Double Feature is comprised, appropriately enough, of two novellas set in and around the world of cinema. In the first Carey Thorpe, a clever but self-centered movie critic finds himself in a jam worthy of a film noir. He’s killed a woman he was sleeping with (this is revealed in the first sentence) and must deal with two police detectives and a private investigator who won’t leave him alone. In an irresistible twist, Carey finds himself in a position to help the detectives with a completely different homicide, and worms his way into their good graces by providing insight into their unsolved cases while working very hard to make sure one case stays that way. Westlake contrives an ironic fate for Carey worthy of the likes of James M. Cain.
In the second novella, which is considerably shorter, a Greek-American sailor in the Navy discovers by chance that the girl he married and divorced when they were both just teenagers has somehow transformed herself into a glamorous sex symbol and movie star. He tries to get past it but he can’t get over how someone could change so thoroughly. He sees her picture in a movie magazine and goes to see one of her pictures at the cinema, but he can’t recognize any part of the woman on screen. Her name, her face, her hair are all different. So he takes leave and heads to Hollywood to try to reunite with her. He finds her surprisingly receptive to reliving old times, but he’s still preoccupied with her transformation.
Westlake seemingly can’t help but be entertaining. Each of these novellas are narrated in the first person, and both narrators are instantaneously specific and unique. Westlake is great at revealing the idiosyncrasies and failings of his characters through their own thoughts. Though one narrator is despicable and the other admirably normal, it’s a testament to Westlake’s writing that the reader enjoys spending time with them equally.