In Donald E. Westlake's Get Real , the bad get better, the good slide a bit, and Lord help anyone caught between a thief and the current object of his laughs " land on every page" ( New York Times ).
Getting caught red-handed is inevitable when a TV producer convinces a thief named John Dortmunder -- and his merry gang -- to do a reality show that captures their next score. The producer guarantees to find a way to keep the show from being used in evidence against them. They're dubious, but the pay is good, so they take him up on his offer.
A mock-up of the OJ bar is built in a warehouse down on Varick Street. The ground floor of that building is a big open space jumbled with vehicles used in TV world, everything from a news truck and a fire engine to a hansom cab (without the horse).
As the gang plans their next move with the cameras rolling, Dortmunder and Kelp sneak onto the roof of their new studio to organize a private enterprise. It will take an ingenious plan to outwit viewers glued to their television sets, but Dortmunder is nothing if not persistent, and he's determined to end this shoot with money in his pockets.
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.
I'm assuming that this is the last new Dortmunder book since it was published after Westlake's death, and it's a very funny reminder of what's great about Westlake's comic writing. And it makes me more determined than ever to avoid reality television by any means necessary.
Professional thief Dortmunder and his crew get an unlikely offer to star in a reality series where the planning and execution of a robbery will be televised. Dortmunder and his friends aren't wild about filming their illegal activities, but since they don't have better options for any lucrative criminal activity, they decide to play along to see what they can steal along the way. As production starts, the gang quickly finds out that there's little reality in reality television, and they keep working their own angles to pull a very real heist while pretending to plan one.
This follows the standard Dortmunder formula. The regulars make their appearances, and as usual, gloomy Dortmunder has to deal with a bizarre situation when all he wants to do is make an honest living stealing. The behind-the-curtain look at reality television makes for some of the biggest laughs.
But the death of Westlake puts a layer of nostalgia and a feeling of farewell in this one that makes it pretty bittersweet. If this is the last we see of Dortmunder and his motley crew, then it's a fitting goodbye.
John Dortmunder is Donald Westlake's working-stiff thief, a way-downmarket Danny Ocean, probably within hailing distance of Lawrence Block's Bernie Rhodenbarr on the social ladder. As I understand the concept, each of the fifteen books in the series features Dortmunder and his crew of mixed nuts happening on something valuable that begs to be stolen. They piece together a Rube Goldberg plan to steal that something, then the plan proceeds to come unglued from Step 1, to much hilarity.
Get Real is the last entry in the series, published after Westlake's death. In it, Dortmunder and his merry men get an offer they probably should refuse: a reality-TV producer offers them a tidy sum of money to let him make a TV series of their burgling. After they hash over all the myriad ways this could go wrong, they agree to do it anyway, lacking any other promising alternatives. Then they discover there may be a side job they can pull during the shoot that will supplement their legit pay.
Dortmunder's set up as the group's Eeyore; no Chatty Cathy like Bernie R., he could easily slip into the strong-silent-type lead in a hardboiled crime series if this were one of those. His partner-in-crime Kelp is the talker and charmer. Still, Dortmunder comes across as a solid (not to mention stolid), level-headed guy who could be a shop foreman or high-school football coach if he didn't steal things for a living. He even has a steady relationship with a woman, something not many other male characters manage in the crime genre. Is he likable? After 289 paperback pages, I can't really say. We see the story through multiple points of view, and even when Our Hero owns one of them, he often recedes from view. I'm not sure I spent enough time with him to know much more than what I've already told you.
The rest of his crew is a collection of types -- which is about right for the genre -- including a man-mountain who goes by (God help us) Tiny. The two principal female characters add little to the proceedings other than decoration or being the butt of fat jokes. The dialog otherwise is just so, especially among the gang members, who reveal the time they've spent together through the economy of their jibes and put-downs. Westlake sketches his settings with enough information to make it easy for a reader to construct the scene to his or her satisfaction.
I enjoy heist stories and caper novels, but somehow I've never gotten around to reading a Dortmunder book until now. I really wanted to like this more than I do. What's with that?
