Jimmy the Kid



The Pequod Review:

Jimmy the Kid is great fun — a mash-up of Donald Westlake's two most famous creations, John Dortmunder and Parker (written under the pen name Richard Stark). The story begins when Dortmunder's friend Andy Kelp emerges from prison with a kidnapping-for-ransom idea drawn from a book he read in jail by an author named Richard Stark. ("Sounds like crap," Dortmunder said.) The thought is to use the book as a step-by-step guide to carry out the job, and since Parker was successful they will be too. Following some back and forth, the gang agrees to proceed with the plan, and soon afterward they find their target: the twelve-year-old son (Jimmy) of a wealthy New York City corporate lawyer.

The meta-fictional premise is brilliant one — and the story is interspersed with chapters from the (non-existent) Stark book — but Westlake brings a lot of intelligence and humor to the details too. The story includes a stuffy Upper West Side psychiatrist who smugly dismisses Jimmy's well-founded fears that he is being followed (“Mm hm?”). And Jimmy's father is shown to be a businessman to the bone, as he can't help himself from trying to negotiate a lower ransom even if it may increase the risk to his son. There is even a nod to French film theory, as Dortmunder's longtime girlfriend May tries to persuade him to take on a job that wasn't his idea:

"I got another copy." She'd gotten it from Kelp, but she didn't think she should mention that.

He turned his frown towards her. "What for?"

"I wanted to read it again. I wanted to see if maybe Kelp had a good idea after all."

"Kelp with a good idea." He finished his Jell-O and reached for his coffee.

"Well, he was smart to bring it around to you," she said. "He wouldn't be able to do it right without you."

“Kelp brings a plan to me.”

“To make it work,” she said.  “Don’t you see?  There’s a plan there, but you have to convert it to the real world, to the people you’ve got and the places you’ll be and all the rest of it. You’d be the aw-tour.”

He cocked his head and studied her. “I’d be the what?”

“I read an article in a magazine,” she said. “It was about a theory about movies.”

“A theory about movies.”

“It’s called the aw-tour theory. That’s French, it means writer.”

He spread his hands. “What the hell have I got to do with the movies?”

“Don’t shout at me, John, I’m trying to tell you. The idea is–”

“I’m not shouting,” he said.  He was getting grumpy.

“All right, you’re not shouting.  Anyway, the idea is, in movies the writer isn’t really the writer. The real writer is the director, because he takes what the writer did and he puts it together with the actors and the places where they make the movie and all the things like that.”

“The writer isn’t the writer,”  Dortmunder said.

“That’s the theory.”

“Some theory.”

"So they call the director the aw-tour," she explained, "because that's French for writer."

"I don't know what we're talking about," Dortmunder said, "but I think I'm getting caught up in it. Why do they do it in French?"

"I don't know. Maybe because it's more classy. Like chifferobe."

"Like what?"

She could sense the whole thing was getting out of hand. "Never mind," she said. "The point was, you could be the aw-tour on this kidnapping idea. Like a movie director."

Jimmy the Kid probably has more laugh-out-loud lines than any other Dortmunder novel, but unfortunately you have to have read most or all of the Dortmunders and the Parkers in order to fully appreciate it. So read those first and then get ready to settle in because this is the master at the top of his form.