With the help of an unusual set of cronies, bank robber John Dortmunder puts a set of wheels under a trailer that just happens to be the temporary site of the Capitalists' & Immigrants' Trust and hauls it away. But when the safe won't open and the cops get close, Dortmunder realizes he's got to find a place to ditch the "bank".
Donald E. Westlake (1933-2008) was one of the most prolific and talented authors of American crime fiction. He began his career in the late 1950's, churning out novels for pulp houses—often writing as many as four novels a year under various pseudonyms such as Richard Stark—but soon began publishing under his own name. His most well-known characters were John Dortmunder, an unlucky thief, and Parker, a ruthless criminal. His writing earned him three Edgar Awards: the 1968 Best Novel award for God Save the Mark; the 1990 Best Short Story award for "Too Many Crooks"; and the 1991 Best Motion Picture Screenplay award for The Grifters. In addition, Westlake also earned a Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America in 1993.
Westlake's cinematic prose and brisk dialogue made his novels attractive to Hollywood, and several motion pictures were made from his books, with stars such as Lee Marvin and Mel Gibson. Westlake wrote several screenplays himself, receiving an Academy Award nomination for his adaptation of The Grifters, Jim Thompson's noir classic.
Andy Kelp darkens Dortmunder's doorstep with a proposition: rob the Capitalists' and Immigrants' Trust bank. The bank is under renovation and business is currently being done out of a mobile home. Together with his usual crew of Murch, Murch's Mom, Kelp, and some newcomers, Dortmunder plans to make off with the entire bank, trailer and all. How hard could it be?
I should create a shelf called Why The Hell Isn't This Still in Print? Westlake's early Dortmunder books would be all over it. Bank Shot is a comedic caper, as Dortmunder's usually are. Victor and Herman X, the newcomers, fit in pretty well with Dortmunder's quirky crew. The plot had a lot of twists and complications. While I knew things wouldn't go Dortmunder's way, I had no idea to what extent.
Westlake's writing in this one is pretty damn good. It continues to amaze me how he can write Dortmunder's comic capers and the Parker books under his Richard Stark pseudonym with such different styles. His comedic timing is great. Also, I caught references to the Continental Op, Elmore Leonard, and Parker in the text.
I highly recommend not only Bank Shot but the Dortmunder series as a whole.
Dortmunder and associates, including a former FBI agent, plan and execute a bank job. But no simple in and out, nobody move, etc. for this group. No, they steal the bank itself. Made possible by the Capitalists and Immigrants branch bank being temporarily located in a mobile home while the bank building is being renovated. But of course the job doesn't go quite as planned. The Dortmunder jinx strikes again. To the delight of readers.
Dortmunder has had a long dry spell as far as opportunities to steal valuables, and the gloomy thief has been reduced to running a scam pretending to sell encyclopedias door-to-door. However, his friend Kelp has a nephew, Victor, who has an idea for a job. Victor has an obsession for old school pulp fiction and is a former FBI agent who had to leave the Bureau after trying to promote the idea that the feds needed a secret handshake.
Despite his over-excitement at working with an actual crew of professional criminals, Victor has come up with a potentially lucrative idea. A bank is being remodeled and they’ve put a specially designed trailer nearby to handle business while the construction is on-going. One night a week, a large amount of cash is in the safe of the trailer along with some armed guards.
And what’s the best way to steal a trailer? Why, you just hook up a truck and drive it off to work on cracking the safe at your leisure. At least, that was the plan. But when Dortmunder and his crew are involved, you know it can’t be that easy.
This is the second Dortmunder novel, but I think it may be one of the funniest of them I’ve read. There’s a lot of hilarious characters and dialogue. One bit of unintentional humor was that this was written in 1975, and there’s a long conversation where the thieves are complaining about how no one uses money anymore. It’s all checks and credit cards, and they moan that there won’t be any cash left to steal before too long, and this was long before debit cards or e-commerce. Fortunately, they managed to find enough to steal to keep us entertained for the rest of the series.
Bank Shot is book number two in the adventures of John Dortmunder and friends. In one sense it is also the second caper they attempt. But in The Hot Rock they had to plan and execute six heists; each in a different place and often with the same goal. That book is longer both because of the complexity and the exposition to “meet” the gang. In this book, we only meet two new characters and the job is completely different.
