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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hilarious., May 12, 2005
sb-lynn (Santa Barbara, California United States) - See all my reviews
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This is a very funny book. It's the latest installment in the series about John Dortmunder, who's misadventures in crime never cease to amuse.

Summary, no spoilers:

Arnie Albright is New York fence who comes up with the plan for the perfect crime. While at a Club Med, he meets billionaire and jerk extraordinaire, Preston Fareweather. He is mistreated by Fareweather (who isn't?), and decides to get revenge.

Fareweather is hiding out from process servers who are trying to contact him at the behest of four angry ex-wives. He has not been to his New York apartment in over two years, and doesn't plan to return anytime soon.

Arnie contacts his buddy, Dortmunder, and they decide to round up the usual gang, and burglarize Fareweather's apartment and steal his BMW....since he isn't around.

As usual, with any Dortmunder scheme, anything and everything goes wrong. Enter New Jersey mobsters, mishaps at the OJ (Dortmunder's favorite bar), and the newest member of the gang, a naive but enthusiastic 19 year old named Justin. And of course the important lesson that timing is everything.

This book is highly recommended. It's funny and satisfying, and you are left with a big smile on your face when you finish the last page. Westlake at his best.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Funny and lighthearted!, July 18, 2005
John Dortmunder leads his crew, a cast of fascinating corkscrewed burglars. Their plan: to rob the Manhattan penthouse of billionaire reprobate Preston Fareweather, which just happens to be filled with priceless art.

Arnie Albright, is a recovering obnoxious person and fence whose family has stepped in and sent him to Club Med in the hopes that he'd become a more likable person. While at Club Med, Arnie had met an ever more repugnant guy, Preston Fareweather. A self-righteous financier, Fareweather is in exile at the Club, hiding from his five irate ex-wives whom are seeking his fortune. Fareweather in an attempt to avoid U.S. process servers flees his luxury penthouse apartment on New York's Fifth Avenue.

While Dortmunder plans the robbery and tracks down Raphael Medrick, a failed manager of the O.J. Bar and Grill and a producer of dreadful music, Fareweather uses women and loiters on the beach.

Events unfold in a tantalizing sequence when Dortmunder and his crew gather at their usual place, the backroom of the O.J. Bar and Grill on Amsterdam Avenue. Although Dortmunder receives the shock of his life when he discovers that another bunch of dangerous thieves --- a New Jersey branch of the mob is planning on stealing everything from the bar and drive it out of business.

Before they can disengage Fareweather of his treasures, the O.J. Bar and Grill must be saved from the mob!

Author Donald Westlake has certainly turned the table on crime, thus the saying: crime doesn't pay... well especially for John Dortmunder and his crew. "Watch Your Back!" will have readers rolling on the floor before they reach the end!

Reviewed by Betsie
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Westlake's Dortmunder and crew may have a tough time making crime pay but are always worth their weight in gold for laughs, September 21, 2006
Donald Westlake a gift for comic timing. It's the same kind of deadpan humor that you could have seen in an old Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton film, and yet it never degenerates into broad slapstick. The latest Dortmunder comic mystery is no exception. Westlake as always, crafts a villain so slimy, one Preston Fareweather, that you just want something - anything, to happen to him. And it does - John Dortmunder and his merry band of criminal misfits.

As you follow the misadventures of Dortmunder and crew from one catastrophe to another, you find yourself secretly rooting to just once, let them (actually the crooks !) score. Westlake really does prove with this loveable band of hapless bad guys, that while there is a certain amount of satisfaction and laughs along the way, they somehow just can't really make crime pay. In fact I've often wondered myself why they don't all just pack it in and find a nice steady job in a shoe store or flipping burgers. At the end of the day they'd probably be way ahead! But of course then we wouldn't have the pleasure of awaiting whatever calamity will befall them in Westlake's next comic masterpiece.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dortmunder is back!, July 4, 2005
Bruce Trinque (Amston, CT United States) - See all my reviews
Dortmunder and his gang of not very threatening (or competent) thieves is back, and the good news is that "Watch Your Back" is a welcome improvement over the rather flat "Road to Ruin". This time, the planned heist is a raid on an art-filled penthouse apartment whose owner is temporarily absent, hiding from an army of ex-wives. Like so many Dortmunder victims, he is so despicable that the reader cannot hope that he does get robbed. But, as usual, there are complications. In this case, the main complication is that the Dortmunder gang's favorite bar and meeting place has been taken over by the Mob and looks to become extinct in the near future, meaning that the gang may have to resort to holding planning sessions in Dortmunder's livining room, and nobody wants that. So, first, Dortmunder and his friends must find a way to thwart the Mob and save the bar. And in the end, everything comes together in a complex, not entirely expected, and satisfying conclusion.

