The Dame: An Alan Grofield Novel Paperback – Apr 15 2012
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About the Author
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Alan Grofield is a minor character in a number of the Parker series novels, without Parker he can carry his own but in the Dame he did struggle to keep the pages interesting. In the former The Damsel he shared the pages with an intelligent female character called Elly, who gave as good as she got, there's no one in The Dame to provide anything like that. There is one female character that he spends some time with at one stage but she's so unrealistic in her needing a man to save the day persona, that as a reader you don't really care for her at all. This character also highlighted that The Dame was originally published in 1969 to me constantly as I turned the pages. The ending without giving it away is also pretty weak, it's like Westlake (a.k.a Stark) couldn't think of how to wrap things up but had a deadline to meet or a more interesting novel to write he wanted to move onto.
The basic scenario for The Dame has Grofield flying into Puerto Rico simply because he got a mysterious note to do so. This flies in the face of how he normally selects the times he ventures into the risky criminal world, as he also doesn't need the money. Nothing goes smoothly, he's roughed up, he's victimised and his would be employer isn't telling him the full story so he declines her offer. Problem for Grofield is early the next morning she's found dead. Of course he's the number one suspect and her mafia type husband wants to take out his vengeance on the killer. If Grofield can't work out then convince the man it was one of the few other people in the house, he won't be leaving Puerto Rico alive.
In this book, Grofield starts out for home after the events in "The Damsel," but receives airline tickets and a mysterious client in Puerto Rico. Sending Elly (the damsel in distress) back to his wife with the suitcase full of money (perhaps not his wisest idea as Elly was more than just a messenger), Grofield heads to San Juan.
Once there, Grofield finds himself stuck in the middle of a nasty divorce between a mobster and his randy wife. This trip was quite different from what Grofield bargained for and, despite his best efforts, he can't get out of Dodge.
While there are plenty of fight scenes and car chases, the bulk of the story involves a classical murder whodunit where the murder could only have been committed by one of the dozen or so people staying in the house. Although Grofield is blamed, he plays Inspector Poirot questioning each of a cast of strange characters who were there on the night it happened.
It is a smoothly written story that reads quickly and is an enjoyable read. While this plot may not blow the reader away, something about Westlake's writing makes you keep reading until the end.
This is your weekend in the Poconos murder mystery, but in San Juan and, well, there's also mobsters and tough guys running around.
In this book, Grofield isn't the most professional criminal. In fact, he's held up, taken prisoner, and blackmailed. And he really doesn't even want to be there. No, he wants to click his heels three times and say I want to go home.
What is compelling about this story besides the exotic setting? Perhaps the odd assortment of characters?
The mobster's wife with the twenty five year old body and the voice "somewhat older than that, a little rough, a little too used to late hours and neat whiskey and chainsmoking."
The cryptic lawyer and his middle aged wife "in a dark suit too heavy for the climate, her mouth down-turned in what seemed to be a permanent expression of disapproval."
An African businessman with a sort of maroon pillbox on his head.
A lovely girl of twentysomething with long ash-blonde hair and eyes looking past you "as a doe might look at the first hunter of Autumn." "You couldn't find enough blood in her veins to make a scab."
Her brother with a weak face and a petulant attitude.
Of course, it could have been Mr. Green in the library with the candlestick.
Grofield is on his way home with the results of a job when he gets word from an acquaintance that there is work for him in Puerto Rico. It comes with a plane ticket and so he decides to give it a try.
Normally he'd dealing with professionals. In The Dame, he's dealing with people who are totally out of that realm and of course things go wrong right away.
He ends up conducting a kind of grand jury to see if he can convince a grieving husband he's not the killer of his wife.
Grofield is reactive through much of the book, which isn't his best look. It's a solid book, where the Donald Westlake humor insinuates its way into the Richard Stark dark serious world.
The Dame was written under the pseudonym Richard Stark, although Westlake could easily put his own name on the cover. It was enough to give the hero a new name instead of Grofield, throw away anything that links books about Grofield with books about Parker. As a result, The Dame is what would happen if you connect Westlake's hard-boiled early novels with his later humorous books. Grofield here is a kind of Poirot with thieving propensities (I wanted to write - with a criminal record, but Grofield has never been caught by the police), and a developed sense of humor.
The tone of the novel is very lightweight and a little reminiscent of the style of the Parker novels, even the familiar four-part structure of the novel is broken. The book is written without dividing into parts, and the plot is a straight line, without the usual Parker's flashbacks and changes of perspective.
Compared with the Parker novels, this is not entirely successful. But Westlake did not write bad books, so The Dame is plenty of fun, after all.