Since I originally read the author in his Richard Stark/Parker alias, I was unaware of his “fun” side. And in every Dortmunder book I have read so far, the story develops plenty of comedy ranging from coincidence to near-slapstick. But the formula stays fresh because the heists are different, the locations (in and out of NYC) are different, and the screw-ups are different. Mr. Westlake is clearly enjoying himself (perhaps the better word is “indulging”) in these books. Clearly his readers shared that enjoyment as the series extended on for many years and many entries.
In this book, most of the original players return, but we have a new locksman, an ex-FBI agent who happens to be Andy Kelp’s nephew, and Dortmunder’s lady, May. Dortmunder is surviving hand-to-mouth selling encyclopedia subscriptions (not actual ones of course) and bemoaning the dearth of cash-rich targets in the modern (1972) era. Kelp comes to him with an idea for a job, but even their first encounter is played for a bit of humor. Dortmunder, for his part, wants nothing to do with anything concocted by Kelp as he blames him for past plans gone wrong. Eventually, he yields to pressure and he works out a plan to steak a bank.
I won’t give you any more details, but you can be certain that things go both well and poorly. The job comes off – mostly – but then obstacles keep getting thrown at them; people, things, and even the weather act against them. Dortmunder, like Parker, plans his jobs meticulously. Unlike Parker he seems to plan less for possible failure and not at all for double-cross (these are his well-known associates, after all). But once the cookie begins to crumble, a lot of seat-of-your-pants navigation keeps the plan aloft. Watching him squirm is half the fun.
In the middle of this book, the author pays homage to Dashiell Hammet by naming a security firm “The Continental Detective Agency”. I thought that was enough of a hint, but he goes on to name a non-uniformed “rank” which is called a Continental Op. That was a bit heavy-handed for my tastes. (If you’ve not read any of the books about The Continental Op, run, run, as fast as you can and get them from your local bookshop or library and enjoy!) There is also a reference to Elmore Leonard as well as Parker himself.
In the course of four books (I started with a couple of later ones) I have grown much found of the team and its dour leader. The stories are well-planned both in ideas and minutiae, they are inventive, and they are lighthearted. You can breeze through them and have a good time. The writing is precise and oh so very different from the Parker series. I was on the fence about rating this only 3.5, but I’m staying with a full Four (4) Stars for this one. I read this in the same day as The Hot Rock and enjoyed myself immensely.
Hard to believe this book was written 45 years ago, but the deadpan humor, the plot twists and turns and the lovable quirks of the Dortmunder crime gang stand up just as well as ever.
Dortmunder, the planner of his shifting bunch of career criminals, is suspicious from the start of one of his crony's nephews, Victor, a former FBI agent (thrown out for pushing his idea for a secret handshake) who has his eye on a bank job in Long Island. Except in this case, the bank is temporarily set up in a trailer, and the idea is to steal the entire bank.
What ensues is a classic mix of special skills, police bungling, sudden good fortune, followed inevitably by bad luck, and all delivered in an addictively readable package.
The successful elements of the first novel are there, but an odd digression with a sexually nebulous new character is off-putting and the central Job itself, while just as screwball and madcap, suffers for its simplicity.
Next to the dictionary entry for "caper" should be a picture of this book. Not as whacky and far less convoluted than the first entry, the old characters remain strong and the new introductions (which are mostly for plot convenience) are a welcome change.
Another enjoyable entry in the Dortmunder series by Westlake. I've read a few others in this series and always enjoy them. Westlake has an uncanny knack for blending a good caper novel with comedy and wit. I've also read some other Westlake novels that are straight forward crime novels which he also does very well.
Anyway, in this one Dortmunder agrees upon a plan put forth by one of his crew, Kelp, and Kelp's nephew Victor, to rob a bank. But this is not any bank...the bank is actually a mobile home that is being temporarily used as a bank while a new building is constructed. So what's the plan? To hook up a truck to the mobile bank and steal the whole structure! So can this be achieved? Well of course Dortmunder is convinced it can along with the help of Murch, his car driver, and Murch's mother. But what about a lockman to break into the bank's vault? The person they normally use is unavailable so someone named Herman X is recruited for the task. Herman who is black, normally works for a black cause where he usually ends up with no money of his own for his work so he definitely needs the cash. And Victor, who came up with the idea, is an ex-FBI man who was fired because he wanted the FBI men to use a secret handshake! So they hook up the bank to a semitruck and off they go...but nothing is ever easy for Dortmunder and his crew and if something could go wrong, it usually does.
