Bank Shot

Bank Shot



The Pequod Review:

Donald Westlake's Bank Shot is a very funny heist novel in which Dortmunder & Co. don't just rob a bank, they steal an entire (mobile) bank. Naturally, nothing goes right for the gang as the bank's safe proves difficult to open and the bank itself is nearly discovered multiple times by the police. Bank Shot is the second Dortmunder book and at this point several of the characters are rounding into form, especially Stan Murch (the getaway driver), Andy Kelp (Dortmunder's good-natured sidekick), and Dortmunder himself. And Westlake has become an even stronger writer; the opening paragraphs of the book show his extraordinary skill at setting a scene and introducing characters in a few short strokes:

“Yes,” Dortmunder said. “You can reserve all this, for yourself and your family, for simply a ten-dollar deposit.”

“My,” said the lady. She was a pretty woman in her mid-thirties, small and compact, and from the looks of this living room she kept a tight ship. The room was cool and comfortable and neat, packaged with no individuality but a great passion for cleanliness, like a new mobile home. The draperies flanking the picture window were so straight, each fold so perfectly rounded and smooth, that they didn’t look like cloth at all but a clever plastic forgery. The picture they framed showed a neat treeless lawn that drained away from the house, the neat curving blacktop suburban street in spring sunshine, and a ranch-style house across the way identical in every exterior detail to this one. I bet their drapes aren’t this neat, Dortmunder thought.

“Yes,” he said, and gestured at the promo leaflets now scattered all over the coffee table and the near-by floor. “You get the encyclopedia and the bookcase and the Junior Wonder Science Library and its bookcase, and the globe, and the five-year free use of research facilities at our gigantic modern research facility at Butte, Montana, and —”

“We wouldn’t have to go to Butte, Montana, would we?” She was one of those neat, snug women who can still look pretty with their brows furrowed.

"No, no," Dortmunder said with an honest smile. Most of the housewives he met in the course of business left him cold, but every once in a while he ran across one like this who hadn't been lobotomized by life in the suburbs, and the contact always made him cheerful. She's sprightly, he thought, and smiled some more at the rare chance to use a word like that, even in interior monologue. Then he turned the smile on the customer and said, "You write to them in Butte, Montana. You tell them you want to know about, uh..."

"Anguilla," she suggested.

"Sure," Dortmunder said, as though he knew just what she meant. "Anything you want. And they send you the whole story."

"My," she said and looked again at all the promo papers spread around her neat living room.

"And don't forget the annual roundups," Dortmunder told her, "to keep your encyclopedia right up to date for the next five years."

"My," she said.

"And you can reserve the whole thing," Dortmunder said, "for a simple ten-dollar deposit." There had been a time when he had been using the phrase "measly ten-dollar deposit," but gradually he'd noticed that the prospects who eventually turned the deal down almost always gave a visible wince at the word "measly," so he'd switched to "simple" and the results had been a lot better. Keep it simple, he decided, and you can't go wrong.

"Well, that's certainly something," the woman said. "Do you mind waiting while I get my purse?"

"Not at all," Dortmunder said.

She left the room, and Dortmunder sat back on the sofa and smiled lazily at the world outside the picture window. A man had to stay alive somehow while waiting for a big score to develop, and there was nothing better for that than an encyclopedia con. In the spring and fall, that is; winter was too cold for house-to-house work and summer was too hot. But given the right time of year, the old encyclopedia scam was unbeatable. It kept you in the fresh air and in nice neighborhoods, it gave you a chance to stretch your legs in comfortable living rooms and chat with mostly pleasant suburban ladies, and it bought the groceries.

Figure ten or fifteen minutes per prospect, though the losers usually didn't take that long. If only one out of five bit, that was ten bucks an hour. On a six-hour day and a five-day week, that was three hundred a week, which was more than enough for a man of simple tastes to live on, even in New York.

This is one of the best books in the entire Dortmunder series.