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Review: The Hot Rock by Donald E Westlake

This is not my usual sort of book, but I thought I’d throw in a brief review of it anyway, as it was such a fun read.

The Dortmunder series was recommended to me by my friend James. This first in the series begins with Dortmunder having just been released from prison, when he runs into an old associate of his, Kelp.  Or rather, Kelp almost literally runs into him.  Kelp brings with him the offer of a job: An African nation wants their emerald back from the New York museum in which it is displayed. This is like the story of the Stone of Scone, but funnier and more complicated than just sticking the stone in the back of a car and hoofing off with it.

Dortmunder has been recruited to be the brains of the operation.  As Kelp and Dortmunder talk through the possibilities regarding the gang they need to put together, there are some comedic asides about the various characters who are otherwise indisposed such as the driver who ran into a plane and the lock breaker who accidentally released a lion.  Having discounted the non-starters they are left with a crack team of five.  Apart from themselves they recruit Greenwood the hero, Murch the nerdy driver and Chefwick the lock breaker.  What could possibly go wrong with this team of highly effective pros?

The joke is that although they are ingeniously clever at most of the things they do, one major setback usually befalls them just as they have got over the most complicated part of the plot.  What starts off as a simple but meticulously planned spring from the museum turns into a farce as one of the gang miscalculates the number of flights of stairs he has taken. From here on in, things get progressively more complicated.  They break into and out of places in pursuit of the emerald, but it seems that it is always one step ahead of them.

There are lots of very visual descriptions of running around – and even a comedy double take of a sweeping spotlight. The plots are ingenious and the twists unexpected: several, such as the one involving smaller vehicles inside larger ones, really made me smile.

It’s a quick read and reminded me of being a child reader again, when books were uncomplicated and fast paced and funny.  I seem to remember that in those days, all the books I read were either comedies, adventures or school stories.  It reminds me of giving Lovely Daughter #2 A Monster Calls to read the other day.  She was so disappointed that the writing was so small.  I said, “I think this is the way life is going to be from now on.”




  1. Oh Denise you have touched upon one of my favourite authors of all time! (Admittedly I have only really read his comedy capers though). I first read his book “A New York Dance” (which was published as “Dancing Aztecs” in the US) when I was 13 (I associate it with Michael Jackson’s album thriller – I guess that’s what I was listening to at the time). I then went on to the Dortmunder books and they are so well characterised and brilliantly plotted for the comedy of errors which alwasy ensues – impossible not to get caught up in the fun! I really liked “Good Behaviour” and looking at my bookshelf now I can see “Why Me” and “Nobody’s Perfect” which I will have to re-read now you have reminded me how great they are! (By the way, are you still reading “In Search of Lost Time”? My Dad read it once so I know its a set of about 10 quite thick books – a background project? I’m always daunted by works that large!

    • Yes, In Search of Lost Time is a background project! For a train ride or a rainy day. Or just when I have some holiday… half term soon!

      The plotting is excellent and offset so well by the characters. It’s so good natured too.

    • You’re right – it was a lovely bit of escapism. Almost like being a kid again and coming home from school and watching an afternoon of cartoons…

  2. This sounds like the kind of book I would definitely read, anything that has lots of ingenious plots and twists and turns has my vote 🙂

    • Some of the plot devices were so ingenious that they made me smile! Reading as someone who’s always found plot the hardest part of writing, this man is a genius.

  3. Really glad you liked it! I think Bank Shot is even better, but if you do read the rest of the series, it’s probably good to space them out a bit, rather than read each one straight after the last like I have.

    There’s a film of it, straight from the 70s, with Robert Redgrave playing Dortmunder, that sticks fairly closely to the book, and which isn’t too bad. (I saw the trailer for Jimmy The Kid on youtube, and it appears they wrecked that book completely when they converted it into a film, so approach those with care…)

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