"Watch Your Back!" may not be quite the equal of "The Hot Rock" or "The Bank Shot", but it nonetheless is another funny romp on the wrong side of the law.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dortmunder takes on the mob and a penthouse apartment, June 6, 2005
A fence and a thoroughly unpleasant human being, Arnie Albright sets the new John Dortmunder caper in motion. A man who "finds himself so disgusting, he shaves with his back to the mirror," Albright calls his sometime burglar associate Dortmunder immediately on his return from Club Med. His relatives, who were about to kill him on general principles, sent him there as an intervention to improve his personality. Predictably, Albright hated the place, particularly the sun and the ocean, but he did have the good fortune to meet someone even more dislikable than himself.

Preston Fareweather is condemned to remain at Club Med indefinitely, avoiding his ex-wives' process servers and amusing himself tormenting the vacationing gold diggers. At home in his Manhattan penthouse apartment is a fabulous art collection, all but unguarded.

Meanwhile, something bad is happening at the O.J. Bar and Grill, where Dortmunder and his confederates have always met in the back room to work out their jobs. The back room is now off limits and some New Jersey mobsters are hanging around ruining business. On purpose.

The narrative, as wry and hilarious as ever, focuses primarily on Dortmunder, a man with two missions, burglary and saving the O.J. But frequent digressions encompass other points of view: Fareweather, his latest vacationing opportunist, the O.J. owners past and present, Dortmunder's usual cronies and a new one, a young eager beaver who promises to endow future capers with a puppyish sense of fun. And, as always, the writing is great; the characters' eccentricities organic rather than gimmicky, the dialogue snappy and economical, the plot tidily constructed to supply many fateful, funny, disastrous twists and leave not a single loose end.

- Portsmouth Herald
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bad Luck and a Crew of Loveable Rogues, June 1, 2005
Bookreporter (New York, New York) - See all my reviews
Many years ago, Donald Westlake made himself a promise that he would never write two novels in a row starring his bad luck burglar, John Dortmunder. Well, now he's broken that promise with WATCH YOUR BACK! which follows on the heels of last year's Dortmunder tale THE ROAD TO RUIN.

And it is great news for mystery fans that he did.

Westlake, along with Ed McBain, Elmore Leonard and Lawrence Block, has rightfully earned a place as one of the greatest American mystery writers of all time. Author of more than 50 books and a Mystery Writers of America Grand Master, Westlake knows crime. His Parker novels, written under the pseudonym Richard Stark, are pure hard-boiled noir. His stand-alone novels, like THE AX and THE HOOK, are masterful literary works of darkness, desperation and suspense.

Then there is John Dortmunder, described in a Westlake short story many years ago as "a guy who just keeps slipping the mind of Lady Luck." What delights fans of the series is not the crime, but the remarkable bad luck that follows Dortmunder and his crew of lovable rogues. Besides being funny and lighthearted, the Dortmunder series is the literary equivalent of the Hollywood "road trip" movies. We can't wait to go along with these guys and see how they pull off the perfect heist, which, of course, ends up being far from perfect in the end.

WATCH YOUR BACK! is the 12th novel in the series and one of the best. Early on, we are reintroduced to Dortmunder's men. There is Stan Murch, socially responsible car thief who, since he is driving, will always pour salt into his beer to revive the head and limit his alcohol intake. Then there is Andy Kelp, the upbeat and easygoing lock man, able to breeze past any alarm or safe.

