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Dancing Aztecs

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  544 ratings  ·  66 reviews
From the "master of the rolling scam," here is a hilarious crime caper set in New York. A hot hustler is searching for a million-dollar Aztec sculpture that is accidentally mixed with cheap plaster copies. From Harlem to Greenwich, a motley cast chases the lost piece. ...more
Hardcover, 374 pages
Published October 1st 1976 by M Evans & Co
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Average rating 4.02  · 
Rating details
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May 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Donald Westlake wrote this hilarious caper novel about a family that steals luggage at JFK airport for a living. They unknowingly steal a sacred gold idol belonging to a tribe of Aztec Indians that was contained in a suitcase. The artifact then falls into the hands of one of the members of a black activist group.

"Dancing Aztecs" had me laughing out loud. We were spending the weekend with friends in Chicago during a cross country trip. I literally had had to stuff the corner of a blanket into my
Paul E. Morph
Jan 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
This crime 'caper' (I hate that word but there really isn't one that does the job quite as well) is superbly written and laugh aloud funny in many places.

I'd've given it 5 stars if it weren't for the fact that I had so much trouble stopping my mind wandering while I was reading it. I honestly don't know why but it was like my mind kept sliding off the story and onto other things. Maybe I was just too preoccupied with other things while I was reading it. Maybe I'm just scatterbrained.

I guess what
Tim Hicks
Jul 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book just sparkles with the writer's confidence and sheer enjoyment of his work.
The plot is ridiculously complicated and flawlessly worked out.
The humour is low-key, sometimes nearly to the point of invisibility. And all the better for it.
(like speaking of an airplane cabin attendant as being "well over four feet tall")

Yes, there are some parts that remind you this book came out in 1976.
And politically-correct readers should remind themselves that a writer who shows you a politically
Mar 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Although it's hard to pick a favorite Westlake (as I don't want to insult all the other five-star books he wrote), this one is my favorite. I've re-read it five times and I always laugh. There are classic moments, characters, and lines in here: the stoned poet who has been stuck on his epic poem about railroads for over a decade because he can't think of a rhyme for "parallel." The funniest chase scene I've ever read, from the Great Danes names Hamlet and Ophelia to the thug pounding on the head ...more
Nov 07, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Do you like the Marx Brothers? Abbott and Costello? Zany, madcap, silly, rapid-fire scenes that leave you laughing out loud or struggling to remember all the characters involved? Yes? Then have I got a book for you!
Donald Westlake (aka Richard Stark, author of the Parker series) wrote prolifically and created some truly funny and offbeat characters. But with this book, he went all out and penned as quirky and frenetic a story as I've ever read. The plot is simple and should be easy (recover and
Tony Gleeson
Nov 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My pick for the funniest novel ever.
Daniel Polansky
Ha! Ha! Boy, I liked this. I think the only other thing I read by Westlake was the Parker thing, which I admit left me a little flat, but this is far better, a blisteringly paced comedy about a cast of dozens chasing a MacGuffin. Actually the plot is fabulously detailed and deftly complex, but really what you're in it for is Westlake's insulting but affectionate take on New York City and its inhabitants, as well as an enormously enjoyable use of language. One feels a certain degree of compulsion ...more
I do dearly love to laugh. So much of our modern lives can only be categorized as totally non-laughable that any opportunity to even crack a smile is not to be missed. If you feel a need for risability, Donald Westlake is a very good bet. I can't begin to describe all the outlandish plot twists and wacky characters he invents here, but I will testify that I laughed so hard that I tore a surgical drain out of an abdominal wound and kept on laughing hysterically. Improve your laugh factor:kick off ...more
Aug 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A wonderful, amazing book. A mid-1970s "Bonfire of the Vanities" disguised as a comic heist caper with a pace that makes "The Front Page" feel like "Mr. Rogers." I'd recommend this book to anybody I'd want to be friends with but even more so if you remember New York in the 1970s, lived outside of Manhattan and had relatives who were "hustlers."

