In a writers group I participate in via social media, someone asked the question a few months ago that if we could have three traits from authors, what would they be? I don’t remember my other two answers but the one I do remember is Donald Westlake’s versatility. The man wrote noir potboilers, political gags a la Ross Thomas, the sparse and sharp Parker series, the slyly comedic Dortmunder tales…he could do it all. He even had a hand at James Bond.
Forever and a Death, republished by the good folks at Hard Case Crime, is the result of that project. The producers of the Brosnan Bond series apparently rejected Westlake’s vision so he turned it into his own tale, a thriller set on the southwest Asian high seas with no real Bond-like character but plenty of Bond-like action and suspense.
The story is interesting and very Westlake-like because it does read like a page-turner but it also has deep, nuanced characters. The villain isn’t just a stock evil guy; he’s a rich evil guy who does evil guy things but he also walks you through the thought process and how he operates and that humanizes him enough to make him interesting. The heroes, a motley crew of scientists who keep running into problems and miscommunication, are not the mythic super-hero like 007. They’re just regular folks trying to stop an environmental catastrophe.
Also, I’m not sure if this was a nod to the misogyny of the Bond franchise or not but there’s a homosexual couple in the middle of things and Westlake writes them well.
I’m not sure where HCC got this in the editing process; that could have been more effective. But beyond that, this is a really fun book from the late, lamented genius.