Monday, December 23, 2013

What's the Worst That Could Happen?

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 What's the Worst That Could Happen? (Mysterious Press, 1996).

When I went to Amazon to get the link for the picture above, I was surprised to learn that this book was kind of adapted for a feature film a few years back. I say "kind of" because the main antagonist of the book, an industrialist called Max Fielding, is there, and played by Danny DeVito, but the protagonist isn't. This novel is one of Donald E. Westlake's Dortmunder books, with the hangdog thief stuck in one spiraling, ridiculous situation after another, but John Dortmunder was dumped from the movie and replaced by a wacky thief-with-a-heart-of-gold played by Martin Lawrence. I have absolutely no desire to watch such a thing. I sounds like it makes Robert Altman's bizarre 1970s-set, ending-changed Long Goodbye look like a slavishly faithful adaptation.

The book sees Dortmunder in another mess. On the day that his girlfriend gifts him a cheap ring, he gets caught by a multi-millionaire breaking into one of his homes. The industrialist was absolutely not supposed to be there; he's in the middle of chapter 11 reorganization and the house should have been closed and empty, but he needed a love nest for his affair with a Playboy playmate. Fielding holds Dortmunder at gunpoint and, when the police arrive and cuff our "hero," Fielding decides to claim that the ring is his, just to needle Dortmunder for having the moxie to dare to rob him.

After escaping, this quickly becomes a really sore point for Dortmunder, who doesn't have many resources, and none outside New York City, but it's a matter of pride. He is going to get that ring back from the globetrotting Fielding, and if he causes the big shot undue embarrassment and aggravation along the way, then so be it.

It's a really fun book, mostly quite unpredictable and deeply silly. I enjoyed it thoroughly and happily recommend it.

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