Friday, September 18, 2009

Read: "Pity Him Afterwards" by Donald E. Westlake

Read: Pity Him Afterwards by Donald E. Westlake, 1964, no ISBN - just an LC catalog number.

I read about this in a reference book on mystery and detective fiction. The article referred to this as Westlake's last "hard-boiled idiom" novel in his own name. He then started writing hard-boiled books as Stark and Tucker Coe. Stark? Did you say Stark?

Crazy guy escapes insane asylum. Hitches a ride and kills the driver, escapes cops and kills elderly couple. Assumes first dead guy's identity and heads a few hundred miles away to a summer stock theater where the dead guy had an acting gig.

A young actor, Mel, shows up at summer stock hung-over and a day late. He mets everyone. Crazy guy is ingocnito with reader not knowing which actor's name he has assumed. Crazy guy kills and rapes a young lady in the house all actors are living in. Mel finds dead girl.

Police captain shows up. Captain is a summer worker like most people in the resort town. He is determined to solve the case without the help of the State Police. Investigation begins. Crazy guy is ecstatic at fooling everyone. Then kills a night watchman. Crazy guy gets worried. Captain gets worried. Mel gets worried but has boner for a stagehand chick.

Mel and chick get permission to go on lake and head to an island. Crazy guy kills another actor in the house with the idea of taking that guy's identity instead. Captain and crazy guy talk. Crazy guy gives self away. Crazy guy runs. Crazy guy jumps in lake. Crazy guy swims. Crazy guy gets on sailboat and kills naked lovers onboard. Crazy guy lands on island where Mel and girl are. Captain arrives in nick-of-time to kill Crazy Guy before Crazy Guy kills Mel.

Mainly told from the perspective of the three guys listed before. CG is a paranoid and convinces himself of his righteousness, or forgets his deeds, as psychic protection; at least according to his psychiatrist. Captain is actually a college prof. and his amateur skills are stretched. Captain blames those amateurish skills on the death of guy actor in house. Mel is mainly worried about having a job that summer to earn his Equity card and in scoring some action.

A psychological look at the killer. Not a procedural. "Pity him afterwards" refers to the pity people have for a man so mentally ill but who know be must captured or killed to stop him.

Pity was okay, nothing here that really grabbed my fancy. My expectations were too high but I am glad I read it. Westlake's description of towns and little insights into somewhat minor characters is evident in this earlier novel. I like that about his books. He doesn't have any wasted words and seemingly unimportant fluff keeps me interested.

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