I’m on a real vintage pulp bender at the moment, collecting books by authors like Day Keene and Milton K. Ozaki. I like their style. These guys don’t mess about: they get in there, get the job done – often in 150 pages or less – and get the hell out. And there’s nothing wrong with that, I say.
Donald E. Westlake is one such writer. His pulp mystery, Somebody Owes Me Money, is one of the many classics of the genre seeing re-release through Hard Case Crime, the people who brought you top-shelf revenge thriller, Money Shot, by Christa Faust (click here for full review). Yet while Faust’s pulp is delightfully dark and grimy, Westlake’s is more of a family-friendly affair .
Originally published in 1969, Somebody Owes Me Money (or SOMM for short) is a quirky noir comedy starring New York cabbie, Chet Conway (don’t call him Chester, hear?). Chet finds himself in a word of trouble when he follows up on a tip from his latest fare, cashing in big style with an outsider bet on a horse race. Yet, when good ol’ Chet goes to collect his winnings, he finds his bookie, Tommy McKay, lying face down on the living room floor. Tommy’s dead, and what’s worse is just about everyone, from poor ol’ Tommy’s wife and the cops, to the city’s rival mobs, think Chet had something to do with that. And when Tommy’s hot sister, Abbie, arrives in town on a mission for vengeance, things get even more messy…
SOMM is a high-tempo, dialogue-driven whodunnit with all the trademarks of the genre present and accounted for. The writing is snappy, the comedy almost slapstick, as our unlikely duo of Chet and Abbie battle against all odds to keep one step ahead of just about everyone.
This is old-school storytelling for sure. Westlake wants the reader to enjoy themselves, and most importantly to keep turning those pages. It’s as popcorn as you’ll get, the actual mystery very much secondary to the amusingly uneasy encounters between the book’s ensemble cast. But it makes for one hell of a yarn, Westlake peppering all 250 pages with cliffhangers and laugh-out-loud moments aplenty.
For a fun, easy read, you can’t go wrong. Welcome to the lighter side of noir!
SOMEBODY OWES ME MONEY is available now via all good book stores and online retailers.