Monday, 25 February 2013

Westlake Score: Adios, Scheherazade, by Donald E. Westlake (Hodder & Stoughton, 1971)

NB: A version of this post also appears on The Violent World of Parker.

Before I get to the final John le Carré novel I'll be reviewing in my short series of posts on the author – i.e. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, which I'm still reading – let's have a Westlake Score, in the shape of this:


A UK first edition of Adios, Scheherazade, published in hardback by Hodder & Stoughton in 1971, the year after the US Simon & Schuster first. Quite an uncommon book this one: it fell out of print decades ago – in English anyway; there are more recent French editions – making it one of the scarcest of all of Donald E. Westlake's novels – either under his own name or one of his numerous nom de plumes – in any edition, especially so in this British printing. I acquired this copy – for a ridiculously low price – from famed book dealer Jamie Sturgeon, who originally acquired it from... actually I don't really know where Jamie got it from – which I guess is why he's the famed book dealer and I'm simply one of the clueless slobs wot buy books off him.


The dust jacket design is by Lipscombe, Lubbock, Ewart & Holland, doing a grand job of evoking the era, if not the specific milieu, of the novel: that of the American sleaze paperback field, in which Westlake toiled away in the late-1950s/early-1960s under a variety of aliases. Chief among those was Alan Marshall, under which moniker Westlake wrote over a dozen smutty softcovers for Midwood; I blogged about some of them towards the end of last year, inspired by Trent's series of posts over at The Violent World of Parker on the Westlake sleaze catalogue. Adios, Scheherazade is about that part of Westlake's life, and is also one of his more experimental novels; as Ethan Iverson notes in his brief precis of the book as part of his peerless Westlake overview: "here there are 10 chapters of exactly 5000 words each, just like the sex novels the hapless narrator is supposed to be writing".


Speaking of other folks' thoughts on the thing, there's a detailed review of Adios, Scheherazade over at Those Sexy Vintage Sleaze Books, but perhaps the best piece on the novel available online (linked previously by Andrew Wheeler, Matthew Asprey and Bill Crider) is Earl Kemp's "Nobody Can Write This Shit Forever". Kemp actually edited some of Westlake's sleaze efforts – quite heavily, if Kemp is to be believed – and his candid, gossipy reminiscences as he picks his way through Adios, Scheherazade make for entertaining and arresting reading. As Kemp drily observes: "The [Alan Marshall] manuscripts consistently rose just to almost the absolute minimum required input level."

5 comments:

Chris said...

Weird--I just ordered a copy of this a few days ago--paid a bit more than I normally do for a used book online, but I don't see this one ever getting reprinted, until such happy day as every single Westlake novel that he put his (or Tucker Coe's) name on is in print.

As you already know, most copies of Adios available online come with price tags that can only be described as obscene. But cheap compared to "Philip" the one book he wrote for children. Which somebody really ought to scan and put online somewhere, just so us completists can say we've read it.

Did you ever get around to "The Spy in the Ointment", btw?

Louis XIV, "The Sun King" (Nick Jones) said...

Ah yes, the mythical Philip: the most expensive Westlake book by far. I was considering doing a post on it, but I've never seen inside a copy.

Here's a thing: my other favourite writer, Patricia Highsmith, also wrote a children's book, published almost ten years before Philip in 1958 – Miranda the Panda. Not quite as pricey as Westlake's one, but almost as scarce.

And nope: still haven't read Spy in the Ointment!

Chris said...

But think about it--the two rarest and most expensive volumes of Westlake-iana (at least if we're talking fiction published under his name) are a book about porn, and a book about a boy who just got a toy dump truck.

And the book about the toy dump truck wins!

Let me put it another way--have you ACQUIRED The Spy in the Ointment? Is it in the queue? Given your extensive knowledge of spy fiction, I'm curious to get your take on it. But it's a long queue, I know.

Louis XIV, "The Sun King" (Nick Jones) said...

Oh yeah, I have a copy – and blogged about it a couple of years ago (you can find it via the search box). But I don't think I'll get to read it for a little while yet; apart from anything else, I'm being badgered by a bunch of commenters on the Spy Who Came in from the Cold post to read a different spy novel: le Carre's The Looking Glass War!

Chris said...

Well, I just finished Adios Scheherazade.

I think it's one of the best books he ever wrote, and one of the most honest (albeit a very backhanded nigh-Jesuitical form of honesty). It's not really about porn at all; that's just the McGuffin, so to speak. It's about what all his books are about--identity. Finding it, losing it, trying to hang onto it, suffering for it, being liberated by it. I almost think you could almost use this book as the keystone to the whole Westlake/Stark/etc canon. Contains references to every kind of story he ever worked on--even references Point Blank.

It's one of those "There but for the grace of God" stories he told now and again--the road not taken, or more to the point, the road he managed to get off before it was too late.

Further up, I compared it to Portnoy's Complaint. I think it's actually a much better book than Portnoy's, which I read for the first time a year or so back. But hey, I'm weird.

This should not be a rare book. And it should not have been sold as a run-of-the-mill dirty book, but the irony is strangely satisfying. Sometimes what Westlake is doing seems to be as much performance art as literature.