Thursday, July 31, 2008

Mysteries by Donald Westlake and Michael Chabon

Westlake, Donald. What's So Funny. NY: Warner Books, 2007.
Chabon, Michael. The Yiddish Policeman's Union. NY: Harper Collins, 2007.

Submitted by Mark Schneider

I'm a sucker for mystery novels. I find having a light read going is a good thing especially during the summer. Unfortunately, after you have read a number of mysteries, they can get a bit predictable, so it is nice to have a twist. That is why I have long been a fan of Tony Hillerman, but it seems cranking them out has become more of a business for him than a labor of love, and I have found his recent works lackluster at best. However, there are a couple of great novels I have read recently that nicely combine the twist with a good yarn.

What's So Funny by Donald Westlake puts the small time thief in the lead role. In one of his Dortmunder novels (and the only one I've read so far), Dortmunder is a talented criminal who just wants to make a [dis]honest living. He's got a heart, he's modest, he doesn't want to push his luck. He ends up getting drawn into some big time white collar crime as a tool of folks trying to right a decades old wrong involving misappropriated treasures from WWII. Dortmunder wants nothing to do with it, but he and his buddies end up having to be tools of the "good guys" or end up going to jail for their much more small-time misdeeds. Lots of interesting characters, and enough twists to keep you guessing.

Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union takes place in an alternative world where the survivors of the holocaust end up in a settlement in Alaska rather than the Holy Land (don't you remember the catastrophic collapse of the state of Israel in 1948?). Meyer Landsman is a troubled cop with a troubled life, and his best friend and fellow cop Berko Shemets is half Jew, half Tlingit. Prominent is an ultraorthodox sect that plays the role of the local Mafia. Chabon manages to combine the real and the imagined in such a skillful way that the reader is often left wondering: "did he make that up or is that real?" The novel tends to sputter out a little at the end, but even so, I found it the sort of novel I was sad to finish--I just wanted a little more.

Visit the Stewart Library to find books by Donald Westlake.
Both Burling Library and Stewart Library have Michael Chabon's books.

For the Yiddish Policeman's Union stroll over to the 1st floor Smith Memorial PS3553.H15 Y54 2007 at Burling Library.

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