For one thing, the plotting was far less baroque than I'd been led to expect. The reel heist was all leadup and no plan, while the real heist was remarkably straightforward and disappointingly unremarkable. Untied plot threads stick out here and there; potential dramatic opportunities go unexploited, such as a subplot involving a potential mole in the gang that simply fizzles away.
The other thing this series is known for is its humor. Maybe I just didn't get it, but I didn't notice more laughs here than in many others involving a gaggle of wise guys cracking wise. As I mentioned, the boys give each other grief, but I experienced few laugh-out-loud moments. It certainly wasn't the "hilarious caper" promised by the back cover, nor did I find very much of the "rollicking" promised by the NYT Book Review.
What happened? I want to chalk it up to series fatigue; perhaps the zip was just gone out of the characters. I'd wanted to read The Hot Rock, the first and reputedly the best of the series, and still want to so I can see the author and his characters at their best.
Get Real is a by-the-numbers heist story written by an author who was known for being able to deliver so much more. It's not a bad book, just an unremarkable one. I'll read an earlier installment in the series at some point in the future, and I hope to find the qualities that prompted all the praise. This one ain't it.
Even towards the end of his life, Westlake could write beautifully contemporary and very funny fiction.
Taking aim at such crap faux reality shows such as ‘The Simple Life’ or ‘The Hills’ (I doubt he’d have seen such nonsense at ‘The Only Way Is Essex’, which us British types have to put up with), he ruthlessly skewers both the conventions and the people behind such shows. (On this website, we probably think of him as splitting Jekyll and Hyde style between Donald Westlake and Richard Stark, but he also worked on Tom Bosley’s ‘Father Dowling Investigates’ and his knowledge of television is evident.) What’s remarkable about this satire is that Westlake doesn’t come across as reactionary, septuagenarian, old and fuddy-duddy, with no understanding of the today’s world; but instead a really amusing writer who perfectly understands modern mores and quirks (even if his characters don’t). Writing a series of funny caper books seems to me a really difficult task due to what must be a constant worry of going stale. but Westlake – even in his final book – never lost his freshness.
Dortmunder and crew are hired to appear in a reality show recording a robbery – a problem as of course tapes of them carrying out a robbery could very realistically see them end up in prison. But then they find a target which might make it worth it.
This is a jaunty read which is excellent fun and leaves the crew – and I hope I’m not spoiling it too much here – with a fairly happy and successful conclusion to their adventures.
Donald Westlake's death this year was one of the saddest bits of literary news to darken my viewscreen. No more Dortmunder novels? Oh man, I'm already going into withdrawals! I plan to savor every word of this last brilliantly-written highly-amusing source of joy.
If you've never read any of Westlake's ingenious novels about Dortmunder the burglar, you are in for such a treat. The only character I can think of who compares would be Fletch.
The gang was called upon to do a reality show. Dortmunder was not for it, but finally agreed to use the idea to rob the owners of the production. Of course things don't work out quite as planned, as usual, fun, short read, but not as funny as some of his in this series.
And now, dear friends, it is time to say goodbye to John Dortmunder and his fine feathered friends (no, wait, I’m channeling Burgess Meredith!)
But it is true that Get Real is the last novel in this decades-long adventure, ending only with the Grim Reaper prying Mr. Westlake’s cold, stiff fingers from the keyboard. Although it is possible, I don’t see another author continuing this series at the behest of the publisher (and author’s estate). (There is a collection of short stories that I have yet to track down.)
As a swan song, it’s not bad. As I have noted in previous musings, the characters themselves have remained relatively fixed (like Polaris, the North Star), but their universe has changed along with our own. In this outing the gang gets recruited to appear as the stars of a reality television show. It’s certainly an up-to-date premise, as even PBS viewers know and despite the immediate and natural difficulties, the production company has actually thought through these issues. In fact, as things develop and the guys get to see the daily “rough cuts” they begin to enjoy being non-actor actors and look forward to seeing the finished product aired.
