Book Review : Donald E. Westlake - Forever and a Death (2017)
People freaking out over celebrities deaths is nothing new. When hip-hop legend Tupac Shakur was shot in 1996, fans grieved like he didn't even have the chance to record an album. They still do today. He left a crazy number of unreleased songs to music lovers, but everyone still prefers the songs he recorded during his living. People are weird. Fortunately the best writers have a tendency of leaving drawers full of killer material when they pass and crime fiction legend Donald E. Westlake was no different. He left, among other things, a long-buried adventure novel titled Forever and a Death, which was supposed to be a James Bond movie. And it's fucking crazy in the best possible way.
The story behind Forever and a Death is that the premise was supposed to be used for a James Bond movie Donald E. Westlake would've written. The project ended up being canned, so Westlake ended up repurposing the idea and turning it into an adventure novel featuring a crazy businessman named Richard Curtis. After getting kicked out of Hong Kong when it gained its sovereignty back in 1997, Curtis vowed to get vengeance and started working on a resort island project. When pesky environmentalist crash the super dangerous and unethical landscaping phase of his venture and diver Kim Baldur is caught in a series of explosions, Curtis figures his day could not go any worse. Only problem, Kim is still alive and breathing and Baldur needs to make her disappear to salvage his operation that goes way beyond the shores Kanowit Island.
Forever and a Death answers a question I'm sure nobody ever asked themselves: would a James Bond novel be any good if it didn't feature James Bond for protagonist? The short answer is yes. This novel is absolutely bananas. There are so many elements in Forever and a Death that you would usually find once in any other novel, yet Donald E. Westlake found a way to cram them all here. For example: a demented capitalist, a McGuyver-like engineer, submarines, bulldozers, a gold heist, incompetent murderers, competent murderers, experimental landscaping (that requires explosions), awkward gay jokes etc. It all somehow coexists together because none of these elements are used as a gimmick. That is the secret to a successful pulp novel right there. You throw-in as much crazy stuff as you want if you take it seriously. The more the better and there's a lot of crazy shit going on in Forever and a Death.
The most interesting character in Forever and a Death is the antagonist Richard Curtis. Regulars of this blog know how much I appreciate a great villain and Curtis gets the job done here, but the lack of an interesting characters to bounce his evilness on is semi-problematic in this novel. The protagonists George Manville and Kim Baldur are so busy bobbing and weaving through every death trap set by Richard Curtis, they're never really developed. They have the emotional depth of Wipeout contestants. This is where an iconic badass like James Bond (or something close to it) would've come in handy. Forever and a Death turned out to be the Richard Curtis Death Show and this is why it's just a really pleasant read and not a transcendent novel. It's much better than most pulp novels but it could've been more than what it ended up being.
So, Forever and a Death is great. Not exactly iconic, but it's a novel you want to bring along for your summer vacation. It will beat just about any "thoughtless" read you could possibly bring along. There is a level of mastery to what Donald E. Westlake is doing. He could write an interesting scene without even trying to. Forever and a Death is a wild, intricate and over-the-top pulp novel that is gorgeously written by one of the best to ever write crime fiction. It's a good deal no matter how you look at it. Westlake is not with us anymore, but he left a tremendous legacy behind and whether you want to start here or with the Parker series, do yourself a favor and read some Donald E. Westlake this summer. Props to Hard Case Crime for bringing this lost novel to life. I had a LOT of fun with it.