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God Save the Mark: A Novel of Crime and Confusion (Westlake, Donald) Hardcover – January 1, 2004

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"Kitchens of the Great Midwest" by J. Ryan Stradal
Each chapter tells the story of a single dish and character, at once capturing the zeitgeist of the Midwest, the rise of foodie culture, and delving into the ways food creates community and a sense of identity. See more

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About the Author

Donald E. Westlake is generally regarded as the greatest writer of comic crime fiction of all time. Many of his books have been made into movies, including The Hot Rock, Bank Shot, Cops and Robbers, and The Hunter, first filmed as the noir classic Point Blank with Lee Marvin and Angie Dickinson and then as Payback, starring Mel Gibson. He has won three Edgar Allan Poe Awards and has been named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America. He and his wife live in New York.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

ONE
 
 
Friday the nineteenth of May was a full day. In the morning I bought a counterfeit sweepstakes ticket from a one-armed man in a barbershop on West 23rd Street, and in the evening I got a phone call at home from a lawyer saying I'd just inherited three hundred seventeen thousand dollars from my Uncle Matt. I'd never heard of Uncle Matt.
As soon as the lawyer hung up I called my friend Reilly of the Bunco Squad at his house in Queens. "It's me," I said. "Fred Fitch."
Reilly sighed and said, "What have they done to you this time, Fred?"
"Two things," I said. "One this morning and one just now."
"Better watch yourself, then. My grandma always said troubles come in threes."
"Oh, my Lord," I said. "Clifford!"
"What's that?"
"I'll call you back," I said. "I think the third one already came."
I hung up and went downstairs and rang Mr. Grant's bell. He came to the door with a large white napkin tucked under his chin and holding a small fork upright in his hand, a tiny curled shrimp impaled on it. Which was a case of sweets to the sweet, Mr. Grant being a meek curled-shrimp of a man himself, balding, given to spectacles with steel rims, employed as a history teacher at some high school over in Brooklyn. We met at the mailboxes every month or so and exchanged anonymities, but other than that our social contact was nil.
I said, "Excuse me, Mr. Grant, I know it's dinnertime, but do you have a new roommate named Clifford?"
He blanched. Fork and shrimp drooped on his hand. He blinked very slowly.
Knowing it was hopeless, I went on anyway, saying, "Pleasant-looking sort, about my age, crewcut, white shirt open at the collar, tie loose, dark slacks." Over the years I've grown rather adept at giving succinct descriptions, unfortunately. I would have gone on and given estimates of Clifford's height and weight but I doubted they were needed.
They weren't. Shrimp at half-mast, Mr. Grant said to me, "I thought he was your roommate."
"He said there was a COD package," I said.
Mr. Grant nodded miserably. "Me, too."
"He didn't have enough cash in the apartment."
"He'd already borrowed some from Wilkins on the second floor."
I nodded. "Had a fistful of crumpled bills in his left hand."
Mr. Grant swallowed bile. "I gave him fifteen dollars."
I swallowed bile. "I gave him twenty."
Mr. Grant looked at his shrimp as though wondering who'd put it on his fork. "I suppose," he said slowly, "I suppose we ought to…" His voice trailed off.
"Let's go talk to Wilkins," I said.
"All right," he said, and sighed, and came out to the hall, shutting the door carefully after himself. We went on up to the second floor.
This block of West 19th Street consisted almost entirely of three- and four-story buildings with floor-through apartments sporting fireplaces, back gardens, and high ceilings, and how the entire block had so far missed the wrecker's sledge I had no idea. In our building, Mr. Grant had the first floor, a retired Air Force officer named Wilkins had the second, and I lived up top on the third. We all three were bachelors, quiet and sedentary, and not given to disturbingly loud noises. Of us, I was at thirty-one the youngest and Wilkins was much the oldest.
When Mr. Grant and I reached Wilkins' door, I rang the bell and we stood around with that embarrassed uneasiness always felt by messengers of bad tidings.