I enjoyed this one as usual and will be looking forward to reading more in the series.
Master criminal planner Dortmander is reduced to selling encyclopedias to the housewives living on Long Island when his friend Kelp tells him about a “sure thing.” Seems Kelp’s nephew Victor is a former FBI agent who has noticed a perfect opportunity – a local bank is undergoing major renovation and so operations have been temporarily moved to a mobile home in a nearby vacant lot. All they have to do is hitch the trailer to a truck and they can steal the entire bank!
Westlake created a wonderful character with Dortmander – a master planner of elaborate crimes who is cursed with a gang of not-quite-competent accomplices. If anything can go wrong with Dortmander’s perfect plan, it will. The only thing that seems to save Dortmander and his friends is that the police are equally (or more) inept than the crooks. I just find myself cheering for Dortmander’s crew, sharing their frustrations, shaking my head at their obvious mistakes, chuckling at their mishaps. This comic caper is the perfect antidote to a gray dreary day. I’ll be smiling for hours just thinking about it.
Not as funny as The Hot Rock, the first Dortmunder book, but a satisfyingly fun little book. And the end was fantastic. Westlake manages to keep hope alive for the thieves but always keeps an undercurrent of fatalistic despair that reminds you this will never work out for these guys. Loads of fun.
This is another hilarious romp with John Dortmunder and his ring of thieves, er, friends. Dortmunder's friend, Kelp, comes to him with an idea for a high-paying heist, an idea brought to life by Kelp's nephew, a young man who parted company with the FBI at their request.
The plot is well-paced, the characters are interesting --there's nothing here not to like.
It isn't only the criminals who have idiosyncracies; law enforcement and other characters in the story demonstrate their own flawed thinking and motivation.
Yes, I know this novel was the basis of a 1974 movie with George C. Scott. No, I hadn’t read it before. Yes, I sort of knew the premise of bank robbers who decided it was easier to steal an entire bank rather than merely rob it. The truth is, I had never actually seen a mobile home functioning as a bank until I moved to the Atlanta area. I certainly didn’t have confidence enough to put my money in the little bank in the mobile home, but I wouldn’t have expected anyone to steal the whole bank.
In Bank Shot, early enough in the hilarious Dortmunder adventures that May has just become his “live-in” girlfriend, the dour scam-master figures out how to lift a mobile home with no wheels from its semi-permanent location on concrete blocks, in spite of regular patrols and an alarm system rigged directly into the local police department. As with all Dortmunder novels, this one is filled with improbabilities and a delightful mixture of good and bad luck. And, as with all Dortmunder novels, the joy of reading it is as much with how the zany cast of characters interact with each other as figuring out the how to- aspects of how the job is going to be carried out.
For me, this book had a character that I really enjoyed, but don’t remember appearing in any later novels. I could be wrong. I haven’t read them all and I haven’t read them (obviously) in order. But Kelp’s nephew, Victor, is a fascinating character. He is the “out there” version of me, feeling more at home in the pulps, serials, and old radio programs of the past than riding the cultural wave of his own era. I also identify with him because he was the “victim” of a bureaucracy from his own insistence upon something stupid that became a crusade for him (probably sounds familiar to those of you who know me). I couldn’t help but shake my head in recognition as he hits the remote control switch for his garage door and tries to imagine the rising door as a warehouse wall riding up and providing a Green Hornet-like egress from his secret hideout. It’s the kind of stuff that flits through the adolescent portion of my mind whenever the neurons hit the soft, little-used sectors of my brain. I KNOW that thought!
But for all the improbable events (which I won’t spoil for you) and the inevitable mixed results of the job (Hey! It’s a Dortmunder novel. You weren’t expecting them to retire on the proceeds, were you?), Westlake still has a capacity for surprise. At one point, May is watching an old Dick Powell movie on television. The name of the film is “The Tall Target” and it seemed so improbable that I thought it was a joke. Dick Powell plays a character named John Kennedy who is trying to stop the assassination of Abraham Lincoln on a Baltimore and Ohio train. Imagine my amazement to discover that such a film was really made in 1951. I guess it would have caused a temporal dislocation for anyone in the modern era who watched it.
And for all the literary slapstick that takes place in the novel, I love the succinct way Westlake occasionally captures the essence of human interaction. One of the characters is hosting a dinner party and deliberately creates tension among the guests. “A dinner party should be nothing but undercurrents,” says the character. For me, such are the joys of reading Westlake regardless of the plot. If you haven’t read this Dortmunder novel, it’s one of the best. As for me, I may actually rent the movie.
