Good News

What’s bad news for John Dortmunder, the talented but unlucky thief, is good news for mystery readers. It’s been five years since we’ve heard from Donald Westlake’s creation, but while he’s been away, Dortmunder hasn’t lost any of his zip, whether evading police inside a Sam’s Club-like megastore to planning the burglary of a mansion guarded with the latest high-tech security measures.

It wouldn’t be giving too much of the book away to say that “Bad News” could also be subtitled, “Or, the Last of the Pottaknobbees.” That is the scam Dortmunder stumbles into while switching bodies during a contract job in a Long Island cemetery. Soon, he and his confederates — the massive Tiny and the smooth car thief Andy Kelp — are freezing in the woods of upstate New York, helping to pass off a Las Vegas casino dealer as the last of her Native American tribe, and therefore the one-third owner of a reservation casino worth millions. It’s not an easy task, dodging stake-outs, the police, the casino’s owners and the trio’s reluctant partners, but “Bad News” hums along as Dortmunder and crew maneuver — on eggshells sometimes — among a gallery of rogues, imbeciles and everyday misfits.

Westlake has been around long enough that it may be difficult to realize just how truly inventive and consistent he is. He’s delivered the goods in works ranging from comic novels (“Baby Would I Lie?”) to his hard-edged Richard Stark series, to caper novels that tread a fine line in between the extremes (“Kahawa,” set in Idi Amin’s Uganda), and the corporate satire, “The Axe.” “Bad News” is another welcome addition to Westlake’s collection of must-read and must-re-read books.