After a moment the door opened and there stood Wilkins, looking like the Correspondence Editor of the Senior Citizens' Review. He wore red sleeve garters with his blue shirt, a green eyeshade was squared off on his forehead, and in his ink-stained right hand he held an ancient fountain pen. He looked at me, looked at Mr. Grant, looked at Mr. Grant's napkin, looked at Mr. Grant's fork, looked at Mr. Grant's shrimp, looked back at me, and said, "Eh?"
I said, "Excuse me, sir, but did someone named Clifford come to see you this afternoon?"
"Your roommate," he said, pointing his pen at me. "Gave him seven dollars."
Mr. Grant moaned. Wilkins and I both looked at his shrimp, as though it had moaned. Then I said, "Sir, this man Clifford, or whatever his name is, he isn't my roommate."
"Eh?"
"He's a con man, sir."
"Eh?" He was squinting at me like a man looking across Texas at midday.
"A con man," I repeated. "Con means confidence. A confidence man. A sort of crook."
"Crook?"
"Yes, sir. A con man is someone who tells you a convincing lie, as a result of which you give him money."
Wilkins put his head back and looked at the ceiling, as though to stare through it into my apartment and see if Clifford weren't really there after all, in shirtsleeves, quietly going about the business of being my new roommate. But he failed to see him--or failed to see through the ceiling, I'm not sure which--and looked at me again, saying, "But what about the package? Wasn't it his?"
"Sir, there wasn't any package," I said. "That was the con. That is, the lie he told you was that there was a package, a COD package, and he--"
"Exactly," said Wilkins, pointing his pen at me with a little spray of ink, "exactly the word. COD. Cash on delivery."
"But there wasn't any package," I kept telling him. "It was a lie, to get money from you."
"No package? Not your roommate?"
"That's it, sir."
"Why," said Wilkins, abruptly outraged, "the man's a damn fraud!"
"Yes, sir."
"Where is he now?" Wilkins demanded, going up on tiptoe to look past my shoulder.
"Miles from here, I should think," I said.
"Do I get you right?" he said, glaring at me. "You don't even know this man?"
"That's right," I said.
"But he came from your apartment."
"Yes, sir. He'd just talked me into giving him twenty dollars."
Mr. Grant said, "I gave him fifteen." He sounded as mournful as the shrimp.
Wilkins said to me, "Did you think he was your roommate? Makes no sense at all."
"No, sir," I said. "He told me he was Mr. Grant's roommate."
Wilkins snapped a stern look at Mr. Grant. "Is he?"
"Of course not!" wailed Mr. Grant. "I gave him fifteen dollars myself!"
Wilkins nodded. "I see," he said. Then, thoughtfully, ruminatively, he said, "It seems to me we should contact the authorities."
"We were just about to," I said. "I thought I'd call my friend on the Bunco Squad."
Wilkins squinted again, under his eyeshade. "I beg your pardon?"
"It's part of the police force. The ones who concern themselves with the confidence men."
"You have a friend in this organization?"
"We met in the course of business," I said, "but over the years we've become personal friends."
"Then by all means," said Wilkins decisively. "I've never seen going through channels accomplish anything yet. Your friend it is."
So the three of us went on up to my place, Wilkins still wearing his eyeshade and carrying his pen, Mr. Grant still wearing his napkin and carrying his fork and shrimp. We entered the apartment and I offered them chairs but they preferred to stand. I called Reilly again, and as soon as I said who I was he said, "COD Clifford."
"What?"
"COD Clifford," he repeated. "I didn't connect the name at first, not till after you hung up. That's who it was, wasn't it?"
"It sounds about right," I said.
"He was some other tenant's new roommate."
"And a COD package had come."
"That's him, all right," Reilly said, and I could visualize him nodding at the telephone. He has a large head, with a thick mass of black hair and a thick bushy black mustache, and when he nods he does so with such judicious authority you can't help but believe he has just thought an imperishable truth. I sometimes think Reilly does so well with the Bunco Squad because he's part con man himself.
I said, "He got twenty dollars from me, fifteen from Mr. Grant on the first floor, and seven from Mr. Wilkins on the second."
Wilkins waved his pen at me, whispering hoarsely, "Make it twelve. For the official record, twelve."
Into the phone I said, "Mr. Wilkins says, for the official record make it twelve."
Reilly laughed while Wilkins frowned. Reilly said, "There's a touch of the con in everybody."
"Except me," I said bitterly.
"Some day, Fred, some psychiatrist is going to do a book on you and make you famous forever."
"Like Count Sacher-Masoch?"
