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Dortmunder #8

Don't Ask

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Si John Dortmunder n'existait pas, il faudrait l'inventer. Le spécialiste du hold-up impossible et ses habituels complices sont tombés sur un os. Pas n'importe lequel toutefois, puisqu'il s'agit du fémur d'une jeune martyre du XIIIe siècle qui fut canonisée par l'Eglise. La relique est convoitée par deux pays rivaux : la Tsergovie et le Votskojek. Celui qui pourra la produire sera admis à siéger à l'ONU. Chargé de récupérer l'os pour le compte de la Tsergovie, Dortmunder passe à l'action. Le pire est à craindre, le pire arrive, et ça fait rire. C'est drôle, brillantissime et complètement déjanté. Quant à savoir si c'est l'oeuvre d'un prof ou d'un cancre, peu importe. C'est certainement celle d'un surdoué.

- Michel Abescat, Le Monde

376 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1993

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About the author

Donald E. Westlake

446 books791 followers
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.

Some of the pseudonyms he used include
•   Richard Stark
•   Timothy J. Culver
•   Tucker Coe
•   Curt Clark
•   J. Morgan Cunningham
•   Judson Jack Carmichael
•   D.E. Westlake
•   Donald I. Vestlejk
•   Don Westlake

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5 stars
399 (32%)
4 stars
519 (42%)
3 stars
275 (22%)
2 stars
32 (2%)
1 star
7 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 77 reviews
Profile Image for Dan Schwent.
2,921 reviews10.6k followers
August 9, 2011
Dortmunder and company get hired to steal the femur of St. Ferghana so that Tsergovia will get the favor of an archbishop and be admitted into the United Nations. Unfortunately, things go south, Dortmunder winds up kidnapped and Andy Kelp leads the charge to steal the bone a second time. Will Dortmunder and company ever get paid?

The Dortmunder books are like a visit with a lovable gang of losers. At first, you love them but after a while you just want them to leave you alone. That's why I rated this a three. Even though it was hilarious visiting with Dortmunder, Kelp, Murch, and Murch's Mom, the whole story felt padded, like Westlake was stretching it to a more easily sellable length. The plot was convoluted and the story was at least eighty pages too long.

On the plus side, Dortmunder and the rest of the characters were on top of their game, dialogue wise. The planning was as sound as could be for a Dortmunder operation and while I didn't care for the serpentine plot, it was very original.

While not my favorite Dortmunder by any means, still a worthwhile read for a reader with a certain sense of humor.
Profile Image for Robert.
3,433 reviews19 followers
July 4, 2019
As with the preceding entry in the series, cutting it down by a third would have doubled the enjoyment.
Profile Image for Mike.
511 reviews131 followers
April 4, 2013
In my review of What’s the Worst That Could Happen?, I mentioned that I had discovered that it was not the first Dortmunder book. The catalyst for that was seeing mention of this book, Don’t Ask, on the dust jacket. Which I immediately went out and requested – thinking it was the first book. In due course, I finally realized (as noted in the other review) that the new catalog software had really messed me up. A fact that has been borne out looking for other works, also. But that won’t stop me from writing this review!

Think of a small country. Think of two small countries. Make them fairly poor and insignificant. Put them in a troubled part of the world where people have been holding grudges for thousands of years. No, not the Middle East, but you’re close. Somewhat closer to the former Albania, Yugoslavia, and other states that have given us the word, Balkanization. Go on, it’s easy – there you’ve done it.

Now, because the countries were formed from the grudge-bearing peoples of this region (from a previous country who shall remain nameless), the countries have grudges against each other and the citizens of these same countries carry on the, now nationalistic grudges, that were handed down to them from their forefathers. So, bearing in mind this intense rivalry (to use a family-oriented word), let’s add in a few facts. One: they both want to be admitted to the United Nations as the “inheritor” of their former “parent” country’s UN seat. Two: they are both dirt-poor (on their own merits). Three: there is a choice of who to admit which has become based on the possession of a relic. A saintly relic that must be demonstrated to be genuine in order to be “anointed” as the next UN member state.

Now Dortmunder and friends are thieves. But since the countries are both broke, there isn’t much incentive for them to assist either side in this matter. But Mr. Westlake ups the ante by making one of the friends descended from the countrymen of the relic-have-nots. So, as a favor to him (and a small amount of copra), the gang decides to liberate the bone from its current location (a boat in New York harbor) and give it to the other guys.

In this book the initial caper goes off without a hitch. The bone (it is a femur of a saint) is given to the “goodguys” and all’s well that ends well. But the “badguys” have the phones tapped in the “goodguys” embassy, so they arrive in force and steal back the bone. Here’s where the story might end, except for the familial connection between “Tiny” (who isn’t) and his sort-of cousin “Grijk”.

