Monday, May 24, 2010
31. Pity Him Afterwards by Donald Westlake
Pity Him Afterwards is an early and strong Westlake that has been sitting on my on-deck shelf for quite some time. The action starts through the eyes of a madman, on the run from an asylum. His perspective provides a certain amount of sympathy as we see his fear and anxiety, but his brutal actions counteract it. He kills an old couple and then a driver who picks him up, after having spent several hours listening to this loquacious actor. He decides to impersonate the actor and continue on to the summer theatre where he was engaged in a wealthy vacation community in New England.
And once again, I find myself in classic Westlake territory. At first, I was under the impression it was going to be all from the perspective of the madman, but then we get to hear the story of another actor, the local part-time police captain and several other less central characters. This rich ensemble comes together at the summer theatre in a book that is half classic whodunnit and half crime thriller. The mystery part comes because of a fun gimmick where the reader is not told which of the actual actors the madman is impersonating. Whenever the action is from the madman's perspective, his name is never used and no detail is revealed (except subtle clues).
The first three-quarters are rich and engaging. The ending is a bit stock and abrupt, with a hurried romance that I didn't care about much, but still definitely worth a read. If you are a true Westlake geek, you will want to read this just for a great climactic moment that resembles very closely the climax in The Stepfather, a great 80s thriller of which Westlake wrote the screenplay. Good stuff. I am happy.
Special cover bonus: The Sun King over at Existential Ennui blog has posted his beautiful original copy of Pity Him Afterwards, with a sweet picture of a young, bearded Donald Westlake on the back. Check it out.