Every legend has a beginning. For Grand Master mystery writer Donald E. Westlake, THE CUTIE (1960) was his first novel published under his own name. However, the book was originally published under two different titles, THE MERCENARIES and THE SMASHERS. It wasn't until Hard Case Crime (my favorite contemporary publisher), reissued the novel in 2009 that Westlake's preferred original title, THE CUTIE, was restored. I finished reading this one yesterday evening and it certainly doesn't read like it was written by someone at the beginning of his career. Westlake was that good right out of the gate.
Billy Billy Cantell, a two bit junkie with mob connections, gets framed for the murder of gold digger Mavis St. Paul. He turns to Clay, a soldier/hitman in the employ of mob kingpin Ed Ganolese, for help. But before Clay can help the little weasel, the cops come calling and Billy Billy disappears.
Clay must play detective to find Billy Billy and clear him of the murder which is bringing heat on the organization. But before Clay can find him, another woman is murdered, Billy Billy is found dead and someone tries to kill Clay more than once. There are a few more twists and turns in the story before Clay finally deduces the identity of the real killer (I figured it out before he did) and dishes out mob justice (a shot to the head) to the guilty party. But the ending of the book finds Clay in a trap from which there may be no escape.
THE CUTIE is a good, tough crime/mystery novel. Westlake takes a chance by having a mob button man as a protagonist. Clay operates in a New York City full of vice and crime, a world populated by gangsters, drug users, crooked cops and beautiful women. It's the kind of "quick and dirty" crime novel I really enjoy. The more I read of Westlake's extraordinary body of work, the more I like the guy. He's quickly becoming one of my favorites. Recommended.