So they plan another heist. But this time the caper goes haywire and Dortmunder gets nabbed (gee he did in the other book too, now that I think about it) and is badly treated. Badly treated because, despite all odds the original goal of caper #2 was achieved: the bone has been nabbed. Sort of.

Even though this is only my second Dortmunder novel (and I’m going backwards from #9 to #8) I can detect a bit of a pattern here. A job gets planned. It seems doable. The job is performed but there’s a problem which affects Dortmunder personally. From that point on, the book is all about revenge (or its moral equivalent).

Once again, characters comment on the hangdog appearance of Dortmunder and his seeming slowness. He gives them little reason to believe that there is anything meaningful going on in his skull until it is too late. This time he arranges for three simultaneous heists (well the third one isn’t really simultaneous and isn’t under his control either, but the other two are). And, like the other novel despite his assertion that the maximum number of guys that should be in a job is five, he oversteps his own limit with great effect.

This has plenty of humor mixed in with the fine details. I especially liked how he toyed with the Chateau’s alarm system and its protectors. The plot is lively, the story flows very well and all sorts of little gems are revealed. In the end the “goodguys” get the bone and their UN seat. And Tiny’s girlfriend is next in line to get her own UN seat. But that’s a spoiler detail and so I’m stopping there. Four (4) more Stars for our anti-hero and his band of fellow losers!

Profile Image for David.
Author 49 books47 followers
October 18, 2013
The International Parker Theorem states: The more Parker gets involved in international intrigue, the less interesting he becomes. Its corollary, the International Dortmunder Theorem, states: The more a Dortmunder novel becomes involved in international intrigue, the sillier it becomes. And this is Westlake's constant artistic battle in the Dortmunder books: to negotiate the fine line between funny and silly, to not get lazy and descend into fart jokes. Don't Ask begins in the general realm of the fart joke with Dortmunder riding in a fish truck. (A future Dortmunder novel, I can only assume, will begin with Dortmunder sitting in an outhouse.) The problem with International Dortmunder is that Westlake cannot resist the low-hanging fruit: silly names, silly accents, and so on. And Donald E. Westlake, of all people, has no need for low-hanging fruit. In sum, Don't Ask is an acceptable Dortmunder, though a bit lazy. Competent, but not inspired.
Profile Image for An EyeYii.
3,491 reviews57 followers
June 4, 2018
John calls in his gang to steal a relic that will win a UN seat for one of two tiny E. European countries. The plot gets more complicated, accusations wilder.
Profile Image for James.
125 reviews54 followers
July 13, 2009
One of my very favorite Dortmunder novels. A pleasure to re-read, marred only by the sadness of knowing that there will never be another. I am particularly fond of Dortmunder's revenge in this one, especially since he often never gets his revenge. Here, however, the thrills and the laughs are oh so good. Also, I could genuinely see Dortmunder here as a Redford gone slightly to seed. (As everyone knows, or should know, Robert Redford was Dortmunder in the film version of the first in the series, The Hot Rock.)

One other note: Westlake here employs a device that presciently harkens to the Wikipedia era in which we now live, with extraneous information presented in half chapters and a footnote (!) or two. Again, we will never see his like pass this way again.
Profile Image for Spiros.
826 reviews24 followers
January 21, 2010
Dortmunder and company are enlisted by the podunk Eastern European nation of Tsergovia to steal a serious bone of contention, the bone in question being the 800 year old femur of St. Ferghana, which will be of material assistance in gaining Tsergovia admittance to the UN. Along the way, Dortmunder is taken for a ride, and believes he has been taken for a rube, which makes him very vindictive indeed.
Profile Image for Nan Silvernail.
328 reviews3 followers
April 22, 2019
Dortmunder's pal, Tiny is approached by his cousin from the old country who has a small problem. That's how it all starts. It will grow to involve 2 small countries, the FBI, an archbishop, and a priceless relic of a saint.
Gather the crew. Here we go again!
Profile Image for Caroline.
364 reviews95 followers
March 26, 2020
A fun read and I really liked how the ending came together. However, a huge pet peeve of mine is having accents written out, and that unfortunately happened with several characters throughout the book.
Profile Image for Jonah.
101 reviews27 followers
September 8, 2014
"This state seal here," Zara said. "It's nice, with the lions and all, but shouldn't it say something on this ribbon across the bottom?"
"That's what I said, too," Tiny agreed. "Liberty and truth, or one of those."
"I don't like any of those mottoes," J.C. said. "They don't seem to cover the situation."
Kelp said, "What about that line from John's family crest? John? How'd that go?"
"Quid lucrum istic mihi est?" Dortmunder quoted, and explained to J.C., "It means, 'What's in it for me?'"
J.C. smiled. "Can I use it?"
"Be my guest." Tiny said, "Dortmunder, I've just got to ask you this." "Yeah?"
"You were an orphan, right?"
"Brought up in an orphanage in Dead Indian, Illinois, right?"
"What was it, an orphanage run by the Bleeding Heart Sisters of Eternal Misery, am I right?"
"You're right, you're right," Dortmunder said. "So what?"
"So what are you doing with a family crest?"
Dortmunder looked at him with disbelief. He spread his hands. "I stole it," he said.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Carl.
159 reviews18 followers
January 24, 2008
My first Dortmunder novel, I found this to be the light-hearted version of Parker from the one Parker novel I've read. I enjoyed the creative turns the plot took and the story gets an A for originality, that's for damn sure. At times though I found myself putting down the book to do something else every 20 pages. What it lacked, I think, was a certain type tension. The story worked best when their various heists were in action, happening in 3 different states at once. The sheer number of characters I think took away from a central thrust to the story that could've added a bit more readability. I'd give this a high '3' though.
Profile Image for Joel Ward.
47 reviews
November 30, 2014
For some reason, this is the only Dortmunder novel not published as an ebook, so it was the last one I was able to read.

