Created by Donald Westlake
— Tim Smith
The 39-year-old Smith, a tough-as-nails ex-Marine and WWII vet, is the “hero” of Donald E. Westlake’s second novel Killing Time (1961). The arrangement between Smith and the town of Winston is that Smith receives a four thousand dollar a year retainer from the mayor (that’s four grand in 1961 dollars, folks!) to perform various chores that might receive undue publicity were they handled by the police. And as far as the smooth governance of the town goes, with Smith keeping files on “everything that’s happened in Winston in the last fifteen years that could have gone to court and didn’t,” well, let’s just say that no-one can get too far out of line in the graft and corruption sweepstakes before the PI quickly and effectively takes care of him. But even better for Smith is that’s he’s also free to handle work from other clients, and in fact has a guaranteed and legally-enforced monopoly on any P.I. work in town.
All in all, it’s a pretty sweet deal for all concerned–until a sinister outside organization called Citizens for Clean Government comes into Winston. Very quickly, the semi-corrupt town officials get nervous, bullets start flying, and Smith has to dodge several assassination attempts while making some gut-wrenching decisions about who to trust…
Good early Westlake, which even at the time of initial release received some well-deserved critical comparisons to Hammett and Chandler. Not bad for an author who was then pretty much an unknown. For Westlake neophytes, note that the author later became better known for writing some very, very funny comic caper novels (including the Dortmunder series) under his own name, but this novel, with its bloody and violent ending definitely foreshadowed the very noir-ish Parker series written in Westlake’s guise as “Richard Stark,” which made its debut the next year. And P.I. fans really ought to check out the Mitch Tobin books he wrote as ‘Tucker Coe’.
- “… a fine crime novel, and in its blistering finale again affords a glimpse of what was to come… an enjoyable whodunnit and an amusingly cynical portrait of a corrupt town, lifted by a brilliant ending…”
- Killing Time (1961; aka “The Operator”) | Buy this book
Respectfully submitted by Rudyard Kennedy.