KINDS OF LOVE, KINDS OF DEATH by Donald Westlake
I read a lot of Donald Westlake’s books when I was a teen an in my early 20s. Mostly they were the Parker books under the name Richard Stark. At the time, I didn’t know they were the same guy. I also started reading the Mitch Tobin series and didn’t know that was Donald Westlake writing under the name Tucker Coe.
Back when I was young, I thought Mitch Tobin, the ex-cop who was drowning in guilt over his partner’s death while cheating on his wife, was one of the best characters I’d ever read. Back then, I’d believed he had all the misery coming to him that he was dealing with, didn’t understand why his wife stood by him, but was still fascinated by how his mind worked. And by the way he was building his WALL.
Now, thirty years later, the five-book series is back in print and in ebook. I bought the ebook editions and have been devouring them. Now I look at Mitch and wish he’d just get over it and get his act together. People make mistakes, and you have no choice but to go on living.
But I still find him fascinating.
Kinds of Love, Kinds of Death is a great piece that hooks the reader in the first chapter with Mitch’s guilt and responsibility to his family during a time when he feels like all he can do is wallow in his own failures. We don’t even learn everything about him at that point, but we know and understand why he takes a job working for an organized crime figure.
The mystery is pretty straightforward, with a couple of red herrings and some sleight trickery, but all the clues are there and I figured it out before I got to the end. I can’t remember if I figured it out the first time I read it or not. I have a great memory for books that I have read, but not necessarily the plots. Many of the plots, after all, are pretty much the same. I read for the experience.
I loved being in Mitch’s shoes this go-around when I remember I was only curious the first time I read the book. I understand Mitch in so many different ways, how he clings to the shreds of his honor and professionalism and defends himself against hope. One of the things that I find most interesting about the book is how timeless it is. Sure, people are using phone booths on the corner instead of cell phones, but Mitch is working through an economic slump that everyone these days is familiar with. If anything, the book – though it was written in 1966 – still feels like today. Some of the later books date themselves through counter-culture references, but not this one.
The mystery is solid and entertaining, and there are a lot of hands stirring the pot, but the book offers a character who’s consciously staving off redemption and trying to reject the world. This is a good book done well, with some deep introspection along the way.