Westlake, Donald E.: (02) Bank Shot

Bank Shot is second in the Donald E. Westlake Memorial Dortmunder re-read. This is the one in which they steal a bank. Not rob a bank, steal a bank.

(It’s in a trailer while the usual building is under construction.)

This was the first one I read: Chad and I were in the cavernous warehouse branch of Second Story Books in the D.C. area, back in 1998, and he came up to me with a copy and said, “You have to read this.” “I do?” “You do.”

And I did. And the rest was history.

Obviously, this worked well as a starting point for me, but on this re-read, I found myself again cataloguing the ways it is and isn’t like the series as it became firmly established. It’s the first book with May, Dortmunder’s faithful companion, for instance, and the first time there’s a (semi-)absurd overheard conversation at the O.J. Bar and Grill—but those having the conversation aren’t identified as the regulars yet. There’s no Max yet, and for possibly the only time we see a financier outside the gang, and May and Murch’s Mom have a more active role than usual.

Only two other things of note: there’s a character named Herman X who appears to be a semi-parody of a very specific type of Black radical. Since I don’t have the context, I can’t say whether I thought the portrayal was reasonable, but it made me twitch a little pre-emptively. (Herman is a person as all Westlake’s characters are people; it’s the political components that I wonder about. Also, they probably make the book more dated than others.) And second, I really like the way the tension and absurdity of this escalates. It’s not as over-the-top as The Hot Rock, but it’s still a lot of fun.

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  1. Speaking as someone who lived through the 70s, and with the caveat that it’s been a few years since I last read The Hot Rock, I thought Herman X was hilarious. What’s better, at the time he was a real cognitive dissonance, because NOBODY ever thought about (much less dared to portray in a comic way) what might be going on behind the facade of a Black Panther-type radical. In its time, it was nearly the equivalent of having a sensitive and nuanced comic Islamic Extremist character today.

  2. Oops, I of course meant Bank Shot, not The Hot Rock.

  3. Thanks for the context, I appreciate it.

  4. I think that Herman X was a character who read better at that time, because there are ways in which that character-drawing is a riff on other then-prevalent pop-culture characters/caricatures and on some specific people’s media self-presentations.
    It is sad that Westlake is not with us to talk about how the character looks to him 30+ years later; my impression of him is that he was a great listener as well as a great story.
    On a somewhat related note, I am fascinated that “Doonesbury” has brought back the character of Clyde, who originated as a poseur Black Panther who did nothing but run his mouth, much to the frustration of his activist partner Ginny, and who is now apparently a right-wing Congressman wondering why he can’t get entree in the Obama administration.

  5. Julia, welcome and thanks for the context.
    Did you meet Westlake at any point, or are you going off others’ accounts?

  6. Hi! Yes, I met him a couple of times, but only at events, where he was courteous and friendly–however, I know a few people who knew him quite well.
    (I’m following your LOTR re-read blog at Tor.com, which is how I found myself here.)

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