound for the stars and garters was flight, I SAID right. The new Westlake from Hard Case is the funniest thing from the man I've read since THE BUSY BODY, wayback when. Why, the thing's got a plot that deserves all sordids of grave reviews!

Now, unless you lived through the 70's, many readers know little of the era beyond what mess media throws at us. It wasn't all one big Happy Daze. Then again, put on either one of Roger Corman's car crash and burners with Ron Howard and pretend yer at a drive-in when “If the van's a'rockin', don't COME a knockin'” reely meant it ... or else! ... and watch, say, cars, boats, buildings destroyed while the Ronster pops the clutch, you just might have a whole lotta Fonz.

Otherwise, anytime they try to con-vince ya the 70's were all disco music each and ev'ry friggin' Summer, take the Barbster's advice and say Nixon it. And, story of “O,” in the mean time read up on the Patty Hearst kidnap case, or from The Comedy Is Finished you'll know knotty.

The kidnapping of newspaper heiress Hearst was one pure gold but impure media magnet, since it included sex, crime AND money'd power held captive in a closet by “revolutionary” types well worth authorities wanting them SLA-in. Even out in these parts of country-fried Pennsylvania, loco rumors that Ms. Hearst was stashed somewhere in a cabin around a local amusement park a-bounded.

Even more interesting, by some sheer fluke of crime and publishment, there was even a porno paperback called Black Abductor that bore to the case in question an amazing amount of semi-leery-ties ...

Be that as it SLA for whatever reasons, the late great Don Westlake finished this dark comedy of crime and shelved it. Now, it seems impossible the book wasn't, somehow, sinspurtedby the Hearstly hoopla. Doesn't matter as to its canning, since the story goes that Westlake kept it in the Stark dark when it seemed to bear a resemblance to a certain COMEDY flick with Robert De Niro, all about the kidnapping of a media personality as depicted by a man known for a slew of film funnies as Lewis it gets. Go ahead, argue, I stand Patsy.

The victim of this comedy kidnap caper is one Koo Davis, stand-up comedian from who has scene stole it all, through various wars and their attending mediums, where some of Koo's weariness and dismay comes from even before he's snatched. Me, I'll name no Nams OR political person with the morals of a Laos.

Okay, I lied. Gimme time on that to get enough Hanoi'd.

Fact, there's a few good turns of the grue reekgards creepy old haunted house movies Temple of Schlock readers Ed Wood enjoy. Like in SATURDAY EVENING GHOST, where Koo got to say “My brain is happy to be here, but my feet wanna be in Tennessee.” Or “We've got nothing to fear but fear itself – and that big guy over there with the sword.” See? Even when Koo's kharacter was about to get kilt, he still played it to the hilt.

Then there's kaptive Koo's memories of old radio comedy, and boy are they ever on the Marx, brothers! Which isn't to say that while Koo's held suffering by uninclined-to-liberate him loonies he doesn't go a bit mental himself. One finely rendered bit even has Koo slipping in and out of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Yup, pool guy can't take it Nemo.

Ya sea, all those thoughts of the good Captain Nemo have Koo's thoughts drifting at times to the politics of the day. He can't help naming Nams, though, not with his captors of either sex ranting and raving at him about whatever they hold him personally responsible for. And even they, when their minds are so a-Verne-ly veering, have to come out with a few Jules.

Like: “Koo, do you think it's an accident that the developer of the aerosol spray can was a friend of Nixon's?”

I mean, I grew up in the not-so-happy daze of Watergate, and even I never Agnew that! So pity poor Davis listening to self-styled, as some folks used to say, revolution hairies as they blame his entertaining the troops for the war. Logic like that, the man could just go Koo-coo, especially if he gets to thinking there's no Hope.

If there's a politikilling pot to be boiled herein, our bad guys are on stew it. Same goulashes for the lethal ladies, who know from any Ms.-takes in Betty Cooker's Crock Book, so Koo can't even think of getting any of them recipeed off.

And who knows where some such woman as on the book cover might aim that gun, if Koo gets her to feeling kinda testes?

Yeah, ya gotta admit, even in his weakest moments, Koo's got spirit. One point he decides “not to grovel before” someone threatening him, “unless, of course, it's necessary; better a living grovel than a dead defiance.” Ah yesssss, words to snivel by.

Besides, who knows? Way Koo sees it, mostly, is anything can happen on a sonny day, Mark my words. No wonder The Comedy Is Finished is such a wonderfully nasty novel it's to die forebears. Book's a piece of its slimes, sure, but it's got lots of humanity behind some characters' high-minded hollers, and love falls like rain even as one has to cut and run when the comedy's done gone to peace-less pieces. And all my old farming instink tells me to ... let's be Frank and call any vegetable ... treat everyone as a podner and peas a chance. Sigh. Words to wearily Lennon are such McCartney'dfull things.

No doubt about it, in my book of Westlake writing as Westlake, stack any of those books right here up agunst 'em, and The Comedy Is Finished will Beatle the rest!