I always make Reilly laugh. He thinks I'm the funniest sad sack he knows, and what's worse he tells me so.
Now he said, "Okay, I'll add your name to Clifford's sucker list, and when we get him you'll be invited to the viewing."
"Do you want a description?"
"No, thanks. We've got a hundred already, several with points of similarity. Don't worry, we'll be getting this one. He works too much, he's pushing his luck."
"If you say so." In my experience, which is extensive, the professional workers of short cons don't usually get caught. Which is nothing against Reilly and the others of the Bunco Squad, but merely reflects the impossibility of the job they've been given. By the time they arrive at the scene of the crime, the artist is invariably gone and the sucker usually isn't even sure exactly what happened. Aside from dusting the victim for fingerprints, there really isn't much the Reillys can do.
This time he had me give him my fellow pigeons' full names, assured me once again that our complaint would go into the bulging Clifford file downtown, and then he asked me, "Now, what else?"
"Well," I said, somewhat embarrassed to be telling about this in front of my neighbors, "this morning a one-armed man in a barbershop on West--"
"Counterfeit sweepstakes ticket," he said.
"Reilly," I said, "how is it you know all these people but you never catch any?"
"We got the Demonstration Kid, didn't we? And Slim Jim Foster? And Able Mabel?"
"All right," I said.
"Your one-armed man, now," Reilly said, "that's Wingy St. Charles. How come you tipped so soon?"
"This afternoon," I said, "I suddenly got a suspicion, you know the way I always do, five hours too late."
"I know," he said. "God, how I know."
"So I went up to the Irish Tourist Board office on East 50th Street," I said, "and showed it to a man there, and he said it was a fake."
"And you bought it this morning. Where?"
"In a barbershop on West 23rd Street."
"Okay. It's soon enough, he might still be working the same neighborhood. We've got a chance. Not a big chance, but a chance. Now, what else do you have?"
"When I came home," I said, "the phone was ringing. It was a man said he was a lawyer, Goodkind, office on East 38th Street. Said I'd just inherited three hundred seventeen thousand dollars from my Uncle Matt."
"Did you check with the family? Is Uncle Matt dead?"
"I don't have any Uncle Matt."
"Okay," said Reilly. "This one we get for sure. When do you go to his office?"
"Tomorrow morning, ten o'clock."
"Right. We'll give it five minutes. Give me the address."
I gave him the address, he said he'd see me in the morning, and we both hung up.
My guests were both staring at me, Mr. Grant in amazement and Wilkins with a sort of fixed ferocity. It was Wilkins who said, "Lot of money, that."
"What money?"
"Three hundred thousand dollars." He nodded at the phone. "What you're getting."
"But I'm not getting three hundred thousand dollars," I said. "It's another con game, like Clifford."
Wilkins squinted. "Eh? How's that follow?"
Mr. Grant said, "But if they give you the money…"
"That's just it," I said. "There isn't any money. It's a racket."
Wilkins cocked his head to one side. "Don't see it," he said. "Don't see where they make a profit."
"There's a thousand ways," I said. "For instance, they might talk me into putting all the money into a certain investment, where my so-called Uncle Matt had it, but there's a tax problem or transfer costs and they can't touch the capital without endangering the whole investment, so I have to get two or three thousand dollars in cash from somewhere else to pay the expenses. Or the money's in some South American country and we have to pay the inheritance tax in cash from here before they'll let the money out. There's a new gimmick every day, and ten new suckers to try it on."
"Barnum," suggested Wilkins. "One born a minute, two to take him."
"Two," I said, "is a conservative number."
Mr. Grant said, faintly, "Does this happen to you all the time?"
"I couldn't begin to tell you," I said.
"But why you?" he asked. "This is the first time anything like this ever happened to me. Why should it happen to you so much?"
I couldn't answer him. There just wasn't a single thing I could say in response to a question like that. So I stood there and looked at him, and after a while he and Wilkins went away, and I spent the evening thinking about the question Mr. Grant had asked me, and trying out various answers I might have given him, ranging from, "I guess that's just the breaks of the game," to, "Drop dead," and none of them was really satisfactory.
 
