In today’s Philly Inquirer, you’ll find my review of Donald E. Westlake’s Memory, published by Hard Case Crime. Here’s the first few paragraphs:
The celebrated literary critic Edmund Wilson famously derided the detective story as a form that existed only “to see the problem worked out.” The French critic Roland Barthes was slightly less derisive, seeing a mystery as a facile narrative paradox with “a truth to be deciphered.”
These reductionist takes presumptuously assumed that mysteries served only as plot-oriented puzzles, and that thematic truths and behavioral insight were taking a busman’s holiday within an allegedly inferior form.
But a magnificent novel from mystery writer Donald E. Westlake, collecting dust in a drawer for four decades until an unexpected excavation just after his death on Dec. 31, 2008, demonstrates that his talent clearly extended into the literary.
You can read the rest here.
Words like “mystery” and “detective” don’t adequately describe what writers like Westlake are doing. “Crime” is a little closer. In his novels, there’s often no detective — or the detective is a secondary character, an antagonist to the protagonist, who might be a criminal or who is otherwise estranged from law and order. We usually know from the outset whodunit — our hero dunit.
Good review. I will buy the book soon.