Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Westlake by any other name---or make that many other names

After yesterday’s post about Parker, I thought you might an amusing passage I encountered today in A Jade in Aries (1970), the fourth of the five novels about disgraced copy Mitch Tobin that Donald Westlake wrote under the name Tucker Coe. Coe’s bio in this book reads:
A self-made conglomerate, Tucker Coe is a subsidiary of a writer better known to most readers under a different name, perhaps his own. A man who constructs his own walls for his own reasons, Mr. Coe lives with his family in the American Northwest and is currently at work on several projects, including a further expedition by Mitchell Tobin.
But savvy readers, if they hadn’t figured out Coe’s identity already, would surely have realized it after this big hint, which appears late in the novel:
Marty came on the line after a minute, and I said, “Hello. How are you doing?”

“Don!” he cried. “Good to hear from you!”

I said, “This is Mitch. Mitch Tobin.”

“For God’s sake,” he said. “Hiya, Mitch. You sound just like Don Stark. You don’t know him, do you?”

“No, I don’t.”

“I never realized it before,” he said. “It’s incredible.”
Ethan Iverson, in his indispensable annotated checklist of Westlake’s novels, writes that the Coe books, along with the four novels Westlake wrote as Samuel Holt,
are the only conventional private eye murder mysteries in the Westlake canon. It’s not surprising they are under pen names; Westlake was suspicious of the form. . . . The Coes and Holts are probably really only for Westlake completists, but they will make good reading for anyone who likes to try to “beat the detective” and solve the murder mystery before the hero does. The always-honest Westlake leaves the clues in plain sight; rather to my surprise, without trying, I solved a few of them myself.
I’d give the Coe novels, at least, a bit more credit than that: they’re not first-rate Westlake, but anyone who appreciates his lean, clear prose and his sympathetic eye for the odd, surprising, yet rarely inexplicable ways that people choose to live in this world will find plenty to like in them.

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