They have come up with a target heist that fall in the realm of “plausible deniability”. They’ll plan to steal from a location and company that is owned by the conglomerate that owns the TV Company. Of course such a simple plot would be fine in other hands (and for characters that do not adhere to Dortmunder’s family crest), but while they are seemingly devoting all of their energies into following the script they are also tracking down an unintentional hint given by the producer. It’s this second job that gets them using their true talents.
In most of the fifteen books they end up with a job that goes right and then gets blown by luck, enemy action, or Acts of God. In a few, they get a score that is more than chump change. This is one where they get a moderately-good payoff. First when the show gets cancelled they’ve been paid a couple of grand in wages (!) and they get a quit-claim of 10 large ones. Secondly, they have already given themselves a decent “bonus” of three times that amount on the company’s dime. Thus our friends end on a high note with a little pin money for the future.
While I don’t know how the author was while writing this book, I have to say that it seems a little snappier than the previous couple. The prose is tighter and it is evident he is enjoying himself roasting the reality genre. Some might think that it is due to the author’s real-life experience with television production, but I’d wager that it is just the natural talent of Mr. Westlake using that as his “hook”. It gets another Four (4) Star rating and a heart-felt fare-thee-well to John and company. It’s been a long time since I worked my way completely through a more-than-trilogy and I enjoyed every minute of it. I hope you will, too.
"Dortmunder did not like to stand around on street corners. A slope-shouldered, glum-looking individual in clothing that hadn't been designed by anybody, he knew what he looked like when he stood for a while in one place on a street corner, and what he looked like was a person loitering with intent."
John Dortmunder, New York thief, finally has something to smile about. A television producer, Doug Fairkeep, has convinced him and his gang of thieves to star in a reality television show. This show is to be about their next heist, and the pay being offered is extremely good. Very tempting. Except, perhaps, for the small issue of how to avoid being caught red-handed, especially with a camera tracking every move. Dortmunder has a cunning plan: can the gang execute it?
This is humorous, escapist fiction. As Doug Fairkeep says: ‘reality shows do not solve society's problems. They don't even consider society's problems. Reality is escapist entertainment at its most pure and mindless.’ We know that, or do we?
‘In the world of reality, we don’t have surprises.’
This is the 14th (and last) in a series of Dortmunder novels that started way back in 1970. Donald Westlake was a prolific author who died at the end of 2008. This is my first Dortmunder novel and I’ll be looking to read the earlier novels. I really don’t know how (or why) I’ve not come across these novels before.
The career of John Dortmunder came to an unexpected end with the sudden death of Donald E. Westlake on December 31, 2008. The final novel in the series, Get Real, was published the following year, and it hits a fitting final note. Get Real’s premise, which is both silly and inspired (always a delicate balance in Westlake’s world), finds Dortmunder and crew as stars of a fledgling reality TV show. The novel’s ending (no real spoilers here) has Dortmunder and Andy Kelp walking off into a New York City sunset. Admittedly, I may have imagined the sunset, but having come to the end of this wonderful series, can you blame me?
The last of the Dortmunder gang books, which I have enjoyed over the years. This one has the gang hired to be on a reality TV show. Of course, they plan to steal much more than the producers are aware of. Westlake stuck with a core group on this heist, so I missed reading about the odd assortment of misfits and characters usually involved. I thought May's role, as Dortmunder's longtime faithful companion, was particularly underutilized. I wouldn't say this was one of the best about the gang, but it's nice to have one last caper from the late Donald Westlake. RIP.
Hard to believe that the 15th book in this series could be as funny as the first couple of them, but it is. The addition of the reality TV angle allowed Donald E. Westlake to skewer one of the most influential of modern communications media, and it just gets more and more hilarious as the book goes on. It's a shame Westlake died before he wrote another one -- but unlike Westlake's Parker series (written under the pen name Richard Stark), the Dortmunder series had the perfect finale with this book.
A typically amusing Dortmunder caper, with the added bonus of Westlake taking the piss out of reality TV (as it was constituted in 2009 at least) and multinational conglomerates controlling content mills.
