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 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!
I want to be the man my dog thinks I am!
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.
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.
I haven't laughed out loud reading a book in a long time. I had read Bank Shot, the second in the Dortmunder series, long ago but had forgotten just how funny and talented a writer Donald Westlake was. I especially appreciated the conversations where the long suffering Dortmunder has to deal with his cronies taking all too literally what he is saying. I can just see Dortmunder shaking his head in disbelief at some of the responses he gets to simple queries. And when you thought the story should be over, there is nothing more to settle, things take a turn for the worse and the gang has to saddle up yet again. I will definitely complete the Dortmunder series and then explore other Westlake offerings.
As good an experience as any.
From the scene on which the first chapter ends, with the protagonist raising his hands and screaming, I knew I was in good hands.
No, but this was excellent.
No, but there were several occasions at which I laughed aloud, which, considering I was next to my sleeping wife, is impressive.
Jeff Woodman's characterization of the several different voices, even the few women - all sounded natural and just like themselves. I read this book as a teenager in the 70's, and remembered it always as one of the funniest things I have ever read. It's very like The Pink Panther movies in its Murphyesque silliness. A classic.
Kelp made a great straight man.
The jail break in. Even the several added bit characters had their own unique, but natural voices, and the action was totally ridiculous and yet pretty easy to believe.
They did make a film, but I never saw it - I was afraid they would ruin it.
I'm off to see what else Jeff Woodman may have narrated. I got this book as a Kindle book first, and the Audible at a very reduced price because of this. Jeff Woodman's wonderful reading has persuaded me that Audible just might be as pleasurable as reading for myself.
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