And no Dortmunder story would be complete without Tiny, whose "body appeared to be the size and softness of a Hummer, in broad brown slacks and a green polo shirt, as though he was trying to disguise himself as a golf course." Tiny is needed for "heavy lifting" and in case anybody has to be "rolled off a roof."

This time around the boys are given a sure thing by another series regular, Arnie Albright, the fence. Arnie is a recovering obnoxious person just back from rehab in Club Med, where he met an ever more obnoxious rich guy, Preston Fareweather. Fareweather is in exile at Club Med, hiding from numerous ex-wives seeking his fortune. Needing to avoid U.S. process servers and courts, Fareweather leaves his luxury penthouse apartment on New York's Fifth Avenue empty. And it just happens to be filled with priceless art.

Could it be any simpler for a crew of professional thieves? But, alas, Lady Luck once again has other things on her mind when it comes to the dour and sober Dortmunder.

When Dortmunder calls a meet to "get the string together" at their usual place, the backroom of the O.J. Bar and Grill on Amsterdam Avenue, he receives a bad shock when he discovers that another bunch of dangerous thieves --- mob guys from Tony Soprano's New Jersey --- are trying to "bust out the joint," meaning they plan on stealing everything from the bar and drive it out of business.

Westlake describes one mobster as "a cocky bantamweight featuring so much lush, oiled, wavy black hair lifting over his ears to undulate back around his head that he looked like he was wearing Mercury's winged helmet."

Westlake proves over and over again in his descriptions and dialogue that he is not only a grand master of mystery, but also can write hilarious comedy.

Rollo, the faithful bartender, informs Dortmunder: "there are people around here right now, what they are, they're criminals." Dortmunder reminds Rollo that "we're criminals" as well. "Yeah, John, I know," Rollo says. "But they're organized."

Of course, Dortmunder is nothing if not a creature of habit, and how can you be expected to get the string together if you can't meet in your regular joint? So before Fareweather can be liberated of his treasures, the O.J. must be liberated from the mob.

What ensues is comic mayhem on both fronts.

Westlake captures perfectly here the way New Yorkers talk. If you walk the streets of the city, you can hear these guys. For example, in one brilliant scene, Stan steals a big semi rig, just minutes after the driver climbs down after a long trip. The driver is standing on the sidewalk. "Say, pal," one of the locals said, "you truck is movin." That's exactly what you might hear on Canal Street at least a few times a day.

This is a comic series where you always want to go along with these guys for the ride, even if Stan has to steal a few vehicles along the way. Crime has never been so much fun or funny; even if it doesn't exactly pay the way it should for John Dortmunder and his crew.

WATCH YOUR BACK! is a wonderful book. Read it, relax and enjoy.

--- Reviewed by Tom Callahan
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Even thieves can be good guys...kinda, May 19, 2005
David Roy (Vancouver, BC) - See all my reviews
Watch Your Back is the first John Dortmunder book I've ever read. If this is any indication of Donald Westlake's ability, then I will be reading some more soon. He has shown that he is one of the masters of the "caper" novel. I have no idea how Watch Your Back compares to Westlake's other books, but I found it greatly enjoyable, if a bit uneven at times. There's no mystery involved, but there's a lot of fun, along with the coincidences that make novels like this enjoyable.

The back room of the O.J. Bar & Grill is the usual meeting place for John Dortmunder and his gang of thieves make their plans. When their usual fence, Arnie Albright, comes back from Club Med with information about an apartment loaded with riches but empty of anybody else, they try and get together there to finalize everything. Unfortunately, it looks like the Mob is moving in on the bar, and Dortmunder can't have that. Preston Fareweather is a filthy rich man on the run from a pack of ex-wives, staying down at Club Med and cruelly toying with women and everybody else who comes near him. His apartment lies empty most of the time, and makes a perfect target. But Dortmunder can't get his mind off of the O.J, and works to rid it of the Mob as they get the heist ready too. Everything comes together as both the Mob and Fareweather learn that you don't mess with John Dortmunder.

This book would probably be shelved in the mystery section of the book store, but it certainly isn't that. This is a classic caper novel, and Westlake does it with style. Dortmunder is a fun character, though he isn't exactly the main character. Watch Your Back (and, perhaps, Westlake's other novels?) is more of an ensemble piece, with Dortmunder just being the lead guy. He is the one who insists that something needs to be done with the O.J, but otherwise Westlake treats him as just one of the many colourful characters in this novel. And there are quite a few of them.

