Aural Noir Review of The Cutie by Donald E. Westlake

Aural Noir: Review

BBC Audiobooks America - The Cutie by Donald E. WestlakeHard Case CrimeSFFaudio EssentialThe Cutie
By Donald E. Westlake; Read by Stephen R. Thorne
Audible Download – Approx. 5 Hours 27 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: BBC Audiobooks America / Audible.com
Published: March 2009
Themes: / Mystery / Crime / Noir / Murder / New York /

“Mavis St. Paul had been a rich man’s mistress. Now she was a corpse. And every cop in New York City was hunting for the two-bit punk accused of putting a knife in her. But the punk was innocent. He’d been set up to take the fall by some cutie who was too clever by half. My job? Find that cutie – before the cutie found me.”

That’s Clay, the strong right arm of Ed Ganolese, talking above. Ed’s a NYC syndicate boss. The mob may have old roots but the syndicate, the crop of gangsters in this novel, only goes as far back as WWII. See during the show in Italy a bunch of D-Day Dodging G.I.s found themselves allied with some old-world black marketeers. And now, twenty or so years later, in the 1960s those bonds lead Clay down strange alleys. He’s forced to turn amateur detectivewhich is something new for a mob enforcer. But his boss Ed, but you call him Mr. Ganolese, is under the squeeze from the “parent company” in Italy. And when Ed asks, Clay does. So, Clay takes the case. He needs to solve the frame-up murder put over on a low level pusher named Billy Billy. Billy Billy is innocent – everyone knows he wouldn’t harm a fly – but the cops like him for the murder. And it looks bad for Billy Billy because he woke-up from his heroin induced stupor in the middle of the murder scene. Everyone knows he’s innocent, Ed knows, Clay knows but the cops, well they just don’t care. Since Billy is someone’s patsy and just a hair’s-breadth ahead of the law that means Clay has really got his work cut-out for him.

I had previously read the paperbook of this novel, but not with the Hard Case Crime title of The Cutie. When I read it originally the novel was called The Mercenaries. The strange thing is that the title seems to have influenced my opinion as to the character of the book, maybe its a combination of things. The title and the way it was read. When I first read the novel about five or six years ago I would have classified it as a rather dark, but with this new title, new cover art (by Ken Laager), and the brightly lit voice acting by Stephen R. Thorne it comes off as surprisingly light. Almost a caper in fact. Part of of it must also be because The Cutie is told in first-person from Clay’s point of view. Narrator Thorne brings a youthful confidence to the part (something my inner voice apparently didn’t). But, it’s still strange how Clay is really a cold blooded and murderous thug – Westlake gives him an excellent backstory. But then again perhaps I’m still hearing Thorne’s reading of Somebody Owes Me Money |READ OUR REVIEW|. The Cutie is fully utterly engaging, I found myself trying to solve the central mystery again, all the while marveling at Westlake’s masterful storytelling. The Cutie is a gritty, fast paced, and well plotted murder mystery with a highly unusual criminal/detective lead. If you haven’t tried a Westlake novel before this, now and with The Cutie is your perfect place to start – this was Donald Westlake’s first novel under his real name.

Posted by Jesse Willis

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Scott D.

Reviews Editor, SFFaudio

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