When I saw that Donald E. Westlake had a new collection of Dortmunder short stories, Thieves’ Dozen, I said, “Oooh! I didn’t know there were Dortmunder short stories! I must have this.” And I did, and it was good.
I’d never read Westlake in short form before, though I believe we have at least one of his collections. I certainly didn’t expect him to be bad at it, considering his level of craft and the frequently episodic nature of the Dortmunder novels—I’d just never gotten around to it. A few of these stories are slight, but none are bad, and “Too Many Crooks” and the one where Dortmunder meets a horse are particularly good.
In some ways, actually, the one non-Dortmunder story is the most interesting: at some point, Westlake recounts in the Introduction, it looked like he might lose the rights to Dortmunder to someone in Hollywood. So he settled on a pseudonym for John Dortmunder, just in case: John Rumsey. As he says, “Fortunately, the evil empire’s shadow receded from my peaceful village, so Dortmunder could go on being Dortmunder after all, and once that happened, I could admit to myself that even Rumsey wasn’t a completely satisfying substitute. The problem is, John Rumsey is short. John Dortmunder is of average height, but John Rumsey is short. . . . Don’t ask me how I know; I know.” When Westlake wanted one more story to round out this collection, he decided to see how the doppelgangers of Dortmunder and the gang would play out in their own story: and how about that, they really aren’t the same. I’m sure this would say a lot about Westlake’s writing processes to someone more experienced than I.
If you like the Dortmunder novels, you should absolutely read this collection. If I’ve been pushing the Dortmunder novels on you and you haven’t read them yet—pick this up in the store, read “Too Many Crooks,” and if it amuses you, buy one of the novels for the full effect, but get this one too.