Archive for Preminger

“Enough: too much.”

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 14, 2007 by dcairns

I’d been meaning to get into Donald Westlake’s work (he scripted THE GRIFTERS from Jim Thompson’s novel, which is a pretty good job) and then I came across this, selling for £1 in a charity shop. The fact that it has the ugliest sleeve of any book I ever saw clinched it for me — I had to take the thing home.

(In addition to the visual crime of the cover, the blurb inside the sleeve turns out to reveal the book’s ending.)

I seriously ought to look into the film rights for this one (which is actually a novella called A TRAVESTY), since it would be cheap and simple to film, is entertaining as hell, and takes place in a world I know somewhat, that of New York film critics/writers.

The protagonist, an unsympathetic piece of work, commits an accidental homicide, successfully conceals his involvement in it, and in the process befriends the investigating officer in the case, who starts taking him along on cases (Westlake doesn’t worry too much about plausibility). Discovering a natural gift for detective work, our man juggles unofficial crime-solving for the New York police with continuing to cover up his criminal past (a troublesome private eye/blackmailer rears his head), writing the odd article on Eisenstein, and sleeping with his detective pal’s wife.

There’s fun dialogue (‘”I’ll scream,” she said. “Only once,” I told her.’), snappy prose, and some moments of brilliance in the plotting — the opening chapter alone would make a super short film, cramming in homicide, blackmail, bank robbery and short-changing, a comic declension echoed in the Thomas De Quincey quote that starts the thing off:

“If once a man indulges himself in murder, very soon he comes to think little of robbing; and from robbing he comes next to drinking and sabbath-breaking, and from that to incivility and procrastination.”*

Any excuse for a pic of Gene Tierney.

What’s also good is that the film-related stuff is pretty good: the narrator/killer compares most of his experiences to stuff from the movies, which is kind of how us cine-geeks think (the victim’s name is Laura, prompting a few comparisons with the Otto Preminger noir), and the references are accurate and not overdone. Is the New York critical community as murderous and shark-infested as portrayed here? I could tell you, but I daren’t.

*Edinburgh connection: De Quincey is buried near here.

Watchtower to prevent grave-robbery!