Not that it matters but the Overlook Press version is filled with typos so get another edition if possible.
Dan'l Danehy-oakes
Many many many moons ago introduced me to this book. I was previously aware of Westlake only as the author of _The Hot Rock_, which I did and do love, both the original novel and the Robert Redford vehicle. So I read it and was immediately convinced that Westlake was a comic genius, and that this was a comic masterpiece.

I approached it this past Saturday with a certain amount of trepidation: what if the Suck Fairy had gotten to it. Fortunately, she mostly hasn't.

The setup is this: in a small So
Ann McReynolds
Jan 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read and reread “Dancing Aztecs” whenever the world is too much with me. “Comic caper” is the label reviewers have glued to this quicksilver mind, but Roget’s entire thesaurus under the heading “hilarious “ would convey more accurately the delicious asides, visual double takes, plots, characters and settings that people every scene. Jerry Manielli, a true New Yorker after all, is the likeable cad turned hero, and Bobbi Harwood (like all the women who inhabit Westlake’s worlds) is independent, ...more
Pat Cummings
Nov 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Pat Cummings by: Amy Stewart and Daniel Polansky
Shelves: reviewed
There was a time when the Hustle was the dance we were doing, when a million dollars was a prize worth scrambling for—even in a city known for its hustle, NYC, that collection of "small towns and neighborhoods," where to daily life, "the fact of Manhattan upthrust on the horizon meant nothing."

In typical Westlake style, this story begins with a con game, building a cast of idiosyncratic characters, acting in their own self-interest, in expectable, even stereotypical ways. Their dance with each o
Jul 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone up for a funny crime caper easy read
Crime and comedy make a great combination in the very clever hands of Donald E. Westlake. His books are from an earlier time and definitely are NOT politically correct for today (maybe never were). He uses words that are not acceptable in polite society today and nobody seemed to worry about sexually transmitted diseases or AIDS. It is so clear that his characters are clueless about everything.
If you like books about people (truly CHARACTERS) making one bad decision after another you will love
Dec 31, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: comedies
Yes, its dated. There are characters in polyester leisure suits. There are episodes of free love, and performances of the hustle. It was written in the 70's, so presumably it was tres chic at the time of its initial publishing. Disreguard all that. Doesn't matter.
This thing might just be one of the best comic caper books of all time, and for my money Westlake has made the list twice. Read it.
Then go find 'What's the worst that could happen' and read that too. Trust me on this.
Colleen Freiman
Aug 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I love Donald Westlake books. His writing is sublime, his humor is unmatchable and his plots are SO clever. This book exhibits all these qualities. Plus, I really needed to read a book that would take me away from reality, make me laugh and be beautifully written and plotted. We can’t miss with the brilliant Donald W.
May 27, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Wicked funny. An excellent beach or cold winter night read. I was reading this on the Framingham commuter train many years ago. I had to put it down because I was laughing so much I was embarrassed. Commuters don't go for so much noise during their ride home from work! ...more
Jan 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've always loved Donald Westlake's books; he knows how to tell a good story and the plot is always perfectly executed. I don't know how I missed this one before. I think it is one of his best. Laughed out loud frequently. ...more
Mahesh Phadke
Mar 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
So many characters to follow made it a bit difficult to read at my normal speed. My most favorite Westlake so far. Absolutely hilarious and crispy dialogues. Thirteen hours of non-stop entertainment.
Sally Sugarman
Jul 31, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Comedy and crime are an interesting combination. There are some writers who combine these two elements successfully. Westlake is one of those. In this account a fraudulent scheme goes awry because of a difference in accents. Some inexperienced con-men in a Latin-American country smuggle out one of the country’s treasures, a golden statute of a dancing Aztec Priest in a shipment of imitation statutes. A museum in New York City will pay for the original, making a profit for the con-men in the stat ...more
Mark Schlatter
Aug 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
I probably first read this in my teens (so over three decades ago) and remembered it as a hilarious read. Having dipped into Westlake more recently with his Parker books, I thought I would give this another go.

