Monday 28 June 2010

New Arrivals (The Spy in the Ointment by Donald Westlake / Final Notice by Joe Gores) and More

Bit of a lengthy, cumbersome title for this post, but I sometimes have to search this blog myself to find book covers and whatnot, and it makes life easier if the titles of the posts bear some relation to what's in 'em. And it only took me till now to work that out. Sigh. Anyway, let's have a look-see at the two books Mr. Postman brought me over the weekend – both of which I bought online for the princely sum of a fiver apiece:

That's a UK first edition of Donald E. Westlake's The Spy in the Ointment, published in hardback by T. V. Boardman in 1967 (originally published in the States in 1966). The wrapper is by Martin Pickwick – it's the same illustration as the US Random House edition I believe. I was actually surprised by how cheap this was; there aren't many copies of this edition online, and this one's in good condition; the jacket's a little rubbed, and the folds at the jacket spine are weakening a bit, but I've put it in a protective cover now so it should be OK. The Spy in the Ointment is, I think, Westlake's take on the kinds of spy novels that were big in the 1960s (Bond, Modesty Blaise etc.), and having read a few of those, it'll be interesting to see what Westlake does with the form.

The other new arrival was this:

A UK first edition of Joe Gores' Final Notice, published in hardback by Victor Gollancz in 1974 (originally published by Random House in the US in 1973). This is the second of Gores' DKA (Dan Kearney & Associates) mysteries; regular readers might recall my recent rant about his first DKA novel, Dead Skip. This one is in mint condition – it looks absolutely unread, and is so clean and bright it could've rolled off the presses yesterday. Smashing.

In other thrilling book news, I picked this up in a charity shop in Brighton at the weekend:

A battered old Penguin paperback of Chandler's The Long Good-Bye. It's actually the 1959 first Penguin printing, but it's really rather tatty, as you can see. Still, it's readable enough, and I've been wanting to see how Chandler stacks up against the likes of Westlake and Peter Rabe.

Speaking of whom, I finished Dig My Grave Deep, which I really dug (deep). It kept me guessing right up till the finish how Daniel Port's quest to escape the clutches of the mob would end, and now I can't wait to read the next Port tale, The Out is Death. I also polished off Peter O'Donnell's first Modesty Blaise novel, which was a solid spy thriller. What really worked for me were O'Donnell's characterisations: it's true that Modesty herself and Willie Garvin don't quite shake off their comic strip origins, but British secret service head Tarrant and his deputy Fraser are deliciously realised, the latter taking a pervy pleasure in his work. The interplay between those two really zings; hopefully we'll see a lot more of them in the next Modesty novel, Sabre-Tooth.

But before I get to that, next up I'm reading Patricia Highsmith's The Glass Cell and Richard Stark's The Green Eagle Score. I'm only a few pages into the former, but already it's quite different to a lot of other Highsmiths, set, as it is, in a US prison. As for Green Eagle, I'll be starting that today. Always good to get back to the Parkers...


  1. Hey, did you ever get around to reading The Spy in the Ointment? Can't find a review here. Just finished it myself. His most successful venture into novel-length humor up to that point--and rather anomalous among his works, for a reason you'll know if you did read it.

  2. Nope, still haven't read it, Chris. Sounds like it's a good one though – and I'm intrigued by its anomalous nature...

  3. The anomaly is the protagonist. Or rather, the personal philosophy of said protagonist. That's as much as I'll tell you. Not that I think he's entirely anomalous--he's a typically hapless Westlake-ian schlemiel-in-jeopardy type, in most respects.

    Westlake still doesn't quite know how to build and sustain a comedic premise, the way he finally managed to do in his best comic novels (of which I have only read The Hot Rock so far, but that had me in stitches at points). I got a few good chuckles out of this one, and I always enjoy his characters, and his keen sense of irony.

    I'll write you a guest review, if you like. It would be much MUCH shorter than my prior contributions. I wouldn't give away major plot twists, but you might still prefer to read the book without having been biased for or against it by my scribblings. Your choice. I know you've got a long reading list, so it might be a good while before we can discuss this one.

  4. Thanks for the offer, Chris – I may well take you up on that, but I'd like to read the book myself first. So yeah, we may have to wait a wee while before getting into it...

  5. Fair enough. Hopefully I've piqued your curiosity enough that you'll move it a bit closer to the front of the queue. ;)