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Publisher's Summary

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.

Critic Reviews

"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)

What members say

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  • William R.
  • SAN FRANCISCO, CA, United States
  • 08-25-11

Dortmunder is on his game in this fun introduction

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!

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

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Wonderful fun.

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.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • L. Gutman
  • Albuquerque, NM United States
  • 07-10-12

Dortmunder and Gang Come Alive!

Would you listen to The Hot Rock again? Why?

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.

Did the plot keep you on the edge of your seat? How?

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.

Which character – as performed by Jeff Woodman – was your favorite?

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.

Any additional comments?

More Dortmunder/Jeff Woodman, please!

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • John M
  • Lafayette, CA USA
  • 10-13-12

Just didn't work for me at all

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.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Dubi
  • New York, NY
  • 06-29-14

Five Heists For the Price of One

If you could sum up The Hot Rock in three words, what would they be?

Classic Sixties Caper

Did the plot keep you on the edge of your seat? How?

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.

What does Jeff Woodman bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

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.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

The Perfect Heist... Gone Wrong... Again and Again and Again

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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So glad to have a new recording of this classic!

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!

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Kathy
  • Davis, CA, United States
  • 04-16-14

Actually, let's make that 3 1/2 stars!

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.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Travis
  • Provo, UT, USA
  • 02-16-18

Just not good enough.

It was not bad, but it neither kept me wanting to come back to it, nor did it make me laugh. It was like a very pale imitation of Wodehouse with crime.

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The Hot Rock

I hope they make a movie out of this. It could be very funny with the right actors and a good script.
I didn't care much for the Narrator though

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A fun caper

Witty and fun. The narration is fantastic ! A little dated, but very entertaining.