Speaking from the viewpoint of the early twenty-first century, Westlake's depictions of African Americans and the LBGT community are problematic. He's not completely stereotypical (as our cast includes a wide variety of black characters), but he uses language, dialect, and characteristics
Bill Plott
Apr 24, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
With so many books to read, I rarely do re-reads. But several friends mentioned this a their favorite Westlake novel, so I decided to revisit it. A priceless pre-Colombian artifact, an 18-inch golden statue of called Dancing Aztec Priest, is stolen in the fictional South American country of Descalzo. It is shipped to New York in a crate with 15 plaster replicas. But the crate gets delivered to the wrong party. The 16 statues are passed out as thank you gifts to members of a biracial group called ...more
Aug 09, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There is definitely value in straying from the classics. I chose this book because it's set in NYC and I liked one of the author's more popular books. Dancing Aztecs may not be deserving of scholarly merit, but it was an extremely interesting look at the pop culture of the 70's. In addition to learning about the stereotypes and slang of my parents' generation, there was amusing commentary on NY itself, including the culture of each neighborhood. The story itself, a comedy about over-the-top New ...more
Jan 17, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In Part 3 of Parker novels Westlake changes gears and takes a deep dive into the backstory of a minor character or the bad guys. Those character portrayals are always quite good.

This entire book is one character backstory after another. Maybe 20 characters. All well written.

There were times when this story reminded me of Sinclair Lewis. Maybe Babbitt. Lots of satire. It also reminded me of this movie I saw as a kid, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad World which I remember being about lots of people chasing a
Doug Ward
Mar 20, 2021 rated it it was amazing
A valuable gold and emerald statue is stolen from a South American museum and shipped to New York along with 15 cheap plaster copies. The thieves plan to intercept the package at Kennedy Airport, but there is a mix up, and the real statue ends up being distributed along with the copies to members of a philanthropic group. A madcap chase ensues, as those who know what happened rush to track down the 16 statues and find the real one.

This is a fun comedy of the "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World" type
David Hambling
Jul 09, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fun book, what you would call an actual romp. Very farcical, very 1970's New York, and very politically incorrect as far as race and sex go -- you can only read it as a product of its time, as they don't write them like this any more. Lots of characters racing around in pursuit of an elusive gold statue; some of them are opportunists, some are criminal slimeballs and some are just decent guys who have to hustle to make a buck.
A heady shot of another era, as evocative as a low-rent, high-comed
Robert Fontenot
Jun 21, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have a huge soft spot for this novel. I first read it many years ago and loved it to no end. On a recent reread I found that some of the humor has NOT aged well. Plus now that I know what "the hustle" is (I first read this post disco but pre internet and had no way of hearing the song) the whole thing is a little silly. Still I will likely reread it some day, even if I don't recommend it to anyone. ...more
John Golden
May 18, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Must be early Westlake, and got me started on a reread project of his other works. Amusing, huge cast of quirky characters, crazy coincidences and some pure Westlake intros to the contexts... not sure how to describe those without ruining them. You'll be tempted to read them aloud to your housemates. Not exceptional Westlake, but his good enough is pretty darn good. ...more
Sep 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Here is a hilarious crime caper set in New York. A hot hustler is searching for a million-dollar Aztec sculpture that is accidentally mixed with cheap plaster copies. From Harlem to Greenwich, a motley cast chases the lost piece
Ernest Hogan
May 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Maltese Falcon on acid morphed into a Marx Brothers-style romp mostly through a wild, crazy, multicultural Seventies New York, but with a some scenes in the outside world. There's some confusion as to what continent the Aztecs come from, but can many New Yorkers tell Aztec from Inca? ...more
Francis Washington
Its A Mad Mad Mad World set in The Odd Couple-era NYC.

I found it laugh out loud funny. Your mileage may vary, especially if you are triggered easily.

I have read almost everything by Westlake and this is one of my favorites.
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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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