Double Feature

By Donald E Westlake

Double Feature, a novel by Donald E Westlake
Book details About the author

The movie industry is seen as all glitz and glamour, but just beneath the surface Donald E. Westlake suggests that it is made up of lies and even murder. What type of person is drawn to an industry where you pretend to be fake – fake people. In Double Feature, two of Westlake’s novellas have been brought together that explore the world of film. One is an East Coast story of murder. The other a West Coast story of forgotten pasts.

A film critic stands over the corpse of one of his lovers. Should be phone the police and admit that an argument took place and he gave her a little shove? Or should be instead hide the evidence that he was ever there? Meanwhile, on a naval base a career seaman comes to discover that one of the most glamorous movie stars of today is his first wife. Can this starlet really be the person he once knew?

For those that are fans of noir and pulp fiction the name of Westlake is something to listen out for. Whilst some authors who fall into these genres can be a little crass, Westlake always provides class. His tales are not always about murder and naked women (although they do sometimes feature). In Brothers Keepers he based a book around a group of hermit-like monks. Double Feature is a perfect introduction to the writer for any new reader as the two stories highlight the diverse nature of his talents. One tale is possibly the greatest slice of pulp noir I have ever read, the other is a gentle exploration of the nature of what makes us.

A Travesty is the first story and perfectly encapsulates what makes classic pulp fiction so great. Carey Thorpe is not a likable character. He is vainglorious and has an estranged wife and children that he has no interest in seeing. That is not to mention his string of lovers and the fact that he has just killed one of them. Despite being so unlikable, Westlake makes you root for the protagonist. By the end of the story you are hoping that he gets away with it.

The writing is pitch perfect for the character and the genre. It is told from Thorpe’s point of view and we are gifted many of his acidic views on people. As a critic, Thorpe has a way with words and some these cutting remarks are simply joyous to read. The story itself also holds as Thorpe becomes embroiled in the investigation and starts to help the officers on other case. You get several locked room mysteries for your money.

While A Travesty is classic pulp fiction, Ordo is something quite different. As it follows the first story your instincts are to think that something untoward is happening and I won’t spoil the outcome for you. What I will say is that this is a far more reflective and personal story. It is less comedic and more dramatic. Is this stunning movie bombshell really the same person that Ordo married all those years ago? Westlake explores what it is to be true to ourselves, via the medium of some great Hollywood antics.

Double Feature is a primer that should be picked up by any reader who is interested in Westlake’s back catalogue. I would go as far to say that A Travesty is the perfect nugget of pulp noir that will get almost anyone hooked on the genre. It is dark, funny, punchy and surprising. It has all the sexiness and humour that you hope from the genre, but also provides a cracking murder mystery. Ordo feels very different but is wonderful at showing Westlake’s softer side. This was a crime writer that could write for thrills but could also make a reader think. A sublime collection.   

Written on 31st January 2020 by .

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