Thursday, January 05, 2012

Politics and crime

In honor of this week's first vote in the long American presidential election season, some quick remarks about two crime novels shot through with American politics.

It's a bit scary to think that Bill Clinton loved Ross Thomas' writing, as Tony Hiss reports in his introduction to The Fools in Town are on Our Side, Thomas' 1970 novel of political manipulation. The book's central plot line is the deliberate corruption of an American city in order to facilitate its political takeover. Allies are surrendered up for humiliation and ruin in order to lull the opposition into complacency

Why is this scary? Because Clinton, whatever one thinks of his policies, was widely admired and detested for being such a superb politician. How much did he learn from Thomas? How much of a kindred spirit did he recognize in Thomas' fixers and PR men?
The Comedy is Finished, due out next month from Hard Case Crime, is Donald Westlake's last novel.  The story is that Westlake wrote the book decades ago but decided against publishing it in the 1980s for fear that readers would think it too similar to Martin Scorcese's 1983 movie The King of Comedy. Westlake apparently gave Max Allan Collins a manuscript of the book, and Collins passed it on to Hard Case, so the world gets one more novel from the prolific Westlake, who died Dec. 31, 2008.

Westlake's comedian is Koo Davis, a star of radio, television, and stage shows who made his name on USO tours during the Korean War and continues into the Vietnam era, filled all the while with questions about the world and how it's changing around him.

The format allows Westlake much room for amused observations about American entertainment of the 1950s from the perspective of the late 1970s. Unsurprisingly for a book set in the '70s, a kidnapping figures prominently. Davis' question-and-answer sessions with his kidnappers yield some unexpectedly moving introspection on his part and, I suspect, on Westlake's as well.

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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Anonymous Linkmeister said...

I suspect that Tom Delay may have read Thomas' book with approbation and passed it along to Jack Abramoff (or vice versa). K Street, anyone?

(Obscure American political references at your service, sir.)

January 05, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

One of those folks is my college classmate!

Have you read The Fools in Town Are on Our Side? It's an update of Red Harvest in some ways.

January 05, 2012  
Anonymous Linkmeister said...

No, but I just requested it from my library system. The only copy is in Hilo, a couple of hundred miles southeast.

January 05, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I also recommend Thomas' "The Seersucker Whipsaw," which I've written about here. Thomas was apparently both a reporter and a PR man, which is bound to have given him considerable political insight.

January 05, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"The Seersucker Whipsaw" concentrates more narrowly on politics than this book does. Thomas seems to have had a real interest in the way the game works.

January 06, 2012  

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