This story is hilarious. Westlake is a master of dry humor as well as laugh-out-loud hilarity. While a bank is being remodeled, it conducts business out of a large trailer. A couple of small-time thieves take a break from their usual con-game of selling non-existent encyclopedias to rob the bank. Their novel idea, however, is to steal the bank itself, the whole thing. They put together a team of engaging, eccentric characters who boost the trailer up on wheels and tow it away in the dark of night. This is a quick read, guaranteed to lift your mood.
Όταν το ξεκίνησα δεν περίμενα πως θα το απολάμβανα τόσο, μα τόσο πολύ! Είχε από τις καλύτερες εισαγωγές χαρακτήρων που έχω διαβάσει! ( ίσως επηρεασμένη από τον πανικό που έζησα με το L.A. Confidential ). Οι χαρακτήρες εμφανίζονταν στο χρόνο τους ο καθένας και τόσο μα τόσο όμορφα! Πέραν της παραπάνω μικρής μου ιδιοτροπίας, θέλω να πω πόσο απόλαυσα την ιστορία με την τράπεζα τροχόσπιτο και την κυριολεκτική έννοια το τίτλου ( εύσημα στον μεταφραστή ). Πόσο στρωτή ιστορία, που κυλάει ανεξάρτητα από ότι συμβαίνει γύρω μας, που σε παρασύρει μέσα της και οι τόσο ζωντανοί χαρακτήρες είναι εκεί δίπλα σου και σου μιλάνε, ακούς τις ιστορίες τους και τις γνώμες τους! Μία τόσο ενδιαφέρουσα ιστορία ληστείας, τόσο ευρηματική και πρωτότυπη! Ξέρεις τι μου θύμι��ε κάτι παλιές καλές ταινίες με ληστές και κομπιναδόρους με ηθοποιούς-τέρατα που σε μάγευαν με την υπόθεση και όχι με τα εφέ. Αυτό είναι αυτό το βιβλίο, η ουσία χωρίς περιττά εφέ. Ουσία!
Westlake wrote a bunch of semi-comedic adventurous crime novels about ex-con Dortmunder and the various crimes he finds himself in. In this one, Dortmunder and his crew steal a bank in order to open the safe at their leisure... but the safe proves tougher than expected. And every cop in New York is looking for a super-long motor-home which was converted into a temporary banking location, during construction.
Crimes occur, but this isn't a shoot-em-up. This is strictly a heist novel about a heist that goes right and wrong, at the same time.
Westlake knows what he's doing and he does it well.
This is another fun, quick read of the Dortmunder and his gang of inept career criminals. The story this time is that they decide to rob a bank, the whole bank. While the Capitalists & Immigrants Trust is being rebuilt, it is temporarily being operated in a mobile home across the street. The idea of the heist is to simply hook up a truck to the mobile home bank, drive away, and open the safe at their leisure. Of course, nothing goes as planned, but most of the curves they can handle until they can't.
Although this wasn't as gut bustingly hilarious as the previous book (The Hot Rock), it still has chuckle moments, and probably if you're an old time New Yorker, even more. The same team plus a few oddball additions goes after a bank and you have to read the book to appreciate the way they go about it because you've never read a bank robbery like this one before.
Most of the enjoyment comes from the characters and conversations, especially the police officers. This really would play better as a film, because it would give actors a lot of chances to work the lines up effectively, but unfortunately is a creature of a certain time that wouldn't work well in a modern setting.
Overall still well written and enjoyable if not quite as comedic as the previous book in the series.
Dortmunder is grinding out a marginal living working the encyclopedia scam when Andy Kelp shows up with a caper. Dortmunder is rightfully suspicious, but gets sucked in to the plan anyway. And it's a doozie. They're going to steal a bank. Not rob a bank. Anyone can do that. But only Dortmunder could actually pull off stealing the entire bank. And, of course, that infamous Dortmunder luck has to show up.
The second Dortmunder novel by Westlake is pretty much as fun as the first. The heist itself is both simpler and more complicated as he must figure out how to steal the entire temporary location of a small local bank. Kelp and Murch are back, along with Kelp's nephew, a former FBI agent, and Herman X, a black power advocate and safe-cracker. The new additions are okay, Herman being the far more interesting. Oh...and Murch's Mom is along for the ride as well.
