Thursday 6 February 2014

Westlake Score: A New York Dance (alias Dancing Aztecs) by Donald E. Westlake (Hodder, 1979)

NB: a version of this post also appears at The Violent World of Parker. Linked in this week's Friday's Forgotten Books.

It's been a little quiet over at The Violent World of Parker blog of late, at least half of the blame for which rests with me: I am, after all, supposed to be (esteemed) co-blogger over there. Fortunately I have a small pile of Westlake Scores waiting to be blogged about, at the top of which is this:

A New York Dance by Donald E. Westlake, published in hardback in the UK by Hodder & Stoughton in 1979 under a dust jacket illustrated by Mark Wilkinson, who I believe is this Mark Wilkinson, best known for his Marillion record sleeves. As such, his wrapper for A New York Dance must represent a fairly early piece of professional work.

I imagine A New York Dance will be an unfamiliar title to most Westlake fans, especially American ones, who will better know it under its original US title of Dancing Aztecs. It took me to a while to fall in too; back in 2010 I scored a 1976 Evans first edition of Dancing Aztecs:

with its Joel Schick-designed dust jacket (which, for the bibliophiles among us, was trimmed too short on the first edition, meaning that the grey boards can be seen top and bottom), stating that I didn't think it had ever been published in the UK. It was only much later that I realised Hodder had retitled the novel for the British market, something the publisher already had form with with Westlake's work: witness their paperback division's retitling of his Parker novels (written, of course, under the pen name Richard Stark) The Man with the Getaway Face, The Score and The Handle as, respectively, The Steel Hit, Killtown and Run Lethal.

Mind you, Westlake wasn't the only American mystery writer to have his work retitled by Hodder; his near-contemporary, Ross Thomas, had a couple of his novels retitled by the British publisher – his debut, The Cold War Swap, which became Spy in the Vodka (for a short while, anyway), and one of his pseudonymous Oliver Bleeck books, The Procane Chronicle, which became The Thief Who Painted Sunlight. And much later in Westlake's career another British publisher, Robert Hale, did some titular tinkering: The Hook became The Corkscrew, and The Ax gained an 'e'.

As to why I decided to acquire a Hodder first of A New York Dance when I already owned an Evans first of Dancing Aztecs, well, I think most people reading this will be familiar with my feeble justifications by now, so take your pick from:

a) A New York Dance popped up on eBay and it was cheap
b) the Hodder first is pretty scarce (only a handful of copies available online)
c) it gives me something to cross-post on The Violent World of Parker
d) I can add the cover to the Existential Ennui British Thriller Book Cover Design of the 1970s and 1980s page (and have now done so)
e) all of the above, plus I'm demented.

And all of those apply to the next Westlake Score too – another Hodder edition which I already owned – and have already blogged about – in US first, and which again sports a Mark Wilkinson wrapper.


  1. Ideally, I would like a copy of this book with the Hodder A New York Dance cover but with the American Dancing Aztecs title. Let me know if you find one.

    My paperback copy of Dancing Aztecs is a battered Mysterious Press edition I picked up for 94 cents a along time ago. Though it doesn't look like much it is the book that rekindled my interest in Westlake after a long layoff, maybe since when The Hook was first published.

  2. Both covers are gorgeous. I wasn't familiar with either title. I read a lot of Westlake when I was much younger but it has been a while.

  3. BG: I'm starting to be a little wary of Westlake's more comedic capers. I've only read one that I really like thus far. I'm wondering whether they're not really for me after all – which would be a bit of a bugger seeing as I've collected so many of them.

    Tracy: have you ever read any of Westlake's Parker novels?

  4. You weren't the only person surprised by the retitling. Here's a bit from a 1988 interview with William DeAndrea for Armchair Detective that ultimately didn't make the cut for The Getaway Car:

    DEANDREA: Now we can get to the book I consider your masterpiece--Dancing Aztecs.
    WESTLAKE: I like that one.
    DEANDREA: It was the last Caper Novel. Nobody else really had to write another one after that. I'm glad you're doing it; it's just like nobody had to make another movie musical after Singin' in the Rain. I got sort of homesick for it while Orania and I were living in London, and I bought a copy, I think it was Coronet Books, the British edition, A New York Dance. They killed it! "Westside Motorway"? God!
    WESTLAKE: Westside Motorway?
    DEANDREA: All that sort of stuff!
    WESTLAKE: Oh. No. That goes beyond what I ever . . . My editor at Hodder and Stoughton was a man named James Hale, who is now editor-in-chief at Macmillan. Macmillan Ltd., which is not connected with the Macmillan here. That book was much longer than most. It's shorter than when I first wrote it.
    DEANDREA: Ohh. I wish I hadn't learned that. Can't you do like Stephen King and do an edition with all that stuff left in?
    WESTLAKE: (laughs): The other six statues. I also dropped out a character that I've always wanted to put somewhere else. It's a guy who had been an undercover guy for the Feds, infiltrating radical groups, until even the Feds noticed, this is a loony, this guy isn't wrapped tightly enough at all, he's coming to us by spaceship. So they dropped him. They dropped him twelve years ago, and he said--(Wink, whisper)--"Gotcha, okay." And so, for the last twelve years, he knows he's in deep cover. He keeps sending in his reports, you know--"Oh, the asshole's still at it." And he has not gotten any saner over those years. But anyway, James said that Hodder was doing the things offset from the American editions. With that one, since it was almost twice as long, it made for problems. Just simple financial problems. And they wouldn't be able to charge that much more, there was no way for them to do the book. So I said, "Well, if it were cut shorter, wouldn't you have to typeset the thing here?" He said that would still be cheaper. So he and I together cut over a hundred pages. We cut the whole South American thing, all the South American characters.
    DEANDREA: The paperback wasn't like that. Thank God. The paperback did all the British stuff, had people saying "motorway" and "dustbin" instead of highway, or garbage can.
    WESTLAKE: That's weird. And it's called A New York Dance?
    DEANDREA: A New York Dance.
    WESTLAKE: So it is neither the original nor the revised.

  5. Thanks for that, Levi. So the Hodder edition – the hardback anyway – is shorter than the Evans edition? I did notice that the Hodder HB was a slimmer volume, but it's typeset differently, so I figured they'd just saved pages by eliminating some of the chapter breaks. I'll have to have another look and report back!