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Help, I Am Being Held Prisoner

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  608 ratings  ·  57 reviews
An ingrained practical joker, sentenced to prison after one of his jokes got out of hand, is inadvertently dumped into a gang of prison trusties who are able to periodically sneak out of prison to commit robberies for which they have the perfect alibi: they're in jail. The hero is not a criminal by nature, and is terrified but must hide his fear from the gang, who are toug ...more
Hardcover, First Edition, 275 pages
Published July 1st 1974 by M. Evans (first published 1974)
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Should someone be put in prison for a practical joke?

Yes. All practical jokers belong in jail. Or hell.

Harry has been an unrepentant prankster his entire life, but now he has been locked up after one of his jokes went wrong which resulted in several injuries. Once inside he quickly bumbles onto the secret of several other inmates. There was an opportunity during construction of a prison expansion to build a tunnel which they use to regularly leave. This isn’t for escape because none of these g
If you're looking for a gritty prison crime fiction novel turn away now, Help I Am Being Held Prisoner is pretty much the opposite; professional prankster, Harold Kunt (with an umlaut) finds himself in prison after a prank turned foul, causing multiple injuries to motorists including a couple of high powered politicians. Now he's serving time, rubbing shoulders with con men, mobsters, and violent street thugs - he's completely out of his depth and comfort zone - so how does he manage to rob a co ...more
Can't You Take A Joke?

Westlake, one of the grandmasters of crime fiction, originally published this short comedic crime story in 1974, but Hard Case has unearthed it from its secret tomb and republished it. Westlake must have been watching a lot of Hogan's Heroes when he wrote this, only here it's not a POW camp in Germany, but a prison in the northeast. Westlake wrote two dozen Parker novels about a tough criminal who committed capers and four Grofield caper novels, all under the pseudonym Rich
Jan 23, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Poor Italian translator, trying to find a possible substitute/translation of Kunt (no umlaut here, sorry Henry)! Because, you know, if you tell someone that they are 'female external genitalia' in Italian you are paying them a compliment (albeit a vulgar one), it's like telling them they are cool and goodlooking!
So we have Henry Vomitt, bad enough but not so bad, in my opinion, because it's maybe more disgusting but it's not taboo or vulgar at all.
The title of the Italian translation is also q
Book Concierge
Harry Künt (WITH an umlaut, and pronounced KOONT) finds himself in prison after pulling one practical joke too many, resulting in the accidental injury of two Congressmen (and the women – not their wives – who accompanied them). The warden warns him to keep out of trouble and Harry wholeheartedly agrees. But when he’s assigned work detail in the gym he winds up part of a gang who is planning the perfect crime. Being in prison, they’ll have the perfect alibi.

Westlake excelled at writing comic cr
Dec 06, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's been years since I've read a Donald E. Westlake novel and I'd forgotten how much fun they can be. This is a wonderful tale about Harold (Harry) Künt who has had lifelong problems over the pronunciation of his surname. As a result, Harry's taken revenge on the world by becoming a master of the practical joke. This leads him to being sent to prison when one of his pranks goes badly wrong. In prison he meets up with a group of criminals who are planning a double bank heist.

These men oversee t
May 03, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Help I Am Being Held Prisoner" is one of the better additions to the Hard Case Crime series.

Given prior entries from this publisher, I originally expected a noir-style thriller about a bunch of prisoners attempting to rob a bank while trapped behind bars. However, this book is a comedy about a prankster who goes to jail for a prank that went too far. In lieu of reformation, he finds himself reluctantly embroiled alongside hardened criminals in a plot to rob the local military base and two banks
Ritika Chhabra
Follow Just A Girl High On Books for more reviews.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

When I started reading Help I Am Being Held Prisoner, I assumed it to be a really funny book that would have me laughing like an a-hole. And no, that wasn't because of what Stephen King wrote about the book (although that was partly the reason). But the main reason was the blurb. It seemed funny. I mean, a guy who moves into the prison because he was technically nothing more than a p
Tim Hicks
Jul 07, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: humour
Westlake must be among the top ten of all time for obviously enjoying the art of writing. Sure, he probably worked at it as hard as anyone, but I can easily picture him laughing as another zinger lands on the page. As I read Westlake, I can imagine him watching me closely for the eyebrow lift, the twitch of lip, and other clues that another laugh is building up exactly as he intended.

Our hero is ridiculous, but so obviously well-meaning that we can't dislike him. The plot is ridiculous, but ne
Harshita Gupta
Jan 09, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My Rating: 3.5 stars
‘Help I am being Held Prisoner’ by Donald E. Westlake is comical, waggish and somewhat ludicrous. It’s about a prankster who ended up in the Jail when one of his pranks goes awfully wrong. It’s not really the hard crime fiction, but rather a funny account of bank robbery, prison life, and a few interesting characters.
The narration comprises of dialogues, conversations, and talks. The composition of words and dialogues did leave me giggling and smiling as I read. The funniest
Richard White
A little dated but still a fun read.
Peter Tillman
There really aren't any bad Westlake crime-caper novels, but this was one of the weaker ones that I've read. I was hoping for something better.... Harry Kunt (with an umlaut) hates his name -- can't imagine why. I did like Marion, his unlikely girlfriend, who finds Harry very entertaining. And there are certainly moments, many featuring Marion. But it's hard to do convincing character-sketches, with a big cast, in a short, stand-alone novel.

