Okay, now that you've finished your assignment, you're probably as amazed as I am that Westlake's publisher wanted him to make the book funnier. Thinking about it, I can almost see why the editor (or someone) thought it was supposed to be funny, however, because the opening chapter does have some amusing stuff, as it's told by comedian Koo Davis in what's pretty much the voice of Bob Hope. If Westlake had wanted to change careers, he'd have been a cinch to get on as one of Hope's gag writers. But after that first chapter, things take a much darker turn.
The book is set in 1977, post-Viet Nam, but a time when radical groups still did radical things, like kidnapping a famous comedian and holding him hostage until their demands are met. The group that grabs Davis seems well-organized at first, but pretty quickly they begin to unravel, as you might expect in a novel like this. The chapters about the group and about the FBI and the cops alternate with chapters told from Davis' point of view (Davis' are in present tense, if that matters), and Westlake is a master of ratcheting up the tension. He's also a master at making every character in the book an individual and in presenting a picture of the times that's hard to beat.
As happens often, it seems, we owe Hard Case Crime thanks for bringing back a fine "lost" work, and we also owe Max Allan Collins. Not only is he working with the Spillane estate, but it turns out that he has treasure in his basement. Here's a tip of the Crider chapeau to all concerned, and the book is highly recommended.
P. S. It was fun to see the mention of A Sound of Distant Drums.