A few thoughts on Donald E Westlake’s Smoke
Well, yet another Westlake novel being read. Shouldn’t be a surprise considering how I enjoyed the previous ones. This one’s a little bit different, though: it features an invisible man. True to Westlake tradition, however, the invisible man here is Freddie Noon, a small-time crook who immediately uses his powers to steal gemstones, furs, and other such.
And of course, the other characters are even more colourful: Noon’s girlfriend, a variety of crooks and lawyers, even the scientists and corporate types who were working on the chemical that contributed to Freddie’s state. Westlake weaves them through into a series of coincidences and Priyadarshanesque set pieces that leave a smile on your face. Picture this: the invisible man riding a bicycle full tilt on a country road. Or the invisible man choosing to wear a Bart Simpson mask so his girlfriend can make out where he is. Or even a woman nuclear scientist hoping to become invisible so people can be attracted to her for her brain, not her looks.
The story careens along, from scene to scene, and it is obvious that Westlake is having fun with the idea. But things begin to bore us after a while - this book is longer than the typical Westlake at 300+ pages, and cutting it down to the usual ~250 would have benefitted it a great deal.
In any case, my review here is the same as for the previous books: A fun read, with chuckles every so often, like eating a big bag of caramel popcorn. Personally I’ve always preferred the Richard Stark/Parker books even if they were too over the top in the other direction. But these comic thrillers are a fun diversion every once in a while.