Book review: The Comedy is Finished

The title of Donald Westlake’s “lost novel” The Comedy is Finished works in two ways: First, it’s a fitting title for a 1970s story about a comedian kidnapped by 1960s revolutionaries. Both the hostage and his captors are a little past their expiration date, but that’s part of what makes the plot tick.

On a more meta level: If this is indeed Westlake’s final novel, the comedy really is finished — and Westlake gets the last laugh.

Comedian Koo Davis (think Bob Hope, but funny) is a national treasure. He’s also a target of the waning counterculture movement because he supported troops in Viet Nam. By the time the novel takes place (the late 1970s), Davis has largely won the audience back. Well, except for the five goofballs who take him hostage.

I can’t even begin to tell you the plot for a Westlake novel, much less something like this. He — I — It — Oh hell. Westlake’s capers are too fun to watch unfold. There are twists and turns. There’s a little romance. There’s one hell of a graphic female masturbation scene that’s one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever read. There’s violence and stupidity (and they naturally play off of one another).

Suffice to say, you have to read the book to fully appreciate what a master Westlake was at the typewriter. The characters are fully formed, and even the ones that should be simple caricatures are three-dimensional.

But there’s also hope. And that’s signature Westlake, too.

Well done, Hard Case Crime. This book is a gift to Westlake fans everywhere.

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