"Get Real" Review
Get Real by Donald E. Westlake
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
"Get Real" is the fifteenth and last of the Dortmunder novels, and was published after Westlake's death a few years ago. It, like the other Dortmunder novels, involves the work of a small gang of working class criminals who find something worth stealing, work out a foolproof plan to steal, and then run into ridiculous complications along the way. If you're a fan of the books then you're more then familiar with the characters: Dour John Dortmunder, who belongs in a 50's caper movie and distrusts everything; Cheerful Andy Kelp, who likes technology (and locks like him); Stan Murch (and his mother), the consummate driver; the Kid, the new guy who can charm ladies and is learning is place in the business; and finally Tiny, who isn't tiny, and can probably pick up a car if he needs to.
This book is about Dortmunder and his gang being approached by a reality TV show producer who wants to film them doing a crime - an activity that John points out is the reverse of how they usually like doing their work. They come up with a work-around, however, and move forward across various setbacks such as having a girl added to the group (because you can't have a tv show without a female character) and an extra crook (because the producers want to have an in on what gets planned). Things build up very nicely, as Westlake brings us into the minds of these television folks as the gang builds up their crime... and then the plot kind of stops.
It doesn't really _stop_ stop. Plot threads get ended, the gang does their crime, and the tv show stops being made. But with all the build up in the first parts of the book, the ending feels... like more of a first draft, the pieces put into place for an ending without all of the detail imparted. For instance, the girlfriend and the ringer are whisked away off-screen and never seen again, and the humor of Stan's lifting of cars from the ground floor never quite pays off either. Basically, I think this book wasn't quite finished when Westlake passed on, and it kind of shows at the end.
That said, this is hardly the worst thing that Westlake has ever written, and even if it were it'd still be better than 90% of the crap out there. If you're new to the series, I'd suggest going back to either "The Hot Rock", the first Dortmunder book (in which a valuable gem is stolen... and then re-stolen... and then re-stolen...) or "What's the Worst That Could Happen?" in which Dortmunder tries to get back a ring of sentimental value, and keeps lucratively failing at it.
(If you're thinking of the movies, I'd skip the movie of "What's the Worst That Could Happen?", but the movie of "The Hot Rock" is actually pretty good, although Dortmunder isn't as pretty as Robert Redford.)
On the other hand, if you've read the other 14 Dortmunder books, be happy that there's one more to read, and sad that it's the last one.
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