Thursday, March 30, 2017

Forever and a Death -- Donald E. Westlake

After the success of GoldenEye, one of the producers, Jeff Kleeman, hired Donald E. Westlake to do a James Bond script.  The whole story is told in detail in Kleeman's "Afterword" to Forever and a Death, and there are more interesting details here.  For various reasons, the project never came about, and supposedly that was that.  Except that it wasn't.  It turns out that Westlake wrote a novel based on the treatments he did for the film.  It's not a James Bond novel and doesn't bear much of a resemblance to one, and apparently Westlake didn't make much of an effort to publish it before it went into a trunk.  Luckily for Westlake fans, Charles Ardai tracked it down and it's now scheduled for June publication by Hard Case Crime.

The most Bond-like thing about the book is the villain, Richard Curtis (an inside joke?), who's planning to do something big in Hong Kong (the setting is soon after the handover from Britain) both for his own personal profit and for having been forced out of Hong Kong.  I won't spoil things by saying exactly what he's planning, since that's not revealed until late in the book.  It's clearly tied to the soliton, a device tested at the book's beginning.  The soliton is a controlled oscillating wave that can turn landfill into soup and break up any buildings on top of the fill, causing the fragments to fall into the soup.  Very handy if you own a mostly island with some structures on it if you want to transform into a high-end resort.

Curtis isn't the kind of guy whose willing to what it takes to get what he wants, up to and including kidnapping and murder, so there's plenty of cat-and-mousing, killing, capturing, escaping, and chicanery of a high order.  Curtis seems to be able to get out of anything, although we all know he won't reach his final goal.  And speaking of that goal, one thing reminiscent of the Bond movies is the use of the "ticking clock" theme.  I think this was definitely part of the original movie treatment.

The main thing missing from Forever and a Death is a Bondian protagonist.  It's an ensemble novel with a big cast, many of whom are confronted with life-and-death choices.  Wanting to know they respond and what happens to them are what keeps us reading.  Not everything turns out well for everyone.

Forever and a Death is a long book, well over 400 pages, not my usual thing, but I found myself reading right along by Westlake's craftsmanship and storytelling.  It might not be top-shelf Westlake.  I put the "Richard Stark" novels on that shelf, along with a few others.  It's still highly readable and a bonus for those of us who never knew it existed until now.


Fred Zackel said...

Having lived in San Francisco for twenty-odd (very odd) years, I can tell you that an earthquake is an uncontrolled "oscillating wave that can turn landfill into soup and break up any buildings on top of the fill, causing the fragments to fall into the soup." A golfer told me about the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989; as he & his buddies played through, the golf course in Palo Alto rose up and down with many waves." This book sounds like fun!

TracyK said...

I just finished my first Stark novel, The Hunter, and I am getting a copy of The Man with the Getaway Face to read soon. I think I would enjoy this one too.

Bill Crider said...

It's not in the same league with the Stark books. Read those first.

Abigail David said...

I have finished this novel,
The author knows very well how to stuck the readers.

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George said...

I liked FOREVER AND A DEATH, too. But not as much as you did. My review will be up on my blog in a week or two.

Anonymous said...

A brief article about how the novel differs from the Bond story treatments:

Don Coffin said...

Available as an ebook in June, btw.