Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Donald Westlake Writing as Tucker Coe

Coming up at Kingdom Books, August 13, our "limited edition" (20 guests only!) dinner for Grand Master of Mystery Donald Westlake and his author wife Abby Adams (see the KB web site for details). Dave's now amassed some 90 Westlake items in his personal collection, including some of the scarcest. He's been kind enough to set aside another 40 or so for the "shop." And we have Abby's books, too.
After three weeks of rest with a bum knee, Dave's also read and re-read a lot of Westlake. Me, I'm still wandering through the Tucker Coe series, touched at how gentle it is. I mean, this is an author who, under both the pen name Richard Stark and his own tag, is best known for wildly comic and bloody NYC mysteries, or even darker and more masculine versions of them (Stark, of course). But Tucker Coe... well, here's my take on another one I've read (I'm doing them in order): Murder Among Children, from 1967(reprinted by Five Star, 2000).

This second in the series featuring Mitchell Tobin is a compelling read, a mix of cop shop and teenagers, looking for a hand from the exiled officer that Tobin's become. And despite Tobin’s soul-deep despair, his interactions here hint at healing, holiness, and the kind of love that real friends create. When Tobin’s young cousin Robin, a partner in a Greenwich Village coffeehouse, asks him to sort out a rogue cop who’s harassing the youngsters, nobody expects murder to erupt like a communicable disease. Tobin’s soul-sickness quickly falls into perspective as a heck of a lot better than that of the murderer. There are repeated threads of discovery and compassion and a predictably bittersweet wrapup.
There are three more Tobin books; Westlake wrote in the intro to the reissued series that he found himself caught, knowing that if he let Tobin heal, the series would lose its meaning -- and yet you can't keep probing the same wound forever. I appreciate that. Still, as in the darker Vachss series featuring Burke, there's a lot of leeway to paint with the pain.

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