Copyright © 1967, 1995 by Donald E. Westlake
NO_CONTENT_IN_FEATURE

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Product Details

  • Series: Westlake, Donald
  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Forge Books; 1st edition (January 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0765309181
  • ISBN-13: 978-0765309181
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,501,621 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

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 36 people found the following review helpful By James N Simpson on August 17, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Written about 40 years ago this novel could easily be set in the current era. Fred Fitch is the ultimate mark, mark being target for con artists. He is constantly taken advantage of by strangers who can somehow see the word gullible written on his forehead. After years of being taken advantage of Fred is starting to think first before acting, well most of the time. So when he receives a phone call stating he has inherited half a million dollars (over three hundred thousand after tax) from his uncle Matt who he has never even heard of he knows he is being taken for a ride, so calls his friend who is a cop to meet him at the office of the caller. To his surprise the inheritance is genuine but that does not mean the con artists will stop now he has the inheritance. If anything more of them will come out of the woodwork as well as thugs and killers who want the inheritance money, you see his uncle was also a con artist and he stole from some heavyweights in the South America crime scene.

This is another great classic Westlake novel, as is another from that era Killy. Westlake's best novel of the modern era is the Ax, purchase it as well.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 26, 2004
Format: Hardcover
If you are a fan of Westlake, chances are you will buy this book no matter what the reviews - and good for you. Those who may have stumbled onto this for some reason may want to give this book a chance. If you enjoy a quick mystery/crime novel with a funny slant, especially one with a taste for the times during which it was written (this is a reprint of a very early novel by the author), then you may very well enjoy this book. It is also a great introcuction to a writer who continues his successful run of novels (both humourous and grave) to this date. Well worth checking out.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Harriet Klausner #1 HALL OF FAME on December 31, 2003
Format: Paperback
Copy editor Fred Fitch is so famous as the king of marks, con artists come from everywhere to take him for a buck or three. Grifters visiting New York include Fred as one of their prime tourist stops for no vacation is complete without taking Fred for a ride. Fred is not insane, but he believes in the basic goodness of humanity so that he trusts people until that person rips him off.
Fred is still small potatoes though an important merit badge award for con artists until he inherits over $300,000 from Uncle Matt. Though he never heard of an Uncle Matt, Fred is now a desirable mark beyond honorarium status. Everyone wants a piece of Fred or at least his loot. However, someone wants more than just Fred's inheritance, that individual may have killed Uncle Matt and wants Fred dead too.
Though some of the humor seems a bit dated and even naive, readers can see why this reprint won an Edgar for Best Novel in 1967. The story line combines humor with suspense as Fred is a unique character whose conned from the beginning of the story line in a downtown barbershop to the end of the fun tale. Though the ultimate target, Fred makes GOD SAVE THE MARK works because he is likable and readers will appreciate his trusting nature even though his naiveté is mindful of Einstein's definition of insanity. A new audience will enjoy Donald E. Westlake's 1960s New York joy ride.
Harriet Klausner
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By J Scott Morrison HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 1, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I've owned two previous copies of this hilarious novel by the best comic mystery writer I've ever encountered, Donald Westlake. I bought it when it first came out in the late 1960s, later had it in paperback, and now it's been reprinted again. Fred Fitch has to be one of the funniest protagonists in a mystery novel ever. OK, he's drawn a bit unrealistically -- I mean, has anyone ever been as dumb and yet articulate as he? I doubt it. But the notion of his being the easiest mark ever (hence the title) is a hilarious set-up for a book, and Westlake makes you chortle (well, I chortle, but perhaps you guffaw or snort) on practically every page.

A definite recommendation, particularly for those Westlake fans who may have missed this one the first time around.

Scott Morrison
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Kindle Customer on August 13, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Most of Westlake's crime capers are from the point of view of the criminal, while this is from the perspective of the perpetual crime victim. The only reason that con men don't sing folk songs about Fred is that they don't sing folk songs. He falls for everything and realizes it just a second too late.

The only time he actually thinks that maybe he's being conned is when he hears from a lawyer that he's inherited a fortune (in those days, $100K was a small fortune) from an unknown uncle. With the help (or not) of a cynical cop friend, the cynical cop's sweet girlfriend, and his late uncle's companion, a former stripper, all of whom may or may not themselves be double-crossing him, Fred confusedly makes his way through the sudden world of danger that this inheritance landed him into.

The usual Westlake twists and turns, humor, and beautiful setups and descriptions of moments are all here. I wouldn't call this one of his very, very best, but even one of his better ones is enough to earn a solid five stars.

If you aren't familiar with Westlake, this is a great place to start, especially for free. If the price changes, I'd recommend starting either with one of the Dortmunder books or Spy in the Ointment, but while it's free, grab it.

It's not a con.

This time.
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