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Dancing Aztecs Hardcover – October, 1976

4.2 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Westlake knows precisely how to grab a reader, draw him or her into the story, and then slowly tighten his grip until escape is impossible." --The Washington Post Book World

"Westlake has no peer in the realm of comic mystery novelists." --San Francisco Chronicle --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Donald E. Westlake (1933-2008) wrote over a hundred novels under his own name and pseudonyms, including Richard Stark. Many of his books have been made into movies, including The Hunter, which became the brilliant film noir Point Blank, and the 1999 smash hit Payback. The winner of the three Edgar Awards, he was named a Mystery Writers of America Grand Master, the highest honor bestowed by the society, in 1993. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 374 pages
  • Publisher: M Evans & Co (October 1976)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0871312212
  • ISBN-13: 978-0871312211
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.6 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,072,076 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I think I'd best treat this as an interrogation, in which I am not certain of the intent or attitude of the interrogator.

I was born Donald Edwin Westlake on July 12th, 1933 in Brooklyn, New York. My mother, Lillian, maiden name Bounds, mother's maiden name Fitzgerald, was all Irish. My father, Albert, his mother's maiden name being Tyrrell, was half Irish. (The English snuck in, as they will.) They were all green, and I was born on Orangeman's Day, which led to my first awareness of comedy as a consumer. I got over the unfortunate element of my birth long before my uncles did.

My mother believed in all superstitions, plus she made some up. One of her beliefs was that people whose initials spelled something would be successful in life. That's why I went through grammar school as Dewdrip. However, my mother forgot Confirmation, when the obedient Catholic is burdened with yet another name. So she stuck Edmond in there, and told me that E was behind the E of Edwin, so I wasn't DEEW, I was DEW. Perhaps it helped.

I attended three colleges, all in New York State, none to much effect. Interposed amid this schooling was two and a half years in the United States Air Force, during which I also learned very little, except a few words in German. I was a sophomore in three colleges, finally made junior in Harpur College in Binghamton, NY, and left academe forever. However, I was eventually contacted by SUNY Binghamton, the big university that Harpur College had grown up to become. It was their theory that their ex-students who did not graduate were at times interesting, and worthy to be claimed as alumni. Among those she mentioned were cartoonist Art Spiegelman and dancer Bill T. Jones, a grandfaloon I was very happy to join, which I did when SUNY Binghamton gave me a doctorate in letters in June 1996. As a doctor, I accept no co-pay.

I have one sister, one wife and two ex-wives. (You can't have ex-sisters, but that's all right, I'm pleased with the one I have.) The sister was named by my mother Virginia, but my mother had doped out the question of Confirmation by then--Virigina's two and half years younger than me, still--and didn't give her a middle name. Her Confirmation name was Olga, the only thing my mother could find that would make VOW. The usual mother-daughter dynamic being in play, my sister immediately went out and married a man whose name started with B.

My wife, severally Abigail Westlake, Abby Adams Westlake and Abby Adams, which makes her three wives right there, is a writer, of non-fiction, frequently gardening, sometimes family history. Her two published books are An Uncommon Scold and The Gardener's Gripe Book.

Seven children lay parental claims on us. They have all reached drinking age, so they're on their own.

Having been born in Brooklyn, I was raised first in Yonkers and then in Albany, schooled in Plattsburgh and Troy and Binghamton, and at last found Manhattan. (At least I was looking in the right state.) Abby was born in Manhattan, which makes it easier. We retain a rope looped over a butt there, but for the last decade have spent most of our time on an ex-farm upstate. It is near nothing, which is the point. Our nearest neighbor on two sides is Coach Farm, producer of a fine goat cheese I've eaten as far away as San Francisco. They have 750 goats up there on their side of the hill. More importantly, they have put 770 acres abutting our land into the State Land Conservancy, so it cannot be built on. I recommend everybody have Miles and Lillian Cann and Coach Farm as their neighbors.

I knew I was a writer when I was eleven; it took the rest of the world about ten years to begin to agree. Up till then, my audience was mainly limited to my father, who was encouraging and helpful, and ultimately influential in an important way.

Neophyte writers are always told, "write what you know," but the fact is, kids don't know anything. A beginning writer doesn't write what he knows, he writes what he read in books or saw in movies. And that's the way it was with me. I wrote gangster stories, I wrote stories about cowboys, I wrote poems about prospecting-in Alaska, so I could rhyme with "cold"-I wrote the first chapters of all kinds of novels. The short stories I mailed off to magazines, and they mailed them back in the self-addressed, stamped envelopes I had provided. And in the middle of it all, my father asked me a question which, probably more than any other single thing, decided what kind of writer I was going to be.

I was about fourteen. I'd written a science-fiction about aliens from another planet who come to Earth and hire a husband-wife team of big-game hunters to help them collect examples of every animal on Earth for their zoo back on Alpha Centauri or wherever. At the end of the story, they kidnap the hero and heroine and take them away in the spaceship because they want examples of every animal on Earth.

Now, this was a perfectly usable story. It has been written and published dozens of times, frequently with Noah's Ark somewhere in the title, and my version was simply that story again, done with my sentences. I probably even thought I'd made it up.

So I showed it to my father. He read it and said one or two nice things about the dialogue or whatever, and then he said, "why did you write this story?"

I didn't know what he meant. The true answer was that science-fiction magazines published that story with gonglike regularity and I wanted a story published somewhere. This truth was so implicit I didn't even have words to describe it, and therefore there was no way to understand the question.