"Get Real" is the fifteenth and last of the Dortmunder novels, and was published after Westlake's death a few years ago. It, like the other Dortmunder novels, involves the work of a small gang of working class criminals who find something worth stealing, work out a foolproof plan to steal, and then run into ridiculous complications along the way. If you're a fan of the books then you're more then familiar with the characters: Dour John Dortmunder, who belongs in a 50's caper movie and distrusts everything; Cheerful Andy Kelp, who likes technology (and locks like him); Stan Murch (and his mother), the consummate driver; the Kid, the new guy who can charm ladies and is learning is place in the business; and finally Tiny, who isn't tiny, and can probably pick up a car if he needs to.
This book is about Dortmunder and his gang being approached by a reality TV show producer who wants to film them doing a crime - an activity that John points out is the reverse of how they usually like doing their work. They come up with a work-around, however, and move forward across various setbacks such as having a girl added to the group (because you can't have a tv show without a female character) and an extra crook (because the producers want to have an in on what gets planned). Things build up very nicely, as Westlake brings us into the minds of these television folks as the gang builds up their crime... and then the plot kind of stops.
It doesn't really _stop_ stop. Plot threads get ended, the gang does their crime, and the tv show stops being made. But with all the build up in the first parts of the book, the ending feels... like more of a first draft, the pieces put into place for an ending without all of the detail imparted. For instance, the girlfriend and the ringer are whisked away off-screen and never seen again, and the humor of Stan's lifting of cars from the ground floor never quite pays off either. Basically, I think this book wasn't quite finished when Westlake passed on, and it kind of shows at the end.
That said, this is hardly the worst thing that Westlake has ever written, and even if it were it'd still be better than 90% of the crap out there. If you're new to the series, I'd suggest going back to either "The Hot Rock", the first Dortmunder book (in which a valuable gem is stolen... and then re-stolen... and then re-stolen...) or "What's the Worst That Could Happen?" in which Dortmunder tries to get back a ring of sentimental value, and keeps lucratively failing at it.
(If you're thinking of the movies, I'd skip the movie of "What's the Worst That Could Happen?", but the movie of "The Hot Rock" is actually pretty good, although Dortmunder isn't as pretty as Robert Redford.)
On the other hand, if you've read the other 14 Dortmunder books, be happy that there's one more to read, and sad that it's the last one.
The great Donald Westlake passed away last year, so fans necessarily approach this final caper of John Dortmunder & crew with some sorrow and perhaps raised/changed expectations. I know I wanted GET REAL to be a particularly hilarious & memorable entry in the series, with an all-out zany plot and visits with as many recurring characters as possible, just because it's the last and that's all we get. What it is, is consistent and worthy, but not that sort of all-out amazing that the unfortunate death of the author made me crave. As frequently happens, Westlake covers a trend a little past its prime: this time reality television. Murch's mom has a fare who is a producer of reality TV shows, and one thing leads to another, and Dortmunder, Kelp, Tiny and Justin find themselves in starring roles on a show provisionally titled "Heist!" (and a bunch of equally silly working titles). As usual, the plot is clever, multi-layered but not overly busy, and quite funny, the regulars are clustered at the bar of the O.J., and the long-suffering Dortmunder suffers a little more, but all for a good bad cause. Definitely worthwhile for readers of previous books in the series, but not a place to start.
Like many of the other readers of this book, I couldnt stop thinking the whole time about how this would be the final adventure of Dortmunder and his gang of thieves, as author Donald Westlake passed away last spring. I came a bit late to the Westlake game, only discovering him five or six years back, but there are very few authors as consistently entertaining as he is (at least for those of us who like goofy caper stories).
That said, I was probably willing to overlook some of the flaws of the novel -- arent parodies of reality television a bit dated by now? -- but the fact that the anticlimactic ending may have bothered me more than normal. There are better Westlake books to start with if you have never read Westlake before (and what are you waiting for?) but all in all this was a satisfying read.
