Friday, 26 October 2012

Help I Am Being Held Prisoner (1974) by Donald E Westlake

The first thing Warden Gadmore said to me was, “Basically, you're not a bad person, Kunt.”

“Künt,” I said quickly, pronouncing it the right way... “With an umlaut,” I explained.

When a reader finds this exchange on the first page of a novel, he or she will probably get a good feeling about that novel, possibly accompanied by helpless giggles.

Donald E Westlake
Harry Künt, with an umlaut, an obsessive practical joker, winds up in jail when one of his jokes goes wrong and injures two Congressmen. (Actually he causes a seventeen car pile-up, but it's the Congressmen who count against him.)

His only crime might have been a misfired practical joke, but now that he's in jail he's invited to join in with the robbery of two banks.

In the prison he has stumbled on a strange and very private club: seven prisoners who have their own tunnel leading from the prison into the town. Escape is not on their minds; these are the world's first prison commuters. But they have one extraordinary plan. In the town there are two banks, just waiting to be robbed by seven men; men who have the best alibi of all - they are already in jail.

In the town, as well as a robbery waiting to happen, there's also a pretty girl who Harry just happens to have fallen in love with.

As if this weren't enough, the prison has another mystery. Someone is sending out notes reading HELP I AM BEING HELD PRISONER. Warm characterisation and ironic humour make this more than just another book.

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