I'd place it somewhere in the lower middle of the pack. Not the worst, but far from the best. As always, Westlake's humor comes through beautifully, but the story just gets a little too convoluted and ties up just a little too neatly at the end. It felt really long and challenging to get through, which is unusual for Westlake, who usually pens quick and breezy reads.

But it's always a pleasurable journey with Dortmunder and I'm sad there are no more to read. I'll have to be content with some of the other 3,000 books Westlake wrote!

Profile Image for Cathi Davis.
222 reviews11 followers
September 29, 2015
Okay Dortmunder (or Diddums as he goes by in this book) is growing on me. Yeah perhaps a formula...simple heist becomes complex multi-theater heist with a bit of revenge. And the bad-luck that dogs Dortmunder becomes comical. But oh boy could Westlake write.
"It washed through like sterile water through a chrome pipe, leaving nothing and taking nothing away with it"
This would be a description of televisions effect on Dortmunder.

And then there is this description of Dortmunder/Diddums "a mystery clothed in an enigma surrounded by a conundrum."

Easy to read, hard to put down, no surprises.
Profile Image for Amy.
34 reviews7 followers
April 26, 2009
Happiness is discovering that you have a Dortmunder novel right there on the shelf that you've never read. Especially since Westlake's death on Dec. 31, I treasure every word of the few of this series that I haven't read yet. Another, I believe, is due out posthumously, and I just read What's So Funny, whose 2007 publication we somehow missed.
Profile Image for DeAnna Knippling.
Author 162 books259 followers
July 28, 2018
Once upon a time, a famous crime writer, Donald Westlake, decided to write a heist caper novel that was so complex that the plot was very nearly irreducible. It wasn't the first book in the series, which was probably a good idea. "What's this book about, Mr. Westlake?" "Don't ask." "But how will we sell the book, if we can't...?" "Never mind."

But this is book #8 in the series, so the editors probably just said, "Yes, yes, it's a Dortmunder novel, he'll perform some crime, things will go badly, he'll resolve things brilliantly and yet, and yet, he will still come out with bupkiss at the end of the book. Just publish the damned thing."

The person writing the back cover copy just whimpers. "But what...should I...write...on the back...cover copy..."

......from the book.....

When Dortmunder walked into the OJ Bar & Grill on Amsterdam Avenue at ten that night, the regulars were discussing why the big annual automobile race called the Indy 500 was called the Indy 500. "It's because," one regular explained, "they run it on Independence Day."

Rollo the bartender was nowhere to be seen.

"They do not," a second regular responded. "Independence Day is the Fourth of July."

Dortmunder walked over to the bar to see what was what with Rollo.

The first regular reared back and stared at the second regular in aggressive astonishment. "What boat did YOU get off? The Fourth of July is the FOURTH OF JULY!"

The duckboards behind the bar were lifted and leaning against the backbar, and the trapdoor was open. Dortmunder settled down to wait.

"And the Fourth of July is Independence Day," the second regular said, with the calm confidence of the well-prepared scholar. "They run the Indy Five Hundred on Memorial Day, if you want to know."

"Then why don't they call it the Memo Five Hundred?"


If you chuckled, this is the book for you. The thing that struck me was that every level of the story takes part of the overall structure; even this argument between the regulars turns into this completely insane discussion that you can't really sum up by going, "It's an argument about the origins of the name of the Indy 500," because it's far too involved and idiotic for that.

And yes, the book references the old Abbott and Cotello "Who's on first" routine. Multiple times. Like that.
Profile Image for Tim Meechan.
236 reviews2 followers
August 16, 2022
A college friend and I recently chose to reestablish using our love of literature as the catalyst. He also appreciates hard boiled crime and loaned me this "Dortmunder" novel so I could taste DE Westlakes' lighter side. We had both read several of the Richard Stark (Westlake pseudonym) - Carter crime stories which are great.

