THE CUTIE by Donald E. Westlake

Book Quote:

“There are four kinds of cops, none of which I like. The first kind is the fanatic, the second kind is the honest-but-reasonable, the third kind is the bought, and the fourth kind is the rented. The fanatic is out to get you no matter what. The honest-but-reasonable is out to get you, but he’ll listen if you’ve got something to say. The bought can be useful, but I hate to have to rely on him, because I never know but what he’ll turn out to be only rented. The rented cop is a bought cop who doesn’t stay bought, and he’s probably the most dangerous kind of all.”

Book Review:

Reviewed by Jana L. Perskie (JUN 3, 2009)

Billy-Billy Cantrell is involved in narcotics, as a junkie and as a retailer on New York City’s Lower East Side. Heroin is his thing…Bigtime!. He’s a “meek, nervous, quiet little guy whose only offense is dope.” One evening he shoots up and falls asleep in a doorway. When he wakes up, in a drug induced stupor, he finds himself in the apartment of Mavis St. Paul, who until very recently was a would-be actress and singer. Now, Ms. St. Paul is a fresh corpse. Cantrell is no killer. He doesn’t ever carry a weapon and has no memory of leaving his doorway, let alone making his way to the Upper East Side apartment. As he flees the scene in terror, he sees a police car pull up in front of the St. Paul residence. Someone had called in the crime and set him up. Unfortunately, he left behind his fingerprints and his hat.

Cantrell knocks on George “Clay” Clayton’s door in the early morning hours and tells him he’s been “patsied.” Clay, our narrator, is the “right-hand man and trouble shooter for crime czar Ed Ganolese.” His appearance doesn’t fit his job description, however. He looks more like a respectable insurance salesman than a hit man. But then, the organization he works for is run like a top-notch business enterprise and Clay would fit right in as a junior executive.

Usually, in a situation like this, Ganolese would tell Clay to make Billy-Billy disappear. The addict knows too much about the narcotics business and all the police would have to do to get him talking is put him in a cell and deprive him of a fix. When Clay contacts Ganolese, the boss tells him that Billy-Billy has some powerful friends in the European organization – people he met while soldiering during WII. (The Cutie was published for the first time in 1960 as The Mercenaries). These friends want Cantrell to remain alive and well…or as well as possible, given his line of work and favorite pastime. But the police want to close the case. The victim also has some powerful friends who are pressuring the commissioner to arrest Cantrell and throw away the key. The solution: to find the “cutie” who murdered Ms. St. Paul and set-up Billy-Billy, who must leave town ASAP. Clay is supposed to drive him to a safe house in New England. When the police knock on Clay’s door, Cantrell escapes through the bathroom window. Will Clay be able to find him before the cops do?

As Clay investigates he finds out more and more about Mavis St. Paul, aka Mary Komak, her shady past and long list of lovers. Apparently, she had a most mercenary attitude toward men. When the cutie murders again and then tries to kill Clay, the situation becomes desperate, with the wise guy always just a step ahead of him.

Complicating Clay’s life further is his dancer girlfriend Ella, who loves him but is reasonably ambivalent about his career. Although he is wedded to his work, he thinks about the morality of his lifestyle throughout this very noir crime novel.

The author’s writing is tight and the narrative’s pace is fast. The humor is wry. The ending is a wowser.

This is Donald E. Westlake’s debut novel and, although not my favorite, I really liked the book and found myself riveted on many occasions. To the author’s credit, The Cutie stands up well after 49 years. Mr. Westlake, who recently died, was a three-time Edgar Award winner, one of only two writers to win Edgars in three different categories: 1968, Best Novel, God Save the Mark; 1990, Best Short Story, “Too Many Crooks”; and 1991, Best Motion Picture Screenplay,”The Grifters.” The Mystery Writers of America named Westlake a Grand Master in 1993, the highest honor bestowed by the society. Once again, kudos to Hard Case Crime for paying tribute to the author and publishing this book.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-5from 8 readers
PUBLISHER: Hard Case Crime (February 11, 2009)
REVIEWER: Jana L. Perskie
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Donald Westlake
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and or Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Dortmunder Series and other Westlake reviews and some books written as Richard Stark

Read a review of Get Real

Read a review of Memory


Hard Case Crime reprints:

The John Dortmunder Series

June 3, 2009 В· Judi Clark В· No Comments
Tags: , ,  В· Posted in: Mystery/Suspense, New York City, Noir, y Award Winning Author

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