Friday, February 17, 2012

Review of Nobody’s Perfect by Donald Westlake (The Mysterious Press, 1977)

Dortmunder is a professional thief who has been caught red-handed boosting televisions from a store. He’s going back to prison and knows it. Then a high class, celebrity lawyer turns up and miraculously he’s wriggled out of the charges. The catch is the lawyer’s paymaster, the rich and feckless Chauncey, wants Dortmunder to steal a painting - Folly Leads Man to Ruin by Veenbes - from his New York townhouse, bypassing an alarm system and a houseful of guests as part of an insurance scam. The deal is that Dortmunder keeps the painting until the insurance company settles. To make sure Dortmunder doesn’t make off with the painting, Chauncey has also hired a hitman to keep an eye on his thief. Dortmunder puts together his string of accomplices and plans the robbery. It should be relatively straightforward - in, out and away, whilst Chauncey keeps his guests occupied. Except it all goes horribly wrong, the painting lost in a throng of drunken Scot’s men as the gang make their getaway. They have six months to retrieve the painting or come up with another foolproof plan.

Folly Leads Man to Ruin would have been a much better title for this book than Nobody’s Perfect. Dortmunder’s follies pile up one after the other, each leading to a more precarious future. Westlake keeps up a steady pace, with a series of nicely constructed and clever set pieces that are strung together into a plot divided into four parts. There is a gentle humour running throughout and a few genuine belly laughs. The characterisation is well observed, with a good mix of likeable rogues. For me, the story was a little let down through a lack of edginess or grit and the book seemed to stop about ten to fifteen pages too short. Also the premise around the insurance scam as it entered the last quarter didn’t stand up to much scrutiny. Nevertheless, an enjoyable read from a powerhouse of comic crime storytelling.


Kerrie said...

I liked the gentle humour in the one I raed Rob

George said...

This is one of Westlake's underrated books. Nice review!

BVLawson said...

In one of the collections of Westlake's that I mentioned on my blog today, "Thieves' Dozen," Westlake used a slightly similar plot, in which a crooked artist named Three Finger Gillie wants Dortmunder to steal his own paintings ("Art and Craft"). Whether he wrote in long or short forms, though, even with similar plots, Westlake was able to tell a good story.