Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Trust Me On This: Donald E. Westlake

Sara Joslyn gets a job at a phenomenal salary at the Weekly Galaxy, a supermarket tabloid newspaper. She refused the job the first time it was offered and took a job for much less pay at a small New England paper. Then that paper was taken over by another business and she is out of a job. So working for a tabloid turns out to be better than nothing.

On her first day at work, Sara drives by the scene of a crime on the isolated road to her new workplace.  A man has been murdered and she is the only witness. His body is half in and half out of the car, in the driver's seat. She thinks she has found her first story and is eager to impress her new employer. But when she arrives at the office no one is interested in a real crime. They want stories on fad diets or celebrity shenanigans or alien invasions.

The next time she goes by the same spot, on her way home, the body and the car are gone and she assumes that the police are investigating.  Later she realizes that nothing has shown up in the news about the death and the police have not interviewed her. She is curious and starts following up on the crime. Yet her job gets in the way and she is kept very busy.

Sara turns out to be very good at the work the Galaxy does, going after bizarre stories, even faking stories. Along the way, the crime that Sara witnessed fades into the background. She has no proof that it even happened. To be honest, once I got into the story, I did not really care who the murderer was. But the story comes together in the end.


The picture of the workings of the Galaxy is fascinating. The characters are great and there are lots of them, some more likable than others. In some ways this book is too weird to describe; you have to experience it. There are no offices in the working area; tape on the floor demarks "walls" and "doors" and "squaricles", sort of like a cubicles but with no real walls.

Sara's boss, Jack Ingersoll, is an editor whose squaricle has a window, because he is doing a decent job at getting stories in print. Initially they butt heads constantly, but eventually Sara gains some respect and admiration for Jack. They work well together although mostly he sends her out on expeditions alone and with teams to find or create stories. Sometimes I squirmed at the invasions of privacy and the effort they made to get any information, good or bad, on famous people.

But the real fun of the book is the descriptions of the Galaxy office, its editors and reporters, and the maniacal owner who is obsessed with one special celebrity, John Michael Mercer, and will move heaven and earth to get any information on his upcoming marriage. Everybody who works for the Galaxy has huge salaries, three times the going rate for their jobs. Even if the employees decide to move to a more traditional journalistic job, having the Galaxy on their resume doesn't look good. So most of the staff end up feeling like slaves, unhappy and stressed in their jobs but unable to give up the luxuries they have become accustomed to. That sounds like a downer, but Westlake tells the story with such humor and insight that the outrageous stories and the lengths they go to in order to get the stories keeps you reading.

This is Westlake's introduction to Trust Me On This:
A Word in Your Ear 
Although there is no newspaper anywhere in the United States like the Weekly Galaxy, as any alert reader will quickly realize, were there such a newspaper in actual real-life existence its activities would be stranger, harsher, and more outrageous than those described herein. The fictioneer labors under the constraint of plausibility; his inventions must stay within the capacity of the audience to accept and believe. God, of course, working with facts, faces no limitation. Were there a factual equivalent to the Weekly Galaxy, it would be much worse than the paper I have invented, its staff and ownership even more lost to all considerations of truth, taste, proportion, honor, morality or any shred of common humanity. Trust me.
I loved this book, and I hope to find a copy soon of the follow up to this book: Baby, Would I Lie? That book is set in Branson, Missouri and the country music world.

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Publisher:  Mysterious Press, 1989. Orig. pub. 1988.
Length:     292 pages
Format:     Paperback
Setting:     Florida
Genre:      Mystery
Source:    Purchased at the Planned Parenthood book sale, 2013.


24 comments:

  1. Tracy, you have reminded me about the couple of Westlakes on my bookshelves. I will be reading those first before I get around to this. This one seems pretty long to me.

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    1. Prashant, this is the only Westlake book I have, except I do have one novella of his (a police procedural) in another book. And it has been so long since I read any of his books I was eager to get to this one. I do have one of his books as written by Richard Stark, but that one is hiding somewhere.

      Definitely read the ones you have first, and I will be eager to hear about them.

