Nearly a decade after his death, Donald E. Westlake, has a new book on the shelves. FOREVER AND A DEATH was released on June 13th by Hard Case Crime. The story was at one point almost BOND 18. Westlake was hired by EON to write the new James Bond film. Westlake’s idea was to have the story center around Britain returning Hong Kong to China in 1997, which at the time, was still two years away. The studio thought that it may be to explosive a topic since no one knew if returning Hong Kong to China would be an extremely violent and chaotic event. In the end, The studio passed on Westlake’s script and now we have it, in all it’s nearly 500 page glory.
FOREVER AND A DEATH opens up on the ocean, where the extremely wealthy and revenge filled, Richard Curtis, is testing out a new method of streamlining construction of his new resort island by detonating bombs underneath the water in succession that lays waste to everything on the island. During this experiment, the conservationist vessel, Planetwatch III, shows up to try to stop him. Thinking that if someone was in the water they would have to call off the experiment, Planetwatch diver, Kim Balder, jumps into the ocean and swims toward the island. After finding out that there is no way to stop the explosions, the test goes as planned and decimates every structure on the island, turning the land into a murky soup. Sadly, Kim is left for dead. But is she?
Westlake crafts a story full of suspense and action. The pacing is so swift, you fly through the pages (watch out of paper cuts). The book is told in four parts, with very short chapters, some of which are only a page or two.
The best characters in the book are the characters that are either morally grey or just downright evil. This shouldn’t surprise anyone who has read a Westlake book, or any of the Parker books he wrote as Richard Stark. The “bad guys” are flushed out extremely well, where are the “good guys” are a little stagnate. In fact, Kim is the most boring and borderline annoying character in the book. She is used more a plot device than an actual person, which may make some of today’s readers and SJW warriors a little upset.
Our hero is an engineer named George Manville. He is the one who created the device that is used on the island. When things go awry with him and his boss, Richard Curtis, he takes the responsibility of trying to take Curtis down. Manville, was a great character in the beginning of the book. He didn’t know who’s side he was on. He didn’t know what his fate may be. Once he kicks into high gear, his character does tend to fall a little flat. He has some great moments (garage door is your only hint) but those are few. In fact there is a huge chunk of the book which has our hero Missing In Action.
Richard Curtis on the other hand is an amazing character with a very well plotted arc that takes him from not wanting to really hurt people, to being completely fine with mass murder by the end. The great thing about it is, every decision he makes, backs him into a corner, where he has to make a choice to either stop what he’s doing or do something he had never even thought of doing before, blurring the line of his own ethics to get what he wants.
There are other great characters in this story that don’t seem to be very important at first and then something will hit you like a sack of bricks and that characters importance shines through.
When I first started reading this, I was almost jarred by how often the point of view changes. Every couple of pages, you’re seeing the world through someone else’s eyes. I thought this would put me off but Westlake is a master of digging into each character’s backstory and motivations in a quick, concise and entertaining way.
I think the thing that confused me about the story at first, was the books biggest selling point. This book was supposed to be a James Bond film. With that in mind, I kept waiting for a CIA agent or a double 0 something, to show up and start making things right. I didn’t even know who the protagonist / hero was until the 25th chapter which starts around the 100 page mark. Once I realized that there was no Secret Agent Man coming, the book really worked for me.
A lot of readers will be able to pick up on the foreshadowing pretty early on as to what Richard Curtis’s master plan is, but that doesn’t detract at all from it. It is nail biting and kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time. If you like fast paced action told by a master of the craft, you will absolutely love FOREVER AND A DEATH.