Probably the funniest for me was Tiny, the big man who orders a limo when he needs to go places because taxis are too small for him. He can be rough when he needs to be or when he's irritated (which is why the others don't want him to find out about the bar until he is safely away from there). He's also quite matter of fact with a hint of menace behind his tone. When he speaks calmly, that's when you'd better watch out. He has a cute relationship with Judson, the new kid on the block. He sort of takes Judson under his wing with some advice, especially about not volunteering too often. He was probably my favourite character in the book.

That's not to say he was the only good one, though. The rest of the gang definitely have their moments too. They all speak in a distinctive way which makes them identifiable and they reek of New York City (which is a good thing, since the series is set there). Westlake manages to catch all of their voices perfectly. Especially fun is when they're talking on cell phones and have to talk around what they mean because they don't want anything incriminating going out on a wireless.

Where the book falls down slightly is in the bad guy department. The situation with Preston down at Club Med is amusing for a while, but I found the book dragging a little bit when he was around, which is hard to do with chapters this short. The character was supposed to be annoying, but Westlake didn't quite walk that fine line between annoying and fun to read about and just annoying. The whole Florida sequence with Preston just sat there on the page. On the other hand, there are the Mob characters, who aren't really shown much. Unfortunately, when they are around, they are bad Sopranos imitations. Granted, the comparison is slightly intentional (the back cover blurb actually says that the main Mob character is a "would-be Tony Soprano"), but Westlake takes the parody a bit too far. There is not a lot of bad language in the book, but whenever the Mob characters are on the page, the f-word is featured almost twice a sentence. I found that the parody fell flat.

Other than the Mob, Westlake's prose fits the genre perfectly. It serves its purpose, moves the story along, and occasionally comes out with a zinger (the old woman minding her own business in the airplane is a perfect example that I won't spoil, but look for it if you read the book). The story is told in a breezy way that moves quickly. You won't be spending a lot of time on this book. However, I think that's the point. The chapters are short, the type is big, and the book is only 320 pages. Light and breezy can be fun too, and Watch Your Back is definitely that.

The only other minor problem could just be a symptom of the genre itself, and thus won't bother fans. The storylines tie together with a massive series of coincidences that, while fun, strain the disbelief a little bit. I laughed when they happened, but in hindsight, the ending suffered from too much happenstance. Check your brain at the door when you get to the ending, and you will enjoy it too. It would have meant more and been even funnier if we had gotten to know the Mob guys a bit better (and if they hadn't been bad parodies instead of real characters).

All in all, Watch Your Back is a really good book. Enjoyable in all the right places and with a few not very annoying faults, you'll have an entertaining time reading this book.

David Roy
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic Westlake, Be Prepared to Laugh, April 6, 2005
You have to wonder how John Dortmunder manages to get through life without stepping in front of a truck or something else. On the other hand we have to be glad that he hasn't (so far at least) because it's nice to see someone whose life is more screwed up than ours. It's probably also a good thing that he's a crook. If he were just the standard hourly worker or whatever it is that would suit his mental capabilities, reading wouldn't be nearly as much fun. We can only hope that the real crooks out there are in the same class.

In this, the 12th Dortmunder novel, he's collected the usual misfits to go out after an art collection. Then it turns out that their favorite watering hole, where they plan their capers has mob trouble.

So the task is simple, rob the art while throwing the mob out of the bar. I'll leave it to you to find out how they do this, well, how they plan to go about doing it, well, never mind, just be prepared to laugh a lot.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Hot Prufrock, June 26, 2006
L. E. Cantrell (Vancouver, British Columbia Canada) - See all my reviews
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets, the muttering retreats of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels and sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells; streets that follow like a tedious argument of insidious intent to lead you to an overwhelming question ... What rough beast is slouching toward the O.J. Bar & Grill?

