Written by Donald E Westlake — Completed in the early 1980s, the manuscript for The Comedy is Finished was apparently put to one side by Westlake who feared it was too similar to Scorsese’s The King of Comedy. Discovered after his death by writer Max Allan Collins and published in a beautiful hardcover edition by Hard Case Crime, this book is thought to be his last ‘new’ work.
Koo Davis is a successful TV comic with his own variety show, working very much in the mainstream. He started out as a more vibrant radio comic, but was co-opted by the establishment following USO tours to entertain the troops fighting in Korea and Vietnam. He is now friends with presidents and generals, and post Watergate is convinced the public wants old-fashioned comedy, not politics on a Saturday night.
However success in his professional career has come at a cost to his personal life. Marrying before he got famous, then frequently apart due to work, Koo takes advantage of the many opportunities for affairs which come his way. The couple stay married but live completely separate lives and his two sons tolerate him at best.
When Koo is kidnapped by The People’s Revolutionary Army, a terrorist group, he’s forced to re-evaluate his life and achievements. Is there anybody who cares enough about Koo to pay his ransom? With a mixture of sadness and bitterness he realises there isn’t. His family have long since got used to life without him. The politicians and army brass liked his act but weren’t friends, and besides there can be no negotiating with terrorists. His studio bosses, so concerned with profit and loss, will take a cold hard look at the numbers and write him off. Buy his captors don’t want money, they want to reignite a cause, and are demanding the release of political prisoners. It is up to Mike Wiskiel of the FBI and Lynsey Rayne, Koo’s agent, to save him.
Westlake is probably best known for his two series. The hardboiled Parker books, written as Richard Stark, and the Dortmunder series of comic capers. The tone of the book is different from both but probably closer to the latter. There are many genuine comic moments and Westlake is careful to keep up the pacing that a thriller needs. Nevertheless I was surprised by the depth of The Comedy is Finished. This book is as much about fathers and sons, about success and failure, and about making an account, as it is about the good guys catching the bad guys. Westlake handles these themes as deftly as any writer of literary fiction could, and the book is never a struggle to read.
I loved this book and it stands as a fitting testament to Donald E Westlake’s wonderful career. Our US readers can purchase The Comedy is Finished here, and UK readers can pre-order below. It’s on sale in Britain from 27 April.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars