John Dortmunder and company are hired by an U.N. African Ambassador to steal the famed Balabomo Emerald from the hands of a rival African country. But their daring and clever burglarly goes awry, and the emerald slips through their fingers. Undaunted, Dortmunder chases the gem by plane, train and automobile in hot pursuit of the hot rock.
Listen to another Dortmunder caper.
©1970 Donald E. Westlake (P)2010 Audible, Inc.
"Westlake's novel comes awesomely close to the ultimate in comic, big-caper novels; it's so filled with…action and imagination." (New York Times Book Review)
"Westlake is a master hand at the running gag….This Westlake brought on such a case of the laughing bends that I required decompression." (Washington Post)
All-Time Top 100 Mysteries (Mystery Writers of America)
Author, rabid Audible listener.
As usually happens when my favorite authors are having a dry spell, I start looking up new books to kill some time. And as usually happens, I find some fun story with great characters just to learn later it was part of a series. Back in '07 I was struggling to find something a bit more upbeat and found a book called The Road to Ruin (not listed as a series at the time) and fell in love with Dortmunder and his cast of flagrant friends.
Now that all Dortmunder books are available in audio, I decided to go back in time to 1970 and listen from the beginning. Being a technology buff and a lover of all things new and shiny, I was worried about getting into a book series that took place so long ago. This was not a problem at all and aside from some period moments, this book reads (well, listens) like it could have happened yesterday.
John Dortmunder is a non-violent criminal with particularly good expertise in planning impossible capers. The entire book surrounds an African tribe that wants their sacred stone stolen from a museum. The gang heists the rock just for it to be lost in a very odd place. To get the rock back, the team jumps into action yet again with another crazy scheme. The scheme works but the rock is still on the move to another location. Wash, rinse and repeat...
The book moves along at a swift pace, introduces a manageable cast of characters and gets some good laughs along the way. Some of my favorite parts of this book -- and is carried out in future books -- is how Dortmunder and the team work. You get to hear how they come up with their plans, their sometimes laugh-out-loud approaches to dealing with the people paying them and how well the team works together as a cohesive group. Dortmunder may be the main character in this book but he is not quite the leader, more of the coordinator and not everything he says gets done his way.
A great start to a fantastic series. I am looking forward to more!
I bought this book looking for something a bit lighter than the histories and biographies I had been reading and was delighted with my choice. I guessed that any book that had as many sequels as the Dortmunder books was probably worth taking the time to read and I was well pleased with the choice.
Dortmunder is, of course, a career criminal and that is not someone I could normally identify with. He makes his living stealing and, at the start of the book, is leaving prison after two convictions. Another conviction means life in prison. That might be enough incentive for most people to try to make an honest living, but not Dortmunder. I suppose what makes him an interesting character is the bad luck that follows his actions. In this story he, and his fellow criminals, have to commit a whole series of crimes to try to rescue their initial prize with each attempt funnier and more complex than the last. All the characters associated with Dortmunder are interesting and, while reading, I could not help but think of Damon Runyon's characters.
Of course no one in this story is an innocent bystander so the long series of mis-chances that take place are comical and the ending is absolutely inspired. I was so pleased with this book that I rented the dvd of the movie. While that was a terrible mistake (the movie is just awful) the book is a gem. I have decided to read more books in this series and have already added "Nobodys Perfect" to my Wish List. It is hard to believe that other books in the series will equal this one in sheer enjoyment but I will see …
The book is excellently read by Jeff Woodman and I recommend it as a light read good for a lot of laughs, some of them guffaws.
I have listened to this audiobook several times already, and will undoubtedly listen again. First of all, it's a great story -- I read the novel years ago and went on to read all of the Dortmunder books. (Never thought I'd bond with a bunch of petty criminals, but I did.) And the narrator is wonderful. He reads the prose with just the right attitude (usually kind of a dead-pan fatalism, if it's Dortmunder's thoughts he's tracking) and marvelous voices. Each and every character has distinction. Kelp, Murch and Dortmunder sound exactly like themselves, so much so that it's hard to believe sometimes that there's one man reading them all. And they're all really fun characters to begin with.
The plot of The Hot Rock is unbelievable, over-the-top, and yet I bought every bit of it. If a thing could go wrong, it generally did ... but then our heroes (such as they are) kept pulling things back from certain doom.
My favorite character is Murch. And Kelp. And Dortmunder. Oh, and there was this great German Shepherd that had Dortmunder trapped on a porch ... Jeff Woodman does a really great German Shepherd, too.
More Dortmunder/Jeff Woodman, please!
The Hot Rock, for my money, remains one of Westlake's funniest books. The introduction to Dortmunder, his ne'er-do-well thief and caper organizer, still makes me laugh out loud frequently.
I began to listen to Jeff Woodman's new narration with hesitation. I had previously listened to (several times, years ago) Michael Kramer's 1998 recording from Books-on-Tape, and thought that it couldn't possibly be surpassed. But about an hour into the listen, I knew that Woodman was doing a masterful job. Chuckles continue to escape from me as I listen.
If you are looking for a good listen that will make you laugh, try this one out. It has become a classic for me!
It is difficult to rate a book that just isn't your type of book, but you know that it could be a great read for a different type of listener. I have come to realize that I am just not into comedy capers and bumbling thugs like in The Hot Rock. However, if YOU are, this book may be right up your alley.
What is really strange is that as I started listening, I quickly realized that I already knew the story. For the life of me, I cannot figure out why--did I read the paperback or see the movie? Who knows? But it shows that twice, I decided that this book sounded fun and I wanted to experience it.
The narrator does strange things. You hear an African character speaking in what you have come to identify as an Indian accent (another reviewer calls it Pakistani). You hear what you think is a classic New York accent with shades of Ohio in it. The main character, Dortmunder, seems to have no accent at all.
If you can let this go and are looking for something light, with laughs, this book could be what you are looking for. I don't want to bash it. It just isn't my style.
I was looking forward to this book quite a bit. I love a good series and one focusing on clever wise-cracking criminals could be great (Ocean's 11 anyone?) and it had really great reviews.
AND this is the first of a long series and it was written back in 1970, so you have to give it some slack. But not this much slack. The dialog was inane and repetitive and the "capers" weren't even all that great. I think if you read this many years ago (or saw the movie) there would be some fun revisiting it in audio form, but coming in new I didn't have that basis so I just took it on its own terms. Even though the book was pretty short it seemed much longer to me (but to be fair, I did want to see how it turned out).
Bottom line is that if you have fond memories of the book or the movie from decades ago you will probably love it. If not, maybe skip ahead to some of the more recent books in the series and see what you find.
People say I resemble my dog (and vice-versa). He can hear sounds I can't hear, but I'm the one who listens to audiobooks.
Classic Sixties Caper
I saw The Hot Rock when it first came out as a movie in 1972, when I was 15. My friends and I loved it, quoted it endlessly. It has since passed out of our collective cinematic memory, did so almost instantly in fact, in part due to Robert Redford's unhappiness with it (he kept it from being released on video for a long time). But when I saw it come up in a recent BOGO sale -- I didn't even know it was originally a book -- I thought I'd give it a try.
So it didn't keep me on the edge of my seat, since I knew how it was going to go, but I don't think it was written that way -- it's a comic caper in the 60s tradition with the twist being that the gang has to commit a series of heists to get their target -- the hot rock of the title. Each heist is pulled off perfectly, except that they don't get the emerald, and therefore have to go after it again.
And in addition to the plot, the characters are well drawn -- stereotypical petty thieves to begin with, but each with a personality quirk that broadens their character, often to comedic effect. Bottom line, it was a quick fun read (listen) that for me harked back to a long forgotten pop culture touchstone from my past.
Voices. Although I don't think he does them all that well. The best narrators find a voice or a series of voices that beat out what you could come up with in your imagination -- these voices are stereotypes, exactly what you would imagine.
The Perfect Heist... Gone Wrong... Again and Again and Again
I don't know that I'd listen to it again in a hurry, just because the plot isn't so subtle that you really need to re-read (or re-listen) again in a hurry. However, once I've had time to forget some specifics, I think it would be fun to re-listen.
It's one long series of near-misses that never quite veers into the slapstick. I enjoy that, and the heists planned by the characters are ingenious (and therefore delightful)
I think the narrator did a particularly good job with Stan Murch.
A quick aside on accents--other reviews have taken the narrator to task for having a 'Pakistani-sounding' couple of African characters. I disagree with them. I've never been to Pakistan, but I've lived, studied, visited, and worked in multiple African countries on different regions of the continent (as well has having friends from different areas as well), and the characters' accents to me sounded completely reasonable as approximations of East African accents. (Many of which are influenced by emigration from Southeast Asia)
It would have been fine to listen to all in one sitting, but I split it up over a week.
The reason I gave this book less than 5 entire stars was because there's some racist/racist-leaning (as well as some sexist)language. (Africans are referred to as "ebony-colored" and "colored", for example). The book is a product of its time, and I understand that, but I'm not an apologist. The reason I gave it four stars instead of five is that I'm also not in favor of retroactively editing/censoring past works. Be warned--for all its lighthearted capering and absurdist, deadpan humor--the book talks about non-whites and non-women in a decidedly non-modern way.
Really? Not Again! -- "How many times does Dortmunder have to steal this thing?" It's a fair question and one that you will be asking yourself throughout the novel.
Well, you can't take it too seriously. Unlike Westlake's Parker novels (written under the name Richard Stark), the Dortmunder novels are penned in a comic vein. The feel is a bit like Ocean's Eleven.
Woodman delivers a great performance. I was constantly chuckling. The characters are well delineated and Westlake's language, as usual, is spot on. Good stuff.
The story is very charming, that it was written in 1970 adds a lovely nostalgia to it. It's not a fast paced thriller, but a cute, funny crime story (it gets funnier the farther you get, I agree with other reviewers that it's a bit bland in the beginning). Not a must-read, but definitely an enjoy-to-read.
Surprisingly though, there aren't a lot of reviews about the narration. Woodman has a very pleasant voice, but his narration is a bit catastrophic, he leaves much of the novel's potential untapped. It's all about the characters and their interplay, but only two or three of the main characters enjoy any depth in the narration. Dortmunder himself is not among them - Woodman endows him with his regular narration voice, which is young and light. There are indications in the text that Dortmunder is actually reluctant and tired and rolling his eyes most of the time. We don't hear any of that through Woodman though. Very sad, a better narrator could have made this raucously funny.
In addition, the African characters have Pakistani accents, which is hard to handle.
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