GET REAL by Donald E. Westlake

Book Quote:

“You’re probably like most guys,” Babe Tuck told them. “You got no idea how lucky you are to be inside an American prison. Except for the rapes, of course. But the rest of it? Heated cells, good clothes, regular food. Not even to talk about the medical care.”


“I wish I’d looked at it that way,” Kelp said, “back then.”


Book Review:

Reviewed by Guy Savage (JUL 18, 2009)

Years ago I used to watch television. I’d tune in once a week or so to the odd favourite programme, but sometime in the last decade, I found myself becoming really bored with television–its predictable plots, its clichéd dialogue, and the endless peppy adverts designed to loot my wallet. Just when I had decided that television was mind-numbingly stupid, Reality TV arrived, and that’s when I gave up and started using my television set solely to play DVDs. And this brings me to Donald Westlake’s novel Get Real. Realizing the capacity for comedy, several authors have taken the idea of reality television and written some very creative and funny books built on the subject: Ben Elton’s Chart Throb and Dead Famous, for example, and now Westlake tries his hand, and the result is a witty crime caper novel featuring one of Westlake’s regulars, John Dortmunder.

When the novel begins, Dortmunder and his sometime crime buddy Stan are dismayed to discover that Stan’s mother, a New York taxi cab driver has opened her mouth to a passenger about her son’s life of crime. Stan’s mother insists that her fare was a legit Reality TV producer interested in creating a new programme about real crime committed by real criminals, but naturally Dortmunder is suspicious:

“When committing a felony,” Dortmunder pointed out, “the idea is,
you don’t want witnesses. What you want is privacy. And you especially
don’t want the entire television-watching population of America for a

Taking the business card left by Doug Fairkeep, Dortmunder decides to check out the reality TV story and he cautiously makes contact. He’s curious but senses a scam–after all, deliberately setting out to record a crime with millions of witnesses goes against the idea of not getting caught.

It seems, however, that Doug Fairkeep is legit and that he does want to film a real heist committed by real criminals. Fairkeep, who’s slick and assured, even has a title for the programme: The Gang’s All Here. And while Fairkeep is delighted with his new concept, it still doesn’t set well with Dortmunder and his pals. “The part I don’t get” Dortmunder said, “is the part where we don’t go to jail.” Assuring Dortmunder that their legal department will handle any snares, Fairkeep offers $20,000 to Dortmunder and each of his associates, plus six hundred a day during the actual filming of the series.

With bait so attractive, Dortmunder agrees and begins to put together a team of men willing to join the venture….

Westlake, who passed away suddenly on December 31, 2008, seems to have had a lot of fun writing this book, and that means it was a lot of fun to read. Westlake creates a slick world in which everyone has a con and everyone is on the make: from a snotty waiter at an overpriced restaurant to Doug Fairkeep–a glib operator whose scams are reduced to fudging expense accounts and misusing his position to bed budding actresses. And what’s so much fun here is that Dortmunder et al–who are the low men on the totem pole of power, set the agenda against the monolithic corporations behind the reality TV show. Refusing to be played as mere brainless entertainment, Dortmunder and his gang have their own scheme, and it’s not long before Fairkeep senses that he’s out of his league. (He’s too much in love with himself to fully grasp that he’s being outmaneuvered.)

Get Real is the fourteenth novel in the Dortmunder series, and it’s a pleasure for fans to see the old gang back in action. The story is fast paced and whipped together with snappy, witty dialogue. Much of the humour is found in the idea that you can’t really plan for reality as reality has a way of writing its own script. The humour works about 90% of the time but hits a sour note once in a while:

“Ah this grandmother of eight had been compelled at last to her true vocation
as love-song lyricist by the flaming car-crash death of her favourite seventeen-year-old granddaughter. Well Grandma, lucky for you she bought it.”

Not funny at all.

But humour is found in the irony of the situation and asking oneself the question: Just who are the biggest crooks here? Dortmunder and his pals or the fat cat corporations who skim and cheat at every opportunity?

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-5from 25 readers
PUBLISHER: Grand Central Publishing (July 17, 2009)
REVIEWER: Guy Savage
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Donald Westlake
EXTRAS: Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: More Dortmunder SeriesMore Donald E. Westlake reviews:

The CutieSomebody Owes Me MoneyMoney for Nothing, Put a Lid On It

Read a review of Memory

Another (excellent) reality TV novel:

Lost and Found by Carolyn Parkhurst


Hard Case Crime reprints:

The John Dortmunder Series

July 18, 2009 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: Humorous, New York City, y Award Winning Author

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