Friday, January 15, 2010

Forgotten Friday: Review of The Fugitive Pigeon by Donald Westlake (Mysterious Press, 1965)

Charlie Poole is a bum. First living off his mother, he’s now tending a bar in Canarsie, Brooklyn, for his Uncle Al who’s a minor mafia figure. All Charlie has to do is operate the bar as a going concern and look after and pass on any packages given to him. The fact that the business is losing money hand over fist is of little concern. Then two hit men turn up and hand Charlie a business card with a black mark on it. Just as they’re about to send him to meet his maker a local cop calls in for his daily nightcap. The invention provides enough time for Charlie to make his escape, but nobody can hide from the mafia forever, and given that he’s no idea why they would want him dead he decides the logical approach is to track down the local godfather and correct whatever mistake has been made. The only problem is that when he does gain access to the boss, he’s a knife in his back and everybody thinks Charlie put it there. Now he’s got two charges to try and refute, to people who don’t want to listen and want him dead.

The Fugitive Pigeon is a comic crime caper. Written in a very assured, confident manner, it trots along a nice, quick pace, with a gentle humour. The plotting is well worked, although relatively predictable, the characters are quite thin and stereotypical, and the story lacks any depth. In a sense, the narrative is all surface and style, with little substance. As such, it provides a mildly entertaining diversion but little more. Which I suspect is precisely what it was intended to do. So on that level, the book works fine. I just wanted a little more – an unpredictable twist, a surprising character, some emotional depth, a bit of backstory and contextualisation. Overall, a nice piece of entertaining fluff.


pattinase (abbott) said...

I've only read one Westlake novel--The Ax, which I quite liked. This one sounds like one I can give a pass on.

Rob Kitchin said...

I've a bunch of his novels on the shelf and plan to read some of the others. There was enough here, and I've heard enough good stuff, that I figure that this was one of his average books.