Even when days ahead may look, how to say, the most darkly Stark.

And those are words to live by-line. In fact ...

Hey, children, wuzzat sound? Quiet now. Just for a second try to hold Stills.

Thunder? Under a sky clear as daily readings of the Schlock market? Naw, couldn't “B,” there isn't even a leaf movie-ing, let alone falling to later “B” pic'd up ...

What IS that sound? Something whirly up above, like propellers? Whoa! Suddenly it's just there! Some big boat-looking thing in disguise, flying with blades like ship's masts pointed upward, all a-twirl and a-swirl and there's the sound of some passionately giggling girl!

The next voice, though, is all too familiar: Unk, unseen and shouting downwind words. “Hey, kid, how's this flying machine for a case of ....?”

There's a slight in flight pause. Unk again. “What did you call stealing this flying Flying Dutchman thing before?”

More giggles from Pyrry's as yet unseen heavenly body, up in the heavens with MANIC's hip-shootin'-est heathen.

“Oh, that's it,” Unk cries to my shaking-up-at-him fist. “My little commandear, here, sez we're committing a case of skyway Robur-ry!”

I stammer, I spit, I sputter like a mutter. Is there NO time I can review anything for anybody and my ratzenkratzen relative up there doesn't get into the act?

No mutter, I SAID matter. Suddenly, but of course and on course not quick enough, I catch a mere glimpse of something headed toward my head, even as Unk yells “Downcoming!”

I hear that fine female voice say something along the lines of “I thought you were just going to land and hand that to him, darlink."

Which is Badenov before something heavy clunks me on the head at the speed of 32 feet purr a-Russian, and I'm out like a shot-down satellite. Thinking this time for sure I orbit it.

Okay. I'm back. Head like lead, but ... Hey, wazziss? Whoa, kinda wobbly.

Little brown yi by yi package, wrapped in string. Note on it in a feminine looking hand, obviously inscribed by a woman of stylus.

Note reads: “You poor dear. This won't happen again by your uncle's hand if I have anything to say about it. I do declare, sometimes I think the man's nothing but a big barrel of vinegar P. S.”

Yeah, I think, rubbing my numb noggin. That's one word for it. Okay, two. Vinegar pis -

Oh, wait. (Pregnant pause) She missed a period. Should read “ ... vinegar. P. S.” P. S. being for Pyrrholoxia Shamelady, no doubt flying around with Unk flight this moment.

Someday I gotta meet this bird. Tell her hanging around Unk tells me she's outta her tree and she oughta branch out, like whenever he asks, nest time.

Meanwhile, what's in this package? Whoops. A smaller note just flew outta her bigger one. Unk's scribble: “Hey, kid, here's the newest Hard Case for a hard head, U.”

My bruised bwain clears. No way a lil blow to the head's gonna make medulla! Rip the package apart, to find:

All off my noggin, I mean, all of a sudden a word balloon looms before my eyes for the Michael Koelsch cover above. Guy aiming his gun at the fleeing car fulla hoods who killed the lil minx in a mink's crying “Youse guys stole her life, and I'll never furget!”

I put my hand to my head. Like lightning I'm reading the entire book in minutes. Easy to do, too. Silverberg's quick, slick prose on these late 50's-oily '60's stories is in-dead killer!

Whoof. I been reading Silverberg since Revolt on Alpha Centauri for Scholastic Book Services many race to space moons ago. Man's been around, won all the sky-fi awards, and he's still at it. Feller wrote my fave'rit alien possession sky-fi short story, dreadsides, which is “Passengers.” Said tale can even be found adapted in a moldy oldie underground comic, Paranoia, whose inside cover to this day reekminds me what I want to do inflict on Unk after everything he's done to me today. Yeah, sad to say, the guy may have introduced me to James Bond novels, but right now I wanna turn him into a Jane bondaged.

Nothing but good feelings on this book, though. There's two brief stories plus the title longy, and all three are lean and mean, none more so than the lead, where a planted double joins a mob passing money that over a legit counter doesn't feit.

Then agun, maybe it's the fact the thing's by Robert Silverberg, whose Lost Cities and Vanished Civilizations got me reading about archaeology around the same time as Roy Chapman Andrews. This Bloody book could even make me forget my Unk's a dino-sore-ass of the worst odor.

Ah, dino dreck the heck, I just began reading the saved-fur-last Silverberg explanation on how he came to write these pretty swell suspensers, and words have slowed to normal reading speed. Sigh. Musta been that whonk on my head. So much for reading any of Stephen King's longest books in one Standing.

So, remind me, dear Temple of Schlockers, to next time tell ya all about when Andrews and Unk spozedly ran outta beer in the worst hell-hole of Asia, and flipped for who'd go for more. Andrews won. So, did Unk set out for suds? Naw. He put a gun to Andrews' head, said “You Gobi it!”

New Hard Case Crime or not, me, at that point, I'd have shot Unk for desert-shun!