Wednesday, July 8, 2009

God Save the Mark

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

This is a silly book.

I chose it because it is on my top one hundred list. It won an Edgar in the 1960s. But Donald E. Westlake's
God Save the Mark is just a joke.

I don't mean that sarcastically. I don't mean it like you might say to someone who irritates you, "You're just a joke!" I mean this is literally a book-length joke.

Even Westlake admits that at the end. The book ends with the words, "Of course, it was too late to stop payment on the check. But at least it gave us a neat ending, and that's one thing all good cons must have. A neat ending."

To me, that's Westlake's way of saying, "Folks it's just a game, and I won. You were a part of the con, one of the marks too."

And Westlake does win. He keeps you guessing. This is a book where Fred Fitch, the perpetual mark, almost a virgin, ends up rich and in bed with one of two attractive women. He could have ended up with either one. Westlake could have manipulated the story to make it come out a lot of different ways. And the same way with the con. It could have gone a lot of ways.

This book is fun, a one-evening read, the kind of thing which was popular in the 1960s, the con novel. But I have trouble believing it is one of the best one-hundred mystery books ever written (It comes in at 94). I see reading
God Save the Mark as kind of like watching Cheers on television. It's not exactly a waste of time, but it's not the most important thing you've ever done either.


Corey Wilde said...

I enjoyed God Save the Mark, but I like the Dortmunder books much more.

Joe Barone said...

Upon rereading, I think this little review seems more negative than I felt about the book. I liked the book a lot, but I could visualize Westlake sitting around saying, "Now let's see. What kind of a story can I dream up where I . . ." In other words, it was almost as if he were playing a game with himself to see if he could make it all work.

I've not read any of his more-serious-sounding books like The Ax. Of the ones I've read, he seems to be one of the most playful writers I know. I think he truly enjoyed constructing stories.

Corey Wilde said...

I think Westlake was probably the most inventive writer when it came to creating obstacles for his protagonists. That's true of both his Dortmunder series and the darker, more violent Parker series as well.

Joe Barone said...

One of my goals is to read a whole lot ore of Westlake.