Review by C.J. Bunce
Some writers are great at writing crime novels from the perspective of the detective, some are great at writing as the criminal, and then there are writers like Donald E. Westlake who had it all figured out. The latest publication of a classic Westlake novel from Titan Books’ Hard Case Crime imprint is from the vantage of a murderer who keeps getting wrapped deeper and deeper into his web of lies. The novel is A Travesty, a 1977 pile-on of crime references and tropes about a film critic trying to prove wrong the maxim “crime does not pay”–featured in a new 2-for-1 trade edition with the short story Ordo titled Double Feature, and originally released together under the title Enough.
Carey Thorpe is one sleazy bastard, a vile man-about-town who punches his girlfriend (one of many), causing her to smack her had on a table–killing her–and then he flees and tries to cover it up. But lo and behold Thorpe’s film criticism is popular in the city, and lucky for him the lead detective on the case and the detective’s wife are great fans of his work. So not only is Thorpe ruled out for the murder quickly, the detective soon befriends Thorpe and brings him along Castle style to help him solve each new murder that crosses his desk. But Thorpe’s record with women is as twisty as his record with murder, and soon Thorpe’s girlfriend becomes a suspect. And who was that outside watching the victim’s apartment at the time she was murdered? Murder, blackmail, and betrayal colors every page of this Westlake classic. Thorpe is one heckuva detective, but how is he as criminal?
Thorpe is that despicable type of antihero similar to the villainous Waldo Lydecker of Vera Caspary’s novel and Otto Preminger’s film Laura. In fact it’s easy to envision A Travesty as Westlake’s desire to create his own update to that story, including the dead girlfriend in scene one, the detective that drags the murderer along for the investigation, and one too many lovers. Westlake’s character even refers back to similarities of his situation with that of the characters in the film Laura, along with several other film references. This is the kind of story that firmly stands in the vein of Alfred Hitchcock’s later films, and is the kind of story fans of noir movies will love whether or not they are readers of pulp crime stories.
By any description this 180-page work is a novel (despite many insisting on its status as a mere novella)–it has everything you’d find in Westlake’s other works: compelling characters, situations you’d only see Westlake get his troubled characters into, twists and turns in a beefy plot, and a worthy payoff by book’s end.
A Travesty was adapted into a 1999 made for TV movie called A Slight Case of Murder, starring William H. Macy, Alan Arkin, and Felicity Huffman.
The latest novel featuring Paul Mann’s evocative painted cover artwork (created specifically for this release), Double Feature, including the main attraction novel A Travesty, is now available from Hard Case Crime here at Amazon, a classic noir thriller and a fun read.