Sunday, May 20, 2007

Mystery Book Review: What's So Funny? by Donald E. Westlake

Mysterious ReviewsMysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, has written a review of What's So Funny? by Donald E. Westlake. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.What's So Funny? by Donald E. Westlake

What's So Funny? by Donald E. Westlake
A John Dortmunder Mystery

Warner Books (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 0-446-58240-9 (0446582409)
ISBN-13: 978-0-446-58240-7 (9780446582407)
Publication Date: April 2007
List Price: $24.99

Synopsis (from the publisher): All it takes is a few underhanded moves by a tough ex-cop named Eppick to pull Dortmunder into a game he never wanted to play. With no choice, he musters his always-game gang and they set out on a perilous treasure hunt for a long-lost gold and jewel-studded chess set once intended as a birthday gift for the last Romanov czar, which unfortunately reached Russia after that party was over.

From the moment Dortmunder reaches for his first pawn, he faces insurmountable odds. The purloined past of this precious set is destined to confound any strategy he finds on the board. Success is not inevitable with John Dortmunder leading the attack, but he's nothing if not persistent, and some gambit or other might just stumble into a winning move.

Review: Donald E. Westlake brings Dortmunder back in What's So Funny?, the 13th mystery in this series featuring New York City's master criminal.

This is a “historical” account of the events following the theft of a long lost jeweled and gold chess set. This set was to be given to the Russian Czar at the close of World War I. The Russian Revolution following the war thwarted that plan. The men commissioned to deliver it, four American soldiers, not knowing what to do with it, decided to take it back to America. The plan was they would sell it and reap the profits, thought to be in the millions. Only one of the soldiers was responsible for the transaction. He kept the set and ran, using it as collateral to start a business and became a multimillionaire. Six decades later, only one of the soldiers is still alive and he wants to know just what happened to that chess set. With the help of his granddaughter, and ex-policeman, and an almost ex-thief, the search begins.

What a concept, four young men coming home from the war with an item that will make them all very wealthy! What dreams they must have had for their futures. For three of the men their dreams were just that: dreams. For one, it rolled into the building of an empire. Mr. Hemlow, an octogenarian, the only surviving soldier, hires private investigator Johnny Eppick, an ex-NYPD detective, to find this treasure. Eppick in turn hires John Dortmunder, once a big time burglar who is now trying to stop his thieving ways, to do his legwork. Dortmunder brings in his old crime gang and the search begins.

The title of the book just begs to ask the question, what’s so funny about What's so Funny? Quite a lot. The repartee between Mr. Hemlow and Eppick and between Eppick and Dortmunder for starters. Even the banter between Dortmunder and his bumbling gang of thieves is enough to make it funny. But Westlake brings in other capricious characters such as a young precocious couple, Mr. Hemlow’s granddaughter, attorneys with a prestigious law firm, some who involved with the search of the chess set, and others having no idea about it, all of whom add to the humor.

Elements of wit, banality, or well-known puns are on just about every page. These will bring a smile and maybe even laughter to the reader. Enjoy this latest Dortmunder: it’s a keeper!

Special thanks to guest reviewer Betty of for contributing her review of What's So Funny? and to Hachette Book Group for providing an ARC of the book for this review.

Review Copyright © 2007 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved

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Lance Wright owns and manages Omnimystery, a Family of Mystery Websites, which had its origin as Hidden Staircase Mystery Books in 1986. As the scope of the business expanded, first into book reviews — Mysterious Reviews — and later into information for and reviews of mystery and suspense television and film, all sites were consolidated under the Omnimystery brand in 2006.

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