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The Hot Rock Paperback – April 1, 2001

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“Westlake’s novel comes awesomely close to the ultimate in comic, big-caper novels; it’s so filled with¼ action and imagination.” —The New York Times Book Review

 

“Westlake is a master hand at the running gag¼ this Westlake brought on such a case of the laughing bends that I required decompression.” —The Washington Post

 

“[Westlake’s] most durable character¼. Whatever can go wrong in the man’s elaborate attempts at larceny invariably does, and in the most amusing and unexpected ways possible.” —Los Angeles Times

--This text refers to the Kindle Edition edition.

About the Author

DONALD E. WESTLAKE has written numerous novels over the past thirty-five years 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. He penned the Hollywood scripts for The Stepfather and The Grifters, which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Screenplay. The winner of three Edgar awards and a Mystery Writers of America Grand Master, Donald E. Westlake was presented with The Eye, the Private Eye Writers of America's Lifetime Achievement Award, at the Shamus Awards. He lives with his wife, Abby Adams, in rural New York State.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: The Mysterious Press (April 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0446677035
  • ISBN-13: 978-0446677035
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (173 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #140,681 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

80 of 81 people found the following review helpful By D. Kaplan on August 8, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Within a few hours of being released on parole, John Dortmunder, a small-time thief and con artist is embroiled in a new caper. He has been commissioned to steal a valuable emerald for a newly-formed small African nation. John handpicks the men who will assist him in this heist, each of whom brings their special skills to the job at hand and their off-center behavioral traits. This is not exactly your gang that couldn't shoot straight. Rather, these misfits just seem to be the victims of events often beyond their control. No matter how much inventive planning goes into each robbery, they never seem to walk away with the prize. It is constantly back to the drawing board for Dortmunder and each robbery calls for more innovative and daring methods.
At times, the dialogue reads like the old "who's on first, what's on second" routine made famous by Abbott and Costello. At other times, the humor is much more subtle. Either way, you will find yourself chuckling or, if you are in the safety of your own home, laughing out loud.
Living in New York, I was amazed at how well Mr. Westlake knows the city and the outer boroughs. Having grown up in a rather obscure part of one of these boroughs, I think that unbeknownst to me, Mr. Westlake must have lived next door to me. He can describe stores and houses on the smallest side street with pinpoint accuracy.
This is not the type of book that I would normally seek out. However, I had recently read a short story by Mr. Westlake that caught my fancy. I liked the style of writing so much that I decided to try one of his books.
If you like a well written action caper that will have you laughing throughout, I suggest you pick up a copy of "The Hot Rock." As for me, I am going to order the next few books in the Dortmunder series as soon as I submit this review.
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38 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Ivy on April 25, 2001
Format: Paperback
If you haven't devoured the whole Dortmunder series by now, wait no longer: start with this one, and as soon as your stomach muscles recover, move on to the rest. This is the kickoff to the funniest mystery series ever written.
Our hero is Dortmunder, a very recent ex-con. His opponent is the Balabomo Emerald, a gem with a history, a price on its head, and, apparently, a nasty sense of humor. Hired by the representative of an African nation that wants the jewel for religious and political reasons, Dortmunder assembles a team of the finest, funniest men ever to make a dishonest dollar. They make attempt after attempt (as the blurb says, giving new meaning to the term repeat offender) at the job, striking by helicopter, train, and mesmerism, among others. Any one of the plans should succeed. But fate - or the emerald - has other ideas.
The plot is only part of the humor, though. In a way, the Dortmunder series is very like Terry Pratchett's Discworld series; they both rely on language and character as much as situations for laughs, and they both get incredible results from the strategy.
Seriously, this book (and the series it spawned) is a better antidepressant than any pharmaceutical I've ever encountered. If you're just now starting here, wow, do I envy you. (But how did you live this long without Dortmunder?)
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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 31, 2003
Format: Paperback
If you have not yet read The Hot Rock, you have an amazing treat ahead of you. With brilliant plotting, amusing characters and a strong sense of irony, The Hot Rock makes side-tickling fun of just about everything you can imagine. This book also introduces the character, John Archibald Dortmunder, who stars in the marvelous series of books that followed this one.
Dortmunder is about to get out of prison on parole, and is looking forward to the $300 that another inmate will pay him for his old cell. That plan is scotched when the warden decides to personally escort Dortmunder out of the prison. So there he is with regret for his lost $300 and poor prospects. Then it gets worse! A Cadillac chases him onto the sidewalk against a wall. And that's just the first three and a half pages!
Dortmunder's old pal, Andy Kelp, has lined up a job that requires Dortmunder to do the planning for the caper. A former British colony in Africa has recently become two independent nations, Talabwo and Akinzi, each run by a different tribe. The Akinzi have possession of the Balabomo Emerald, worth $500,000, and the UN Ambassador from Talabwo, Major Patrick Ito, is offering $30,000 a man (for up to five men) to retrieve the emerald which is now residing in the New York Coliseum at a Pan-African display. Dortmunder needs money, so he decides to take the job . . . if the major will pay a little walking around money in the meantime.
Soon, Dortmunder has developed a brilliant plan that requires some special props, which the major provides. Into the Coliseum go four of the five, and three return . . . minus the emerald. After this setback, the plot starts to get really complicated.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Untouchable on September 6, 2001
Format: Paperback
When a valuable emerald is on display in New York City, it presents an opportunity for those who feel it's rightfully theirs, to steal it. The emerald in question is a religious icon, owned by a small African nation. A neighbouring African nation believes it's theirs and they want it back, so they hire John Dortmunder for the job of retrieving it. John Dortmunder is a master thief and has a knack for planning, but can't do it all himself, so he needs to call on others for their expertise. This is when the fun really begins.
What starts out as a simple case of robbery quickly develops into a comedy of errors as unforeseen circumstance follows plain bad luck. John Dortmunder and his men become determined to succeed at their task, which leads to a series of events ranging from amusing to farcical.
The offbeat characters portrayed in the book add an extra dimension of humour and helps create an upbeat atmosphere throughout. There's a car nut who, of course, is their getaway driver, a gentle and possibly just a bit loopy (toot-toot) model train lover, a Casanova-type pretty boy and a stock standard right-hand-man. All of them thoroughly professional yet, sort of oozing a not-quite-right feeling about them.
We're treated to a light-hearted caper in and around New York City in the book that introduces John Dortmunder to us. You can't help but like these rogues as they stumble from bad situation to worse. It's an amusing comedy that should have you smiling as you read the last page.
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