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Drowned Hopes by Donald E. Westlake
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Drowned Hopes (1990)

by Donald E. Westlake

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I'm a big fan of Donald E. Westlake but this is my first Dortmunder novel, if I read more in the series it will be in spite of this novel not because of it.

I had a very difficult time getting into this novel. During the first third of it I struggled to stay interested, nearly putting it down unfinished several times, which is extremely unusual for me. The plot just seemed to come to a standstill off and on throughout the book. I don't mean the action stopped, I mean the story itself got sidetracked and then moved along at a glacial pace for page after page after page before returning to the main plot. To compound the problem there were several sections where the author went into excruciating detail to set the scene.

Perhaps one of the problems was that in the early part of the book there is a lot of emphasis on "modern technology". Since the book was written in 1990 that means there is a lot of outdated stuff (like one character's introduction to speaker phones) where one character has to explain various aspects of basic computer functions to the others and then there are long passages describing rudimentary images being created on a computer screen.

There is plenty of Mr. Westlake's trademark humor sprinkled liberally throughout so that once I got deeper into the book I was able to finally connect with the material and enjoy it much more.

I don't think I would recommend this book to anyone but a diehard Westlake fan. It's overlong, plodding in parts and, though it somewhat redeems itself in the end, not a great story. ( )
  Mike-L | Apr 8, 2013 |
This is a somewhat unusual Dortmunder criminal caper book for a couple of reasons: it's partly set in upstate New York, and it has a fun side story with an unlikely hero. Dortmunder has a problem: a disturbing old cellmate wants him to help recover a lost cache. Along with the usual gang experiencing fish-out-of-water in the suburbs this story, they wind up using the services of Wally, a computer geek. Westlake's dry humor and command of language is in superb form here, from Dortmunder's girlfriend May's imagined cigarette fiddling (she's trying to quit) to brief descriptions of towns and people. There's a certain warmth, too, to Wally's story -- he imagines the only place he'd find comfortable would be in outer space, among short, plump, moist aliens, but this adventure he gets dragged into rewards him more than he expects. This is my favorite Dortmunder book. ( )
  selkins | Feb 17, 2013 |
Donald Westlake's Dortmunder novels are quite different to the books he puts out as Richard Stark. The lean, neo-noir stylings slide into a more comedic territory , the prose puts on some comfortable weight and the dog of a story becomes shaggier. If Stark novels are a thin futon, the Dortmunder stories are a waterbed. There's nothing wrong with a waterbed, of course, but they don't appeal to everyone.

Unlucky thief Dortmunder is unwillingly roped into his latest heist. A sociopathic former cellmate wants to blow up a dam - to retrieve money he buried in a now-sunken village forty years ago. Dortmunder is convinced there's a way to get the money without killing thousands of people. But will his ingenuity get him the money before his accomplice takes him - and several townships - out?

Drowned Hopes is a fairly leisurely affair, clocking in at over four hundred pages it may be the longest Westlake novel, and I confess to a little impatience at times. The story is so affable, and Westlake's dry, ironic prose unwilling to take *anything* too seriously, it can feel a little inconsequential.

Mind you, like a long, rambling drive in the country (of which the novel features several), there's certainly much to appreciate if you're in the right mood. I don't find Westlake laugh-out-loud funny, but his mis-matched and put-upon cast are generally amusing, and Westlake's literate, but never high-faluting eye, is ever taking small, sly digs at them.

Though quite different from his writing as Richard Stark, there's a similar level of accomplishment to both the prose, and the plotting of Drowned Hopes. Westlake is methodical and logical in his planning of even the most ridiculous crime - and equally methodical in thinking of all the ways it can go wrong.

Nonetheless, without a tangible feeling that anything was at stake, and an almost televisual conviction that everything would turn out - if not for the best, definitely not for the worst - I did find myself flagging at times, despite the humour, affection and general solid craft that went into Drowned Hopes.

If you like a comedic crime caper, and are willing to take an amble into Dortmunder's world, for ambling's sake, you're likely to enjoy this novel. Personally, I prefer the campari-bitter, jerky-lean pleasures of the Richard Stark novels, but it's really more a matter of taste than merit. ( )
1 vote patrickgarson | Feb 21, 2012 |
I generally really like the Dortmunder books, but this one fell flat for me. I think the problem was that the Dortmunder books are light-hearted romps, and in this one there's a character who is genuinely vicious.
  mulliner | Jan 15, 2012 |
My favorite of the Dortmunder novels so far. (So far meaning so far as I have read, since of course there won't be any more Dortmunder novels.) I've only read a few, maybe 5 or 6, including some that came long after this one, but Drowned Hopes has some of the finest of Westlake's good-naturedly cynical writing that I've come across. The wedding scene at a tiny upstate NY church -- a whole chapter in itself -- is a near-perfect little vignette of its own. Westlake has a genius for quick but evocative characterization second to none, and he lavishes it on even the ( )
1 vote robkill | Mar 1, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0446400068, Mass Market Paperback)

Bumbling comic criminal John Dortmunder is in hot water as he tries to keep a nasty old man from blowing up a dam to unearth $750,000. Dortmunder must devise a safer scheme to get the loot . . . before the old coot's trigger finger gets too itchy. "Entertainment of the highest order".--San Diego Tribune.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:43:06 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

John Archibald Dortmunder is enlisted to help an old cellmate retrieve a stash of $700,000 buried under fifty feet of water.

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