Oh, well. It's not like he'll be writing more. And coul
Nick Anderson
Jul 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Just a joy of a read. So light, airy, easy, fun, funny. I guess you could knock it for not having much in the way of stakes for the lead, or for somewhat weak obstacles to overcome, but I just enjoyed it too much to care. Westlake at his lightest is still an extraordinarily sharp writer, and there are plenty of little nuggets of brilliance to mine here.

TL;DR shut up and enjoy.
Oct 09, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My all-time, bust-a-gut howling favorite! I will NEVER be able to re-read this enough!!!
John Defrog
May 24, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was recently reprinted by Hard Case Crime, which has been reprinting a lot of Westlake’s more obscure or out-of-print novels. In this one, Harry Künt is a compulsive practical joker who goes a step too far and ends up sentenced to two years in prison. By happenstance, he ends up as part of a group of criminals who have access to a secret tunnel that leads outside. But the object isn’t to escape – it’s to be able to go outside and live a normal life while they serve their time. Oh, and it’s ...more
Jul 18, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great, fun read from Donald Westlake from 1972. It stretches the limits of credulity—think Hogan's Heroes. Recommended to anyone who appreciates Westlake's humor.
juicy brained intellectual
pretty funny for a man
May 25, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classic-crime
Review coming soon.
Dec 02, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent - hilarious!
Mike Sullivan
Read it years ago and it was funny then, still is funny now...if anyone needs a good laugh, this is the book to read, dry humor, have to read it from that perspective. It's about a practical joker who gets sentenced to prison and finds himself involved w/fellow cellmates who have a way to come in and out of the prison at will thus providing them w/a iron clad alibi as to their whereabouts. The book is told from the first person narrative of the prankster who is compulsively obliged to continue w ...more
Jan 08, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fun hard boiled crime story. An ingenious book, written originally in 1974 and being released again this year. Mystery & Thriller
I miss Donald E. Westlake. He was a prolific author of mysteries and thrillers who never, ever sacrificed quality for quantity. I first encountered him through his shorter fiction in Playboy (I really did read it for the articles back in the day) and moved on to his many, many novels published under his own name and under multiple pseudonyms. It was hard to keep up with Westlake, given that in the 1950s and ’60s, books would appear and then disappear within a week or two from those wonderful rev ...more
Jan 19, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this from an advance reader copy of the new edition, due out soon. The original came out in the 1970s.
This is a fine example of the way that Donald Westlake combined noir crime fiction and bizarre comedy. In this case, the main character is an obsessive practical joker who has been sentenced to prison after one of his pranks ended up causing huge amounts of damage and exposing the affairs of two Congressmen. While there, he gets caught up in a strange plan to rob two banks with the perfec
Doug Lewars
Oct 05, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery, humour
*** Possible Spoilers ***

This wasn't a bad book. It wasn't a good book. It was an okay book. The story revolves around an inveterate practical joker who winds up in prison as the result of a joke gone terribly awry. Then by accident, he finds himself part of a gang planning to rob two banks. The pacing is brisk and the plot isn't bad. The characters are a little wooden. It's supposed to be humorous but I didn't find it particularly amusing. For one thing I couldn't relate to the protagonist. He
Stephen Romney
Feb 12, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An absolutely hilarious caper with a number of twists and turns. While some aspects of the story are dated, with references to things lile the Weathermen Underground, the story still holds up. It's kind of like a literary equivalent of the Pink Panther films, with a little bit of Ocean's 11 mixed in for good measure.

I docked it one star mostly because the ending kind peters out. Most of the book felt like it was building up to something big, but once you enter the last few chapters, the conclusi
Mary Sue
Donald Westlake creates heroes who are good bad-guys. They are criminals but we gleefully cheer them on.This novel's hero is a chronic practical joker. He lands a job in prison that allows him the opportunity to be part of a gang planning two bank robberies. Their alibi is they are clearly behind bars at the prison while the banks are in town. Fun light read.
Jun 04, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Probably more like 3.5 stars but I'll bump it because it's Westlake. Another amusing heist book from him with the twist that it's committed by people in prison, and the narrator is trying to ensure the heist doesn't happen. Always happy to find some DW I haven't yet read; this one is a quick diversion, useful as a palate cleanser.
Feb 25, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a funny offbeat read by a great pulp fiction writer. It is a highly detailed in depth mystery but rather a pleasant comedy. It is an easy fun read that I would recommend for Westlake fans or those who love pulp fiction novels.
Mar 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A long-lost humorous caper novel. It seems like it will be a straightforward story but Westlake tosses in a monkey wrench at every twist and turn. I enjoyed this 1974 reprint more than some of his later Dortmunder novels.
Charles Clark
A great light, comic crime fiction for most of the book with a relatively weak, rushed ending. Still, fun to read; I laughed out loud a couple times. Several great little spots that could only be D.E.W.
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Play Book Tag: Help, I Am Being Held Prisoner / Donald E Westlake - 3*** 1 10 Sep 30, 2016 02:33PM  

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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 a ru ...more

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