Shenanigans and Country Music

Baby, Would I Lie?

by Donald Westlake

291 pp., Mysterious Press (Warner Books) 1994     reviewed 12.29.94 by David P. Stern


      For an entertaining escape, a lite book with outrageous twists of plot, it is hard to beat one of Westlake's wacky crime novels. This one is a fair sample; if such a book turns you on, try next "Dancing Aztecs" which insults practically every part of New York society, "Good Behavior" set in a New York convent, or "Brother's Keeper" set in a New York monastery. Yes, Westlake is a New Yorker who loves to spin tall tales about his city, especially tales involving an ingenious shlemazel crook named Dortmunder. You can even watch a very good Dortmunder movie "The Hot Rock"; if you haven't seen it, get it next time you visit to the video store. It not only has plenty of funny action, but also terrific acting by Zero Mostel, in the last movie he ever appeared in.

      This particular story, though, is set not in New York but in the Ozarks. I don't know what crystal ball Westlake uses in devising his plots, but the setting of "Baby, Would I Lie?" seems spookily familiar. A popular celebrity millionaire is accused of brutally murdering a woman. The evidence is circumstantial, yet his car was seen at the scene, the police has found bloodstains in it, and as the trial date approaches the vultures of the press descend upon the courthouse. As Yogi Berra once said, it's deja vu all over again, missing only a white Bronco and DNA tests; yet this book came first.

      Well, there are differences. Ray Jones, the accused, is a celebrated country singer, and the action occurs in and around Branson, folk music capital of Missouri. Westlake's plot skewers not just Jones and his high-priced lawyers, but also the unscrupulous staff of the "Weekly Galaxy," a Florida scandal sheet, and their rivals from the New York yuppie weekly "Trend." The latter, it turns out, are less interested in the trial than in their own journalistic coup, in exposing the "Galaxy" shenanigans with which they ought to be quite familiar, themselves being "Galaxy" alumni.

      The story is dense with outrageous twists and turns, not all of which work: the climatic courtroom scene, for one, is a bit perplexing. But hey, it is all contrived, and the rest of the story meshes pretty well. The ending is pure Westlake. Like a Russian matrioshka doll: you think you have it all figured out and suddenly, whoops, a completely new and different meaning pops out. For an enjoyable book on a cold night, look no further.


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Last updated 5 July 2002