This is the first novel of his I’ve read since his death on New Year’s Eve, aged 75. I’ve read around half of his 100+ books under lots of pseudonyms (Wiki lists eleven).

This is a reasonably representative Westlake novel – it’s one of his stories of John Dortmunder, a criminal planner of considerable flair and not much luck. In this case, a psycho old cellmate is released after three decades in jail to find his large stash of stolen money is now under a reservoir. He comes to John with the plan to blow up the dam and recover his cash, not giving a damn about killing hundreds in the process. That isn’t John’s kind of crime, so he feels compelled to come up with another plan – or, as it transpires, other plans, as he doesn’t get much success. Westlake adds various tricky complications and outside factors in what I think is his longest Dortmunder novel. We get the traditional riffs: the crew’s driver explaining every route he takes, idiot drunks in the bar where the team meet, and so on. It’s very entertaining, and tense because of the ongoing threat of extreme violence from the motor of the story, both in that blowing up the dam is always his fallback and in that we know that if they do get that money, he will try to betray them.

Westlake is always hugely entertaining, a genuinely funny writer and a very clever plotter. My favourite Dortmunder is probably Bank Shot, which starts with John telling his regular crew that he wants to steal a bank. His most regular pseudonym was Richard Stark, under which he wrote a series of novels about a character in a similar profession, except these are not comedy but ultrahardboiled crime thrillers – you may know the films Point Blank and The Outfit, based on these novels. Some of them are very exciting books. The one other pseudonym I’ve sampled is the PI novels published as by Tucker Coe – these are kind of routine, but still worth reading.

Really I just wrote this to say rest in peace for a writer who has given me more pleasure than almost any other.