"Francis Xavier Meehan (Meehan to his friends, "Halt!" to the cops) has ten thousand rules to live by, but only one way to make a living: stealing. Then a man in a checked jacket from Washington comes to meet Meehan in the Manhattan Correctional Center with an offer Meehan cannot refuse." "For somewhere out there is an October Surprise that may dethrone the sitting president of the United States. The Washington man wants Meehan to steal the incriminating evidence and keep the president's secret in the dark. What Meehan gets out of the deal is his freedom - and maybe a little something on the side. What the president gets is another term in the White House - instead of one in jail." Yet on the plane ride down to meet more guys from Washington (but with better suits), the well-thought-out plan begins to unravel. The problem Meehan faces is that no one in Washington can keep a lip buttoned - and a bunch of politicos, spies, and thugs are leaking trouble his way. Suddenly it seems that Meehan's mission is about to go the way of Watergate. There's only one difference: This time they chose the right guy for the job. Hail to the thief!
Every Westlake book surprises in a different way, from the hilarious Dortmunder series (Bad News, etc.) to the dark, ominous novels of suspense (The Ax, etc.), and this latest comic caper is no exception. Francis Xavier Meehan, one of Westlake's luckless crooks, is in federal prison for hijacking a mail truck he thought contained computer chips. A presidential reelection official offers him a pardon with a Watergate-type scheme: Meehan must steal a video that, if made public, may prevent the president's reelection. Meehan's court-appointed lawyer cuts the best deal she can for him, and we're off on the caper as Meehan assembles his heist crew, figures the logistics and cases the estate of the elderly, right-wing gun collector who has the video. Egyptian and Israeli spies, plus a plethora of presidential aides ("A hundred thousand big mouths," says Meehan about Washington insiders), provide intermittent interference. By the time Meehan learns the video involves national security and he's superfluous, we've also learned that he's a lot smarter and more savvy than the better-educated president's men. The novel ends with a typical Westlake twist funny and perfectly appropriate. Westlake hooks the reader from the first sentence, maintaining the suspense with unpredictable turnabouts and dead-on descriptions: a presidential aide has "a store of meaningless smiles like Halloween masks." Though not one of the author's very best, you'll read this one with a meaningful smile and many a chuckle. Mystery Guild Featured Alternate. (Apr. 24)Richard Stark, has won three Edgar Awards.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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Grand Central Publishing
February 28, 2003
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