Mystery grand master Donald Westlake (who also writes under the name Richard Stark) is nothing if not prolific: his publishing career includes juveniles, westerns, and short stories. He is perhaps best known by mystery enthusiasts for his comic crime novels (Smoke
, Baby, Would I Lie?
, Trust Me on This
) and his Dortmunder series (What's the Worst That Could Happen?
, Don't Ask
, Drowned Hopes
). The Hook
, however, moves beyond the machinations and deduction-driven plots of traditional mystery, following the path Westlake spearheaded with The Ax
into the twisted labyrinth of psychological suspense. The Hook
is a harrowing story, told with a crisp incisiveness, and its riveting central characters are extraordinary: Bryce Proctorr and Wayne Prentice are fascinating, compelling tangles of neuroses and ambitions, both wonderfully drawn.
Bryce Proctorr has a multi-million dollar contract for his next novel, a wife who is trying to extract the last pound of flesh (but money will do just as well) from him in an ugly divorce, a fast-approaching deadline, and a serious case of writer's block. Wayne Prentice is an author drifting ghost-like through a world that has forgotten his novels; he's gone through two pseudonyms, has watched his sales plummet, and is wondering whether the academic life might be better than this, all things considered. When the two meet by chance in the New York Library, Proctorr has a proposition: if Prentice will give him his unsold manuscript to publish under Proctorr's name, the two will split the book advance fifty-fifty. But as in all Faustian bargains, there is a significant catch: Wayne must kill Bruce's wife.
The murder itself is almost insignificant, a small and sordid endeavor. The novel's real appeal lies in its shadowy reflections of the links between the two protagonists: a bond has been created that neither can break--nor wants to. Westlake cleverly questions the boundaries between actual and vicarious experience, fact and fiction. The novel is strikingly self-referential as it plays with the irony of authors trying to "compose" their own realities: "There are moments in almost any novel when it's necessary to move a character from one point to another, so that you can go on with the story, and this was like that." But what happens when the characters, instead of dutifully obeying the wishes of their creators, strike off on their own in unanticipated and fearful directions? --Kelly Flynn
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From Publishers Weekly
This is a very savvy tale of two writers, instantly recognizable to anyone in the publishing world. Bryce Proctorr is a megaseller who gets million-dollar deals; Wayne Prentice, after a promising start, has fallen into the dread midlist, where his sales records haunt him and he publishes under a succession of pseudonyms to present an unsullied record. The problem is that while Proctorr has hit a major writer's block, Prentice is still productive, though his advances are dwindling. So Proctorr, involved in a protracted and draining divorce from a harridan wife, comes up with this terrific notion. He proposes to Prentice, a friend from earlier days: you take my name, I take your book, and we split the proceeds, on one condition: Lucie must be killed. It's a very promising notion, and once Westlake is over the hump of how the very pleasant Wayne will agree to the deed, and actually manage to accomplish it, much to his own surprise, he is left with a very delicate situation. What will the knowledge of the crime do to the relationship between the two men? How will it affect their work habits? Will the dogged New York police detective find out anything? How will Bryce's editor react to Wayne becoming, in effect, his star's ghost? All these issues are skillfully dealt with in Westlake's super-clean, unfussy narration, which manages to make the plight of the left-behind writer almost as lacerating as that of the downsized executive in his brilliant The Ax. In the end, though, he cannot quite bring his story to an unexpected conclusion, and his last scene, though effective enough, seems to have strayed in from a much less subtly told story. 9-city author tour.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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