The Hot Rock introduces John Archibald Dortmunder, the thief whose capers never quite come off, as he and his convict friends plot to steal the fabulous Balaboma Emerald.
Dortmunder is about to get out of prison on parole, and is looking forward to the $300 that another inmate will pay him for his old cell. That plan is scotched when the warden decides to personally escort Dortmunder out of the prison. So there he is with regret for his lost $300 and poor prospects. Then it gets worse! A Cadillac chases him onto the sidewalk against a wall. And that's just the first three and a half pages!
Dortmunder's old pal, Andy Kelp, has lined up a job that requires Dortmunder to do the planning for the caper. A former British colony in Africa has recently become two independent nations, Talabwo and Akinzi, each run by a different tribe. The Akinzi have possession of the Balabomo Emerald, worth $500,000, and the UN Ambassador from Talabwo, Major Patrick Ito, is offering $30,000 a man (for up to five men) to retrieve the emerald which is now residing in the New York Coliseum at a Pan-African display. Dortmunder needs money, so he decides to take the job . . . if the major will pay a little walking around money in the meantime.
Soon, Dortmunder has developed a brilliant plan that requires some special props, which the major provides. Into the Coliseum go four of the five, and three return . . . minus the emerald. After this setback, the plot starts to get really complicated. The book is filled with hilarious characters including the optimistic Andy Kelp who loves to steal new cars with MD license plates and always assumes that everything will succeed just fine, the driver Stan Murch who loves to listen to traffic noises and talk about his travels routes while nursing a draft beer with salt to recreate the foam, the model train aficionado Roger Chefwick who loves to play in his basement, the easily distracted strong man Alan Greenwood, and the sleazy lawyer Eugene Andrew Prosker, Esq. whose greed knows no limits.
Most books like this build up the suspense around one heist. You get more than that for your money with this one. The action is nonstop . . . right up to one of the most imaginative escapes you will ever read about.
The book's ending scene is too delicious for words. I don't dare hint what it is all about . . . but be ready for something wonderful.
If you enjoy this book, be sure to go on to read Bank Shot, the next book in the series . . . which is almost as good.
After you finish, think about where else Murphy's Law (anything that can go wrong will) can cause problems to your best-laid plans. Then replan until there's no room left for Murphy.
Since The Hot Rock I've read every Westlake I could get my hands on; I've never been disappointed. And Westlake as Richard Stark is equally good, if decidedly more frightening. This man can WRITE!