I finished reading MONEY FOR NOTHING by Donald E. Westlake Friday morning before heading off to Wizard World Austin Comic Con. This 2003 novel is classic Westlake: a suspense thriller leavened with just the right amount of comedy.
The plot sounds like something straight out of the Hitchcock playbook. An innocent man, Josh Redmont, gets a check in the mail in the amount of $1,000.00. The name on the check is "United States Agent". Josh does his best to find out who this mysterious benefactor is but to no avail. He deposits the check in his bank account. The check clears and Josh is one thousand dollars richer.
The next month, another check arrives, in the same amount, from the same sender. Josh deposits the check as he does all of the subsequent checks he receives in this manner over the course of several years. He's now a family man with a wife and young child and a job at a New York City advertising agency. One day he meets a strange man who tells him that he's with "United States Agent" and it's time that Josh starts earning all of the money that he's been sent.
Josh, of course, has no idea what's going on but it's soon revealed that he was paid to be set up as a sleeper agent by foreign agents who are now ready to "activate" Josh in a nefarious assassination plot that will involve the shooting of a foreign head of state at a ceremony in Yankee Stadium.
Josh's wife and son are held hostage and his apartment becomes a storage depot for crates of AK-47s, foreign military uniforms and one Tina Pausto, a stunning Mata Hari wannabe. Josh has one ally in this insane tumble down the rabbit hole, Mitchell Robbie, an over-the-top actor from a hole-in-the-wall off-off-off Broadway theater who is also a sleeper agent of "United States Agent".
Can Josh and Mitch outwit the professional killers they're mixed up with, clear their names, prevent the assassination and rescue Josh's family? What do you think? Westlake spins a good yarn here. He keeps things moving at a good clip and while parts of the novel are dark and sinister, the scenes with Mitch and his fellow players provide good comic relief. Josh and Mitch make a good "odd couple" as they must work together to save the day.
MONEY FOR NOTHING is a good, fun read. If you're a fan of Westlake, you know what to expect. If you're not, give MONEY FOR NOTHING a try and see why Westlake has been called the master of the comic crime novel.