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Forever and a Death

Review

Forever and a Death

Those of a certain age with an appreciation for genre fiction will know the answer to this rhetorical question: How could life get any better than to be able to bear witness to the publication of a new Donald E. Westlake novel? Westlake wrote shelves full of crime fiction, both dark- and light-hearted, under his own name and that of Richard Stark for decades, and his shorter works frequently graced the pages of Playboy magazine. The Man left us, well before his time, in 2008. Nine years later, the indispensable Hard Case Crime imprint has published, in their own iconic style, FOREVER AND A DEATH, a Westlake novel that has never before seen the light of day.

"FOREVER AND A DEATH is worthy of an audience beyond Westlake completists. Even if Westlake is treading in somewhat unfamiliar waters here, his trademark setups are present, and frequently so."

Hard Case Crime and Donald E. Westlake had (and continues to have) a special relationship, given that publisher Charles Ardai has previously published several of his works --- out of print, obscure, what-have-you. But FOREVER AND A DEATH is special in several ways. One is that Westlake, primarily a crime writer, was a bit outside of his familiar comfort zone in writing the book, which is all thriller, no filler. Jeff Kleeman, in his masterful afterword to this volume, notes that it first saw embryonic life as a proposed treatment for a James Bond film script. It was Kleeman who hired Westlake for this project, which ultimately was scrapped. I recommend the afterword without reservation (I actually read it before delving into the story itself) and suggest you do so as well, if only to get a historical over-the-shoulder view of how the sausage we call blockbuster movies go from farm to market. As Kleeman notes, Westlake took the treatment and turned it into the novel. And so it goes.

FOREVER AND A DEATH was written in the 1990s, so those who have cut their teeth on contemporary thrillers and others who are expecting Westlake’s crime fiction will have to slightly adjust, but not downsize, their expectations. Kleeman remarks upon the joy of reading this work in light of its original conception. Westlake did not write a Bond novel; instead, he took elements of the idea behind the proposed film and created something entirely new. The prime element is, of course, the villain.

Richard Curtis is a wealthy businessman who loses a fortune in real estate and enterprise as the British turn Hong Kong over to China in 1997. Curtis is not content to take his considerable remaining marbles and go home. Rather, he has devised a plot to bring China to its knees and Hong Kong to the ground, literally. The tool by which he intends to do so is a device capable of producing a soliton wave that can destroy structures without harming the underlying land. It was ostensibly developed to enable Curtis to level some structures on an abandoned island so that he could convert it into a resort. It is George Manville, initially described by Curtis as “our genius engineer,” who is responsible for creating the contraption, unaware that his invention is going to be put to nefarious use. It is only when a member of an environmental group winds up injured aboard Curtis’ ship that Manville learns of Curtis’ true intent.

What follows is a bit of predictable but nonetheless entertaining derring-do, with Manville trying to save his own life as well as that of the environmentalist (a competent and fetching young woman named Kim Baldur) and somehow thwart Curtis’ plan, which, over the course of the book, proceeds as scheduled. There are a whole room full of ticking clocks here, and you will hear every one of them as Westlake reaches his enigmatic and haunting ending.

FOREVER AND A DEATH is worthy of an audience beyond Westlake completists. Even if Westlake is treading in somewhat unfamiliar waters here, his trademark setups are present, and frequently so. One of my favorites occurs in the first quarter of the book, when Manville, who is unfamiliar with pistols, uses his engineering skill set to locate the safety and figure out how to disengage it. It’s a great scene in a book full of them. Westlake and Hard Case Crime are marvels, and FOREVER AND A DEATH is one reason why the term applies to both.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on June 16, 2017

Forever and a Death
by Donald E. Westlake

  • Publication Date: June 13, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Hard-boiled Mystery, Mystery
  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Hard Case Crime
  • ISBN-10: 1785654233
  • ISBN-13: 9781785654237