NB: A version of this post also appears on The Violent World of Parker blog.
Much as I suspected I might, and in spite of only sporadic internet access, I've decided to dive into another series of posts, which will all be on books of a journalistic or media-related bent. I can't promise when or how often these posts will appear, but I imagine they'll take the best part of a fortnight to get through, so bear with me if there is, as there is almost certain to be, the odd gap here and there. And we'll begin with a Violent World of Parker cross-post, and a Westlake Score...
This is the 1972 Hodder & Stoughton British first edition hardback of Donald E. Westlake's I Gave At the Office – with what looks like a creased photo of DEW himself on the front of the (design uncredited) dustjacket – originally published in the States by Simon & Schuster in 1971. I found this copy in the fine secondhand book emporium Tindley & Chapman on London's Cecil Court, hidden away in the labyrinthine basement, and was quite excited to come across it: the Westlake novels that Hodder published in hardback in the UK in the early 1970s – the Dortmunders novels The Hot Rock, Bank Shot and Jimmy the Kid, plus some standalones – are pretty scarce, and this, along with the similarly uncommon Jimmy the Kid, is one of the scarcest: there's currently only one copy on AbeBooks.
I Gave At the Office is one of a handful of Westlake novels which deal in some way with the media – see also Trust Me on This (1988) and that book's sequel, Baby, Would I Lie? (1994) – but it also centres on an abiding Westlake preoccupation: island nations or small states which are threatened by revolution. The narrator is Jay Fisher, a self-confessed "radio man" at the Network, a New York-based media outlet. Jay gets mixed up with two ne'er-do-wells named Bob Grantham and Arnold Kuklyn, who have an idea for a TV documentary about gun-running to the Caribbean nation of Ilha Pombo, but once the show gets the green light Jay finds himself shuttling about the country to largely fruitless assignations with supposed gun-runners while Bob and Arnold run up a tab at the Network's expense.
It's not what you'd call prime Westlake – Jay is unconvincingly idiotic, and the plot, with its intentional cul-de-sacs, is frustratingly elliptical – but it is interesting for its experimental approach: the narrative takes the form of transcripts of Jay's taped confession, interspersed with interviews with the various players. Each chapter ends mid-sentence, as Jay tries – and fails – to work out when the tape will end, a conceit which, in truth, starts off cute, but becomes a bit annoying by the end – a summation which in turn probably neatly encapsulates the book as a whole. That said, there's a certain amount of fun to be had here, especially in the shape of Bob, who's forever necking Jay's booze ("Mind if I build myself another?"), and Linda, Jay's increasingly odd girlfriend, whom Jay spends much of the book attempting – and once again failing – to bed, and who harbours a not terribly well disguised ulterior motive.
I'm hoping to return to Westlake later in this run of media posts, but next, a collection of columns by a British journalist famed, like the fictional Bob Grantham, for his epic boozing...
Patti Nase Abbott has her regular round-up of this week's Friday Forgotten Books here.