The Hook

The Hook



The Pequod Review:

The Hook is a lesser version of The Ax (1997), a serious and hard-boiled crime novel that this time involves an agreement between two novelists: one (Wayne Prentice) will write a book for the other (Bryce Proctorr) to market under his own name, in exchange for the murder of Proctorr's divorce-seeking wife. Once again it’s a somewhat ridiculous plot, but one of Donald Westlake’s great skills as a novelist is to make the far-fetched not only entertaining but actually plausible.

The story's best moment is the murder itself, which is as realistic and unsettling a scene as Westlake has ever written: 

She came at him with nails, fingers into talons, and he ducked back and away, knowing he couldn't permit her to scar him, mark him, he couldn't leave traces of his flesh under her nails. He kicked wildly, hitting the front of her right thigh, half-turning her as he backpedalled.

She came at him again, blood on her face, mouth distorted, not screaming yet, but soon she'd scream, and he couldn't have that, either. He jumped back a pace, this time aimed, and kicked her solidly, the outside of his right shoe squarely against her right knee. She jerked toward him, and looked astonished as she fell, and he kicked her in the mouth as she was going down.

Loud thump. Let the people downstairs be at the movies. She landed face down, and he dropped heavily to his knees onto her back, reached down, grabbed her jaw in his right hand, the golden hair clutched in his left, and tried to jerk her head around to the right.

He couldn't do it, whatever he was trying to do he wasn't doing it, break her neck or twist off her head or whatever it was, it wasn't working, and he abandoned that and reached out to his left and found the table with the dynasty horse and his wineglass on it, and pulled it to him, horse and glass both flying somewhere.

Rectangular, thin-legged table, but thick solid wooden top. He raised it over his head with both hands and brought the edge of it down hard on the back of her head. And then again onto her neck. And then again onto her head.

She wasn't moving. Her arms were half bent, up beside her head, fingers curled. He reached out to move her right arm, and it waggled. He put the table on the floor, leaned down close to her, to the bloody mess of the right side of her face, and very faintly he could hear the ragged breathing.

Until this instant, there had been nothing sexual in it. The whole thing had been so unexpected, so unplanned, so much the result of the tension he was feeling, the fear, the doubt. She had not been a woman, she had merely been something that moved and made sound and it was his job to stop the movement and stop the sounds.

Now, the smell of her, the warmth of the body under his, that faint sound of her breath in and out of her broken nose, and he became aware of her as a sexual being. Oh, don't, he told himself, straightening, still kneeling on her back. Don't be aroused by this, for God's sake. 

He climbed off her, shaky, tottering. He went down that interior hall and found the antiseptic bare kitchen. Her plastic-bag collection was in a plastic bag inside the doored space under the sink. He chose two large bags from the supermarket and brought them back to the living room.

Her bowels had released. No fear any more of being turned on. He knelt beside her, fitted first one bag and then the other over her head, twisted them at the back of her neck to improve the seal. Then he closed his eyes and knelt there, holding the twisted bags.

The book also contains sharp observations on both the craft of writing and the publishing industry, and Westlake includes a good amount of autobiographical details on his own writing process:

He’d always been a storyteller that got the details of our world right. Not just the guns and the planes and the perfumes and the whiskeys, but the highway intersections and the histories of obscure clans and the reasons for the extinction of this or that species.

Much of his preparation had been in libraries or on the phone with experts. He had learned early on that he could phone almost anybody in the world, from the Israeli United Nations Mission to Budget Auto Rental’s main headquarters, and say, “I’m a writer working on a novel, and I wonder if you could tell me…” and people would stop whatever they were doing, answer the questions, look things up, spend as much time as he wanted, and wish him luck at the end of the call. It was one of the great secret resources of the fiction writer, that pleasure that the rest of the world takes in helping the fiction along.

Highly recommended.