There really isn't much information out there on some of Donald E Westlake's earlier novels so it is understandable that Pity Him Afterwards may have been bought by some with the misconception that it is another humorous comic caper. I guess the disappointment for those only after laughs and not understanding Westlake writes over a variety of genres (comedy crime, serious thriller crime, science fiction, he even wrote a Western) will be magnified by the fact that along with his comic capers and his other earlier work this novel is actually quite expensive.
Pity Him Afterwards was actually written before Westlake even published a comic caper, which incidentally was (Fugitive Pigeon published later in the same year (1965) this book was. Pity Him Afterwards (and I'm not claiming it's his best book by any means or even anywhere up there with his masterpieces) is a classic fugitive on the run, policeman determined to stop a killer adventure. Not working in this book's readability factor either, is the fact that Westlake has substantially long periods of text before he takes a break and gives the reader a break with a chapter.
Pity Him Afterwards follows brutal murderer Robert Ellington who has just escaped from a mental asylum that authorities previously believed to be inescapable. Robert or the madman as he is more often referred, has a gift for mimicry and can easily take on the persona of others around him, even believing for short periods of time that he is that person. He is also extremely paranoid and also determined to give those who wish to harm or mock him their comeuppance which unfortunately results in an ever increasing body count. The madman sees a solution to evading his pursuers in a small town theatre where even though he hadn't planned to, he unfortunately kills again. The madman however likes his temporary home and has no intention of moving on. Small town police officer Sondgrad has no idea the madman is in his district but is determined to solve the murder without bringing in the state police. Can the madman stay undetected? Can he stay without killing again? The reason for the title of this book, is that the doctor in the mental asylum as well as the police officers, and others, often tell those they are talking to that they feel pity for the madman.
Forensic tactics and the evidence collecting has changed a lot from 1965 so this story would not work today but it does work for a book set back then.
If you haven't already done so also check out Westlake's comic capers. The best three at an absolute masterpiece level are, Smoke, The Spy in the Ointment and a New York Dance (also published as Dancing Aztecs). Other comic capers also worth checking out are The Fugitive Pigeon, The Busy Body, God Save the Mark, Who Stole Sassi Manoon?, Help I am Being Held Prisoner, Castle in the Air, Enough, Up Your Banners and High Adventure.
Of course you've also got to read the Dortmunder series and the Parker series (written under the pen name Richard Stark) as well.
If you do nothing else thought, you've also got to read his greatest stand alone story novel of all time The Ax the ultimate solution to unemployment. Check out a Westlake novel today!