Westlake hits a lot of fun buttons with this one. It's nice to see Dortmunder complaining in 1972 how hard it is to find jobs where there is a lot of cash available as payroll jobs have almost disappeared since everything is done by check. Just wait another forty years, John. And I loved the shout-outs to the Continental Op and to Parker.
On the sudden and unexpected passing on Donald E. Westlake:
The Bank Shot was the first of many Donald Westlake books I have had the pleasure of reading. I can't even remember how many years ago that it was that I first read this, or how I came upon him in the first place. I don't think I was shelf browsing at the library, I think I bought it used, read it, and was hooked. And I would best that it was at least 25 years ago, so I have been reading Westlake intermittently for almost half my life.
Westlake's Dortmunder and gang are the most amazingly and totally inept criminals ever imagined, throughout all the books Westlake wrote about them. They are always a catastrophe waiting to happen no matter how good an idea seems beforehand. They are perfect examples of the phrase 'Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.'
Donald was inventive, literate, a hoot to read, and a real giant in his field. And Westlake(in a way, similar to another of my favorite authors. Lawrence Block) was a writing machine, in his lifetime writing so many books that many were published under multiple other pen names.
I was stunned today to read of his death (a heart attack in Mexico) and saddened to think no new adventures will be coming from him. There is still a large number of his books that I have not yet read, and some to revisit, but I wanted to reach out to my reading community and express a sense of loss at his death. Maybe some of you will be inspired to start reading him if you don't know his work yet. And I can't think of a better place to start than this book.
The thing is...beneath Westlake being so very funny at so many obvious levels, he's being funny at levels it takes three readings to see. Here, it's in the character of Victor, the nephew who was fired from the FBI for suggesting a secret handshake ("it was political, right Victor?"), and who only joined the FBI because he loved the pulps, he loved spy stories, the radio serials, dime novels, all the fictions about the FBI. (He even makes his own radio serials...twenty years after radio drama died.) What Westlake does with Victor is that, every single time Victor speaks in this novel, the dialog attribution is said bookism plus adverb, just as the pulps were written. Westlake was such a clean writer, you likely won't notice the device upon first read, even when "Victor queried interrogatively" pops up at one point. When I did finally see it, I hooted with both laughter and delight. It was as if Victor's love for the pulps had taken over the text of the novel in which he was a character. There are little bits like this, Easter Eggs we'd call them now, in every Westlake novel and I always suspected he was entertaining himself more than the reader and was tickled pink when I finally found them. RIP, sir. I miss you.
I didn't know this story was also made into an old movie with George C. Scott but, I'm ordering it on Netflix now. I used to read Westlake's books in the 1990s, so when I saw this bargain on Kindle, I couldn't resist. Westlake books have never let me down because his humor is kind of snarky and his books are hilarious. I laughed out loud so often reading this book, people asked what I was reading. The book is a bit slow to get going and throughout the book it has some slow parts, but all the characters are memorable and it's a well-crafted story. Dortmunder is the leader of this motly crew when they decide to hijack and entire bank and steal the loot inside. I loved Kelp, Herman X, Murch and Murch's mom who wore a fake neckbrace for an insurance claim. If anything can go wrong it does in this crazy bank caper. What ultimately happens to his bank makes this book so funny and worth reading to the end. Maybe it's time to revisit the bumbling Dotmunder capers of the past.
Fast paced, funny, well thought out, and smart. I hate when I read mystery or crime novels and I have a whole bunch of questions that are never addressed because it is easier (lazier) not to mention them then for the author to fill out all the details. That doesn't happen in this book. By having "the planner" as the MC of his books Westlake challenges himself, and meets that challenge, in having his character make sure every detail of their crime is going to be covered and in a way that could actually work, not in the "it works if you don't think about it at all" that so many authors fall back on. This also doesn't fall into the trap of "needing" a book to be over 300 pages. Westlake has a 190 page story? He writes a 190 page story.
I enjoyed this one as much as the first book in the series and am looking forward to continuing on.
Donald Westlake's second Dortmunder novel: not quite rounded into vintage Dortmunder form, but some moments of pure over-the-top slapstick, particularly those involving the hapless Continental Detective Agency flatfoots in the towed mobile home/trailer. Many crooks could plan a bank robbery; only Dortmunder would be unlucky enough to have to work out how to steal a bank.