Sometimes it seems as though every legitimate profession under the sun has been used in a a reality show. But when producer Doug meets Murch's mother driving a cab, he decides that criminals have been sadly neglected. Dortmunder and his gang are a little skeptical, but the money sounds good and Doug promises them that the legal problems will get solved. But Doug is concealing soething from Dortmunder's gang, and Dortunder and the gang, heaven knows, are concealing a lot from Doug and his bosses, including the fact that they are planning to rip off a cache of cash Doug's bosses have hidden. Sadly, with Westlake's death, this may be the last Dortmunder.
#15 in the John Dortmunder series. Dortmunder is a career criminal conceived by the late grandmaster Donald E. Westlake. Dortmunder and his hapless band of crooks have ingenious plans for capers that somehow seem to go hilariously awry. This 2009 series entry was the final caper as Westlake passed away in December 2008.
John Dortmunder and his band of thieves are approached by the producer of reality shows. His concept is to follow and film the gang as they plan and execute a heist. The gang's concept is to deviate from the script and pull off an additional real heist under the cover created by the show. Expected comic complications ensue.
Crime does pay, I'm glad Dortmunder got what he wanted, I laughed all through this book...However Dortmunder was pretty quiet until the end. The other characters were very entertaining. From Lueen trying to be a battle axe, The regulars at oj's,bar discussions are always funny and hilarious. This book ended on a good note. Donald E.Westlake passed away, and he did an excellent job writing through the years, I will miss him. But I plan on going back to read the other comedic books he wrote. But alas Dortmunder is laid to rest, along side Westlake.
This being the last Dortmunder book forever, I read it as slowly as possible, savoring every bite. This one centers on reality tv, a great topic for Westlake's satirical wit, and features the most faithful members of the Dortmunder gang, all performing up to standard. It was a sad moment when I reached the end of the book and watched Dortmunder "[keep:] walking, on around the corner." My only consolation is that I'll wait for awhile, maybe a decade, and then read them all again from first to last.
when you laugh out loud in public reading a book, strangers will come up to you and ask what you are reading. In the case of Donald E. Westlake it could be any of his Dortmunder stories. This one is especially funny.
The boys are all back and become reality TV stars and learn a lot about how those reality shows are made while they help themselves to almost anything that is not nailed down.
Set in New York City, the scenes are very familiar. The dialogue, characters and behavior are very believable.
It's hard to believe this will be Westlake's and Dortmunder's last new book. (Review: as good as ever.) He wrote the first books I took out of the adult section at the local library, some 35 years ago, and has been a constant companion ever since. I miss you, Donald (Richard/Timothy/Samuel/...)!
I gather one early novel, called Memory, will be published by Hard Case Crime next year. One final book to look forward to ...
The last book about the very funny Dortmunder gang in New York, since Donald Westlake died last year. This one ranks in the top three for me..I laughed so much. This time the gang is approached by a reality TV producer that would like to film them as they plan, then carry out one of their "seems easy" capers. As John Dortmunder says, "the part I don't get is the part where we don't go to jail." Lots of twists and turns as the gang try to outmaneuver the reality show people.
You would think that reality tv and Dortmunder's gang would not mix. After all, recording one of the gang's trademark capers might leave one or two clues behind. However, Dortmunder is not one to say no to a challenge. While not quite the tour de farce that some of his earlier novels were (the caper is fairly pedestrian and the tv producers aren't very interesting), Westlake does deliver some ROTF moments. As always, the crooks are the sanest people in the room.
Westlake passed away last year, and it makes me feel blue as John Dortmunder after a hoist gone bad. Westlake started with the standard heist caper formula and transformed it into a slice of common humanity. His characters are warm but pragmatic. The drama comes from their desire to make a living doing the only thing they know how to do well. Westlake was a master to the end. If you've not met Dortmunder, you really should soon.
Sadly, I guess this is really the final Dortmunder novel; it is, by Westlake's exalted standards, rather Lenten fare. The plot lacks the typical twists and turns, and the satire devolves to a rather one note riff on reality television. Uncharacteristically, the Gang succeeds, which is only fitting for a valedictory novel.