A friend of mine always gets the giggles when she reads a Donald E Westlake mystery novel. I’d always found that curious until I read Somebody Owes Me Money, a 1969 crime novel by Westlake now available under the Hard Case Crime imprint. If somebody does not own the movie rights to this sometimes comic mystery, they should.
Somebody Owes Me Money is the story of New York cabbie Chet Conway. Chet is an ordinary guy with an ordinary life until he gets a tip on a horse race. He contacts his small-time bookie, places a bet, wins big, and finds a dead bookie when he goes to collect his pot.
The police think he killed the bookie; the bookie’s sister thinks he killed the bookie; the Napoli gang thinks he killed the bookie; and the Droble gang thinks he killed the bookie. The only person who does not think Chet Conway killed the bookie is Chet Conway.
Donald E. Westlake writes a tight, easy to read, and fascinating mystery novel. He also has a taste for the absurd which leads to some very comic moments and genuine Keystone Cops scenes. If you can’t picture the escape from the bookie’s apartment scene it’s because you have never seen a silent movie or Bugs Bunny Cartoon.
This mystery novel is a great balancing act between suspense and the absurdly funny. Westlake is one of the best crime fiction writers when it comes to economically drawing a mental picture a reader immediately assimilates. This makes for a really good read.
Somebody Owes Me Money would make a great crime comedy; you wouldn’t even have to hire a screenwriter to adapt it. Until someone does, this Donald Westlake novel is one of my top three favorites in the Hard Case Crime series.