So he asked it a different way: "What's the story about?" Well, it's about these people that get taken to be in a zoo on Alpha Centauri. "No, what's it about?" he said. "The old fairy tales that you read when you were a little boy, they all had a moral at the end. If you put a moral at the end of this story, what would it be?"

I didn't know. I didn't know what the moral was. I didn't know what the story was about.

The truth was, of course, that the story wasn't about anything. It was a very modest little trick, like a connect-the-dots thing on a restaurant place mat. There's nothing particularly wrong with connect-the-dots things, and there's nothing particularly wrong with this constructivist kind of writing, a little story or a great big fat novel with nothing and nobody in it except this machine that turns over and at the end this jack-in-the-box pops out. There's nothing wrong with that.

But it isn't what I thought I wanted to be. So that question of my father's wriggled right down into my brain like a worm, and for quite a while it took the fun out of things. I'd be sitting there writing a story about mobsters having a shootout in a nightclub office-straight out of some recent movie-and the worm would whisper: Why are you writing this story?

Naturally, I didn't want to listen, but I had no real choice in the matter. The question kept coming, and I had to try to figure out some way to answer it, and so, slowly and gradually, I began to find out what I was doing. And ultimately I refined the question itself down to this: What does this story mean to me that I should spend my valuable time creating it?

And that's how I began to become a writer.

- Ancram, NY (2001)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Dancing Aztecs is a heist/comedy/romance novel of breathtakingly elegant complexity. On the first page is a list of characters, and there are a couple of dozen main characters. Don't worry about bookmarking that list, though, you won't need to refer back to it. The characters are all introduced with skill and timing, and all have such a unique voice that the reader has no trouble following who is whom and what is going on.

The story is really quite simple. A shipment of sixteen replicas of a famous Aztec relic are sent to New York. Inside this shipment, cleverly disguised, is the real statue. Instead of being diverted at the airport as was planned, the shipment containing the genuine statue is delivered to a non-profit political group and given away as prizes.

So somebody in New York has a priceless Aztec relic and doesn't know it. And the people who arranged the shipment are looking for it.

And then the people who were supposed to be diverting the shipment figure out what's going on and start looking for the statue. And then the people who arranged the shipment start looking for the people who were supposed to have diverted the shipment. And then the people who actually received the shipment figure out what one of them has. And then...

This novel is a perfect portrayal of how the best laid plans go south. The lure of the golden million-dollar statue (this was written in the 1970′s, a million dollars was big money back then) infects everyone in its path with a kind of madness.

The novel is written in very short chapters (some less than a page long) and bounces back and forth between characters continually. It should be a confused, unreadable mess-but somehow Westlake carries it off, and he makes it look easy.
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Format: Hardcover
This is one of those books that, if you're in the groove for the story, can be read again and again. May be Westlakes best comic novel.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book is one crazy moment and laugh after another. it involves lots of characters, crazy twists, turns and off-the-wall meetings and situations. While sometimes it is hard to keep up with all the characters, it is definitely worth it and the ending is very interesting and one I did not predict. Westlake had me laughing and into the story from page one.

I think my favorite scenes are the one in Oscar's room on the night he is drinking and the boat scene with Mel and Wally. Both are hilarious with very funny dialogue.

This book is for any fan of crime fiction who likes suspense and needs a good laugh. I definitely recommend!
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Format: Hardcover
One of Westlake's very best. A priceless pre-Columbian dancing Aztec is stolen and shipped to New York with a dozen copies. Naturally it gets mixed up with the copies and several groups try to recover it. A scene on a boat, when Mel puts his foot in the sand-washing bucket is priceless. The scenes with Pedro puking his gulpe all over the pilot, and many others are wonderful. And only a master would think of describing the mad scramble on I 80 from the vantage of a high-flying hawk.. A very rich cast and plenty of funny situations. The ending is a surprise. I am currently on my fourth reading and enjoying is a much as ever.
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The previous reviewer and I obviously approached this book from different perspectives - and perhaps different expectations? So this is not a Dortmunder book, but in the hands of Mr Westlake second best is still better than most.

The book description tells all about the 16 copies of the Dancing Aztec - the antique and valuable little sculpture of which, because of a typical screw-up of thieves one happens to be not a copy but the real, pure gold, original, so I won't go into that. The thing is that the dead ends are the whole point of the chase, the to be scratched if you're keeping count, everybody hustling to find the ONE - some of them dancing it, the hustle also being a New York dance at the time. During which we meet around 20 characters - I did not actually count, but they are all noted in the introduction, including an observing hawk, and, can you believe such a clever writer, each one remaining absolutely in character - and each one has his/her story, all very entertaining. Westlake is the puppet master, and he never fails to pull the right strings. They meet, cross over, link, pass one another, and finally end up together. Plus by the author's sleight of hand, the original Dancing Aztec, all for the reader's pleasure to find out how. The chief oh so cool hustler who caused all the trouble charms us all, the banana dictatorship fakers hilariously hijack a plane to retrieve the money they were nefariously offered for the original, the other characters fall into place, and all endeth properly.

The fact of the matter is I am not a good enough reviewer to do this book justice. It is so intricate, so clever, and so amusing you have to read it yourself - you won't be sorry you did.

PS to Mysterious Press : please note there are still some Dortmunder books outstanding on Kindle.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Wore out my paperback, very happy this is available on Kindle. You are sure to enjoy reading this. Have fun.
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