Why, who else but John Dortmunder, discount-rack mastermind and Louis Napoleon of Crime? On the first page of "Watch Your Back," Dortmunder enters the O.J. in a perfectly routine way to do what he routinely does, plan a crime. Tonight's proposed caper, though, evaporates before it can even start. (Routine, again, for even if Dortmunder should hear the mermaids singing, each to each, I do not think they will sing to him.) With no crime to plan, it hardly seems worthwhile to stay, so Dortmunder slouches home.

But the next time he steps into the O.J., he meets something unthinkable--change!

"What was going on? Was it a wake around here? Nobody wore a black armband, but the faces on the regulars were long enough. They, all of the them, men and the women's auxiliary, too, were hunched over their drinks with that thousand-yard stare that suggests therapy is no longer an option. In short, the place looked exactly like that section of the socialist realist mural where the workers have been utterly shafted by the plutocrats. Dortmunder looked up, half-expecting to see top hats and cigars in the gloom up there, but nothing."

This disturbing discovery leads by a series of incremental steps including, but not limited to a sojourn at Club Med, an alimony exile, a bust-out, a fence transformed, a younger son attempting to achieve success in the family business, a cabal of ex-wives, a serial betrayer betrayed, and a big-money score with unforeseen result--an all-too routine thing for Dortmunder, alas--that lead the low-rent mastermind and his seedy associates ... to a couple of guys stealing a pig. All this, mind you, with an inevitability even Sophocles or Euripides might envy.

And it's funny, too.

I find myself reading quite a few mysteries these days; it beats measuring out my life with coffee spoons. Oh, they are satisfactory enough, not "Hamlet," nor are meant to be. The average practitioner of the mystery novel form is, well, average. Prose lying between the covers of most mysteries is deferential, glad to be of use, politic, cautious and meticulous; full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse; at times, indeed, almost ridiculous-- But occasionally there is a writer who can write, really write, someone who has mastered the tools of the profession, rhetoric, dialogue, plot development, pacing, characterization--in short, all the things banished from literary fiction during our lifetimes. Donald E. Westlake is just such a writer. In spades.

For proof that Westlake is much more than just a journeyman wordsmith, consider how he puts these thoughts of a bright young man happily embarked on a new career:

"If everything he did didn't happen to be breaking some law or another--mail fraud, misuse of bulk rate, identity theft of the endorsements, plagiarism, sale of inappropriate material to minors, on and on--all of this activity would be very like a job. But it was better than a job. It was a world, a world he'd always believed had to exist somewhere, but hadn't known where to find. So it had found him."

Or these of a not quite so young man less happy with his job choice, one sentence in a breathless, agitated, sub-clausal hurry:

"From the moment Preston phoned him, a little after midnight, waking him from what he had to admit was in any case a troubled sleep, Alan found that Thursday, the nineteenth of August, was the most hellish day of his entire life, as well as the longest, and only partly because so much of the day consisted of travel, which in addition to the normal irritations implicit in the very word 'travel,' was chockablock with extra aggravations, due both to the unforeseen nature of the travel involved and to its abnormalities--leaving a Club Med on a week day, for instance, just to begin with."

I grow old ... I grow old ... I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled. And every new Westlake I shall read, even as in the room the women come and go, talking of Michelangelo.

Five stars ... and a peach for Tom Elliott.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Westlake at his mature best, February 12, 2010
Mal Warwick (Berkeley, California) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Watch Your Back! (The Dortmunder Novels Book 13) (Kindle Edition)
There are two prerequisites for reading and enjoying the Dortmunder novels by the amazingly prolific Donald Westlake: (1) you enjoy watching a fiendishly clever plot unfold, and (2) you love to laugh.

In his 75 years -- Westlake died on the last day of the year 2008 -- Westlake wrote more than 100 novels and a passel of other books as well. Included were a dozen novels about the hapless career burglar, John Dortmunder, and his cronies, Stan Murch, Andy Kelp, Tiny, and assorted significant others and hangers-on. "Watch Your Back!", published in 2005, is a good example of the lot.

The plot of this book is so convoluted that creating a summary strikes me as a daunting task. Besides, just knowing the plot would spoil the experience of reading it. "Watch Your Back!" is a whole lot of fun. From time to time, I simply couldn't stop laughing.

(From Mal Warwick's Blog on Books)
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