Monday, November 18, 2013

Good Behavior

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Good Behavior (Mysterious Press, 1985).

Friends and readers, I'm so disappointed. For years and years, in forums and blogs, I have praised an amazing comic series written by John Wagner and Alan Grant for 2000 AD called Robo-Hunter, which is remarkable for the comedic piling-on of problem after problem atop our helpless protagonist. His schemes are beset by one calamitous issue after another, the situation never serious, but always hopeless. Knowing what I like so much about those stories, I'm dismayed, disappointed, and dadgum deflated that nobody ever thought to say to me, "Wow, if you enjoy Sam Slade's misadventures so much, then you really need to read Dortmunder."

Now, of course I'd heard of Donald E. Westlake's character of Parker, written under the pseudonym Richard Stark, and enjoyed the novels in that series that I tracked down. I wasn't entirely sure about a comedy version of that character, but I liked Westlake's work so much that I figured those would be worth a try. Dortmunder is a cynical and pessimistic burglar who has a bad feeling about every potential crime, and with good reason. The stakes are high, the scenarios are absurd, and when things start to go wrong, they start accelerating into spiraling chaos almost immediately. They're unpredictable and completely hilarious.

The one that I've enjoyed the most so far is 1985's Good Behavior, which begins with Dortmunder owing his life and freedom to a convent of vow-of-silence-taking nuns. They've rescued him from certain arrest because a young nun in their order has been abducted by her obscenely wealthy family, sort of Carrington-Ewing types whose patriarch won't accept that his daughter has devoted her life to something as repulsive as charity. Just getting into the stronghouse where she's being kept, and where a cult deprogrammer is attempting to break down her faith, is an over-complicated mess. Add in a crew who includes a twitchy, lecherous old man, favors owed to a pornographer who moonlights as her own model, a civil suit by a fish importer, and, this being the eighties, a battalion of Mack Bolan / Able Force / Baker Company mercenaries who just happen to be in the same place for entirely different reasons, and you've got an upside-down pyramid of problems for poor Dortmunder to juggle.

Suffice it to say that I love this series absolutely. I'm about to start a book called Don't Ask, which sounds like the most appropriate title in the world for a book about this put-upon hero. Gladly recommended.

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