Although I enjoyed the story, liked the main characters, and got to laugh a bit, the tale seemed torn between being serious or silly.

I trust my friend and his taste so I'll try one or two more of the Dortmunder series, but I suspect I'll feel a lesser connection as I did with Lawrence Block's "Chip Harrison" series. I never got into those either, even though I own every "Scudder" novel Block ever produced.
December 2, 2019
La trama è sicuramente originale, alcune parti però sono più lente e monotone di altre.

Di tanto in tanto la narrazione si interrompe per lasciare spazio a dei capitoli di approfondimento.

I personaggi sono affascinanti non tanto per il loro essere ma per le (dis)avventure che gli capitano.

A Dortmunder, in particolare, le cose non gli vanno sempre bene ... anzi! Diciamo che un piano su due fallisce.

Tuttavia è proprio questo l'aspetto più divertente del libro, vedere come Dortmunder e gli altri ladri affrontano le peripezie che accadono loro.

Il libro è abbastanza simpatico, senza essere eccessivamente comico.
776 reviews
February 4, 2023
Rating 3.5

It’s been a busy week at work with not much reading time so perhaps that explains why I didn’t really get on with this Dortmunder novel.
It wasn’t bad as such, it just felt slow.
The closing chapters did move along at a quick pace but still…
Thinking about it the plot wasn’t that different to other novels in the series which I have enjoyed more, as far as the basic setup and episodic nature of the story was concerned.
So I think it was just the wrong book for me to read this week.
I might come back to it at some point to give it another shot as I think I should have liked it more than I did.

Overall I would still recommend for readers of the series.
141 reviews
October 21, 2018
I found this book on a list of mysteries with humor. It is one of a series with John Dortmunder as the main character. It is a crime caper story with many twists, turns, and complications. The characters have been introduced in previous novels in the series and it might have been good to start at the beginning. I did not really enjoy the book all that much. Lots of detail about the caper and lots of humor with some of the characters linguistic difficulties with English. Neither the mystery or the humor were that compelling.
Profile Image for Janice.
34 reviews
September 7, 2017
Don't Ask is the 8th book in the John Dortmunder series. Dortmunder is a career thief, with a cadre of guys, each of whom has a specialty for pulling off the 'perfect' heist. However, 'perfect' never works out, and the machinations are hysterically funny. Don't Ask involves stealing a femur--yes, a bone. The bone of a sainted medieval girl. Naturally, anything that could go wrong does. And that's what I love about this series.
Profile Image for Jeremy Hornik.
709 reviews13 followers
April 6, 2022
Look… I just don’t like Dortmunders as much as Parkers. I wish I did. I’d have more fun. Something about the goofiness puts me off.

They’re well plotted. The characters are funny, and the situations are comically high stakes. I just… I dunno, they take me a long time to read and I always wish he’d get to the point.
Profile Image for Jez.
366 reviews
May 12, 2023
Dortmunder 8 feels like an improvement from 7. The books are always good, but this one, while still on the long side, knocks 100 pages off from the previous volume and it definitely helps.
The book itself is series as usual - heists, misadventures, a lot of humour, great characters and Westlake's wonderfully sharp prose and dialogue.
Profile Image for Fredrick Danysh.
6,844 reviews158 followers
November 11, 2019
The unlucky, bumbling Dortmunder and is cronies are hired by a small newly established country to steal a holy relic from the small country it broke away from. At stake is a seat at the United Nations.
Profile Image for Twistedtexas.
425 reviews15 followers
July 18, 2020

I am not a big fan of the Dortmunder series, vs. Parker, who has become one of my favorite fictional characters. I really got into this novel, though. In particular, Chapter 12 was one of the finer heist-gone-bad scenes I've read.
Profile Image for SJ.
1,322 reviews8 followers
April 10, 2022
The usual wonderfulness of a Westlake ‘Dortmunder’. It’s positively comforting to read about the old gang and some new helpers. I liked the character of Grijk. The Dortmunder family motto is now a part of my office decor. This former student of Latin cracked up when reading it. The author is missed.
Profile Image for Mike O'Connor.
197 reviews3 followers
March 13, 2023
If not quite reaching the comic heights of JIMMY THE KID, I still found this one of the better entries in the series, and a bit unique in that John Dortmunder for the 3rd act is the one doing the "putting upon" rather than being "put upon."
Profile Image for Simeon.
198 reviews
August 6, 2017
Don't ask - Donald Westlake-a/un-4/5-rypically funny dortmunder - UN -small county scam
Displaying 1 - 30 of 77 reviews

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