Don't Ask by Donald E. Westlake
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Quid Lucrum Istic Mihi Est?, July 9, 2003
from a management consultant in Boston
Humor me while I tell you about this crime comedy. "What's In It For Me?" is the motto that Dortmunder claims from his family crest until someone reminds him that he was brought up as an orphan at the Bleeding Heart Sisters of Eternal Misery in Dead Indian, Illinois. He finally admits, "I stole it." That sums up Dortmunder's approach to life, and is the theme of this story. Caught in a tug-of-war, two newly formed Eastern European countries, Tsergovia and Votskojek, are fighting for one seat in the United Nations. A Catholic Archbishop has been selected to determine who shall gain the seat. Both countries assume that he will be swayed by who has the authentic relic of Saint Ferghana Karanovich (1200?-1217), repentant daughter of a family of murdering and robbing innkeepers. The relic is one of her femurs, a remnant of some unpleasant family eating habits. In the hands of Votskojek, Tsergovia has challenged its authenticity. Tests are being conducted in New York. Tsergovia knows that Votskojek has the real thing, and needs to find a way to grab the bone. Like two children pulling on a wish bone at Thanksgiving, only one will get their wish. Dortmunder and his usual cronies (Andy Kelp, Stan Murch, Murch's Mom, and Tiny Bulcher) are engaged in pursuing this activity for Tsergovia by Tiny's cousin, Grijk Krugnk (and if you can say that correctly, you are the only one who can other than Dortmunder). Although Tsergovia has no money, a New York bank unwittingly loans Tsergovia funds that Grijk Krugnk can use to hire Dortmunder and his crew. Who will get the seat? Who will get the bone? Is the bone genuine? Those are but a few of the questions this zany novel will answer for you. To me, the best Dortmunder novels have brilliant plans, really weird complications, and lots of jokes along the way. Don't Ask abounds in all three dimensions. I thought the humor was the best of any book I have read in the series. There is the obligatory nonsense among the regular patrons at the OJ Bar & Grill on Amsterdam Avenue, where Dortmunder likes to hold his meetings in the back room. They begin by discussing why the Indy 500 is called that. One regular asserts, "It's because . . . they run it on Independence Day." Another argues that Independence Day is not the Fourth of July, "This Fourth of July is the fourth of July!" "The reason they call the Indy the Indy is because they named it in honor the guy in Raiders of the Lost Ark." And on it goes! A second source of humor is about the difficulties that the Eastern Europeans have in pronouncing English words and the American have in pronouncing Eastern European words. After this book, Tiny may become "Diny" for you. A third source of humor is the book's main theme, the absurd seriousness with which sovereign nations are treated . . . even if there is almost no substance to them. J.C. Taylor provides the coup de grace on this subject in the book's final chapter. You'll enjoy it. A fourth source of humor concerns rotten fish. Look for this near the beginning and the end of the book. A fifth source of humor is found in the allusions to international espionage. And there are many more including corporate buccaneers, two-timing husbands, and situations in which appearances can be misleading. I particularly liked the way that the earlier books in the series were referenced in ways to make the humor more vivid. Although you will understand the story without having read those books, these references are wonderful. Does Murphy's Law really exist? Yes, but Murphy must have stolen it from Dortmunder. Whenever anything goes wrong, I'm tempted to cite Dortmunder's Law instead: Anything funny that can go wrong will!! After you finish this book, think about some situation you have faced where things did not work out well. Can you see the humor in it now? Would you have found the situation better at the time if you could have seen the humor then? If so, be sure to practice laughing at your circumstances. It's the best medicine.
--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.