The Road To Ruin


Tonight I finished reading The Road To Ruin, which I assumed was the last Dortmunder novel Donald Westlake ever wrote, but was actually succeeded by three more. While not a classic on par with his earlier work, it was still a pleasant diversion.

The usual gang are involved; Dortmunder, Andy Kelp, Stan Murch and Tiny, but this time the story takes them away from New York to rural Pennsylvania, where they plan to rob an ex-millionaire. (The Road To Ruin was published in 2004, after the Enron debacle, among others, so Westlake was being quite topical in a story of a rich man who made his money dishonestly, then carried on behaving like a rich man even after bankruptcy.)

There are several competing groups also attempting to rob Monroe Hall, the villain of the piece. Sometimes they work together, sometimes against one another, all equally oblivious to Dortmunder’s crew. Dortmunder and friends, meanwhile, have inveigled themselves into Monroe Hall’s house by pretending to be domestic servants.

Unfortunately, the story wraps itself up much too fast. There’s a kidnapping that plays out much like the incompetence of Jimmy The Kid, then, as in almost every Dortmunder story, Dortmunder’s scheme is for naught, and he goes home empty handed.

As I see it, there are at least two flaws here. Firstly, there isn’t the usual escalation of misfortune I look forward to in a Dortmunder novel, where the solution to every problem turns out to be a larger problem. Secondly, it feels like the opportunity for Dortmunder to play fish-out-of-water is squandered; there was so much more that could have been done there.

Also, Dortmunder is more sweary than before. Was this because we couldn’t use that language back in the day, or was Westlake trying to sound tougher (and failing)? I don’t care, i just want dialogue I can read verbatim to my daughters.

Still, all is forgiven for the man who created the idiots drinking at the O.J. Bar & Grill (“no, dummy, global warming only happens in the summer!”) as well aa such joyous similes as “His eyes had a strange look, like a fishtank overdue for cleaning”. A man who writes that can be forgiven a lot of things.


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