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  2. Sounds great, I don' think I have this or the follow-on title. Oh well...

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    1. Col, I have hardly any of his books at all, I have to start looking around online, after my book buying embargo is done.

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  3. I'm very glad you highlighted a Westlake novel, Tracy. He's done some excellent work, and I really need to put one of his novels in the spotlight. Thanks for the reminder, and I"m glad you enjoyed this one.

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    1. Margot, I am very glad I finally got to this. Although I used to love the Dortmunder books, I was afraid I wouldn't like his humorous mysteries any more, but it was very good.

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    1. Just based on this one, I have to agree with you, Patti. I never would have believed how much I would enjoy this outrageous story. The next one I read will be The Hunter as Richard Stark.

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  5. I've never read one of his books, but have seen a couple old movies based on them. Loved the movies. There were Westlake books at Book Lovers! I may need to go back...

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    1. This one would make a great movie, Peggy. I envy you with access to that great bookstore. Sounds like you guys are really settling into your new place in Tennessee.

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  6. Sounds smarvellous - I love Westlake and have to get this now - thanks Tracy, es ever!

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    1. I think you would like it, Sergio. I have got to get more books by Westlake.

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  7. Donald Westlake wrote some terrific books in the 1980s. I admire his Parker series (written under his "Richard Stark" psuedonym about a professional thief.

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    1. That is the next one I am trying, George. I read some Westlake in the past, and not all of them were the comic ones, but may not have ever tried the Parker series.

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  8. This sounds great - I always have a soft spot for books set in old-fashioned newspapers, and this sounds a particularly good example.

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    1. Moira, I was motivated to go ahead and read this one now because someone had commented that it was a good mystery featuring a journalist. It was a good recommendation.

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  9. Something must be wrong with me! I still have yet to read my first Donald Westlake novel (I think, unless I read one decades ago before I knew the difference between effect and affect). But this one sounds like the perfect point of entry, considering my own background in newspapering watching sadly as more "respectable" dailies move incrementally closer to the Weekly Galaxy tabloid format and philosophy, i.e. Whatever turns them on.

    For a hilarious nonfiction account of the mentality, check out Robert Stone's personal remembrances of tabloiding past in Chapt. 11 of his memoir Prime Green: Remembering the Sixties

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    1. This does sound like the perfect Westlake book for you to start with, Matthew. Westlake does write really well and there is so much variety in the types of fiction he has written. I am surprised you haven't read any of his books. There are authors I could swear I have read but I can't recall any specific books, which makes me wonder if I did. That book by Robert Stone sounds great, I am adding it to my list.

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  10. For more examples of Westlake's humor, check out GOD SAVE THE MARK (http://kevintipplescorner.blogspot.com/2012/02/ffb-review-god-save-mark-by-donald.html) and DROWNED HOPES (http://kevintipplescorner.blogspot.com/2015/04/ffb-review-drowned-hopes-1990-by-donald.html)

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    1. Thanks, Barry. I am definitely interested in recommendations of good books by Westlake, since I have only one other to try. I read those reviews and they both sound good, although I may try to find an early Dortmunder to start with.

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  11. I remember this one and liking it a lot. It's better, IMO than its sequel which I also read. Unlike most Westlake fans I like his books in the lighter vein rather than his forays into noir like THE AX or the Parker series. You ought to read at least one Dortmunder novel since Westlake really perfected the comic caper novel. That is his truly original contribution to crime fiction.

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    1. Most of what I read about the sequel agrees that that one is not as good as the first one, John, but I still want to read it. I know I read the early Dortmunder books way back when, but I will try some of them again.

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  12. I've yet to read or finish a Donald Westlake novel. but that's been years ago. I guess I'm not a big fan of caper novels (not speaking of this novel but his other ones). I've read one Parker novel under the pen name. This one sounds fun. I'll look for it.

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    1. I have not read a Parker novel, but I am going to read The Hunter, the first one, soonish. I did see one of the movie adaptations, Payback with Mel Gibson (and liked it). There is another adaptation with Lee Marvin that I will try to watch after I read the book.

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