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Dancing Aztecs

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  496 ratings  ·  55 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.
Hardcover, 374 pages
Published October 1st 1976 by M Evans & Co
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Average rating 4.03  · 
Rating details
 ·  496 ratings  ·  55 reviews

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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
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
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
Tony Gleeson
Nov 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My pick for the funniest novel ever.
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
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.
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
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.
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!
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
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
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
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
Erik Moloney
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
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.
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?
D. G.
Jul 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was the final book of Westlake's I read, completing the canon. Every book thrilled me. The constant creativity of his mind was astounding.
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.
Sep 04, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Would have been much better if it were much shorter. Too much of the same old, same old.
Swaroop Kodur
Jun 22, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A great novel for a holiday. Like any other Westlake novel, the writing is breezy, smooth and incredibly entertaining. Humor's great too and worth every bit of one's time.
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
Jun 26, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
This book (aka A New York Dance) is one of Westlake's finest comic crime capers, quite worthy of comparison with the Dortmunder canon. Jerry Manelli has a little moving business out at JFK airport, moving things from here to there without necessarily getting the owners' consent first. One day he is asked to move a small crate ... but due to some confusion over the Spanish alphabet he moves the wrong crate. One thing leading to another he finds out what was in the right crate, and then he (and a ...more
Nov 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who enjoyed American Hustle
Oh my gosh, what an absolutely splendid romp! Very much a product of its time and place (New York City, mid '70's), and yet it doesn't feel dated; or maybe that's just me (I don't feel that it's dated that is, although come to think of it, it is true that my social life is such that I'm sitting here, typing this). Full of Westlake's brilliant plotting, misunderstandings, and shenanigans, and possibly the highest density of slapstick in any book I have ever read. Westlake has thoughtfully provide ...more
May 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone that likes to laugh
For some reason the title of this book didn’t really grab me but titles aren’t everything and this is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. The characters are relatable and interesting. The plot moves at a brisk pace and the jokes are seamlessly interwoven throughout. I read this book on a train and I’m surprised the other passengers didn’t have me locked up for laughing so much or so hard. I won’t get into specifics but the car chase scene had tears rolling down my cheeks. I’ve read and lov ...more
Ed [Redacted]
This was like the book version of one of those 60's ensemble comedy movies, or Cannonball Run or something like that. I really hate to say this, because I love Westlake and everything he wrote...well, now ALMOST everything he wrote. I just couldn't get into this one. It had plenty of funny parts and is well written throughout. It just didn't work for me. Most everyone else has given this a very good rating so what do I know? Give it a shot if you like such things.
Bobby Mathews
Aug 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
literally breaks every rule for a novel, but does it well. laugh-out-loud funny. i read the e-book version from Mysterious Press, and there seemed to be multiple conversion problems (dropped punctuation, misapplied words).

but the writing was stellar and made me cackle with joy. westlake rules all.
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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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