|Vintage Pulp||Mar 16 2018|
Donald E. Westlake wanted to call his mystery The Smashers by a different title. He preferred the name The Cutie—as in a hustler or crook who thinks he's cute, or clever. That would have suited the novel well, because the term is used probably two dozen times over the course of a story about a New York City mob fixer told by his boss to find the cutie who murdered a well-connected showgirl and made an improbable patsy of a hapless heroin addict.
With very little time and even less sleep the main character deals with cops, hoods, druggies, and politically plugged in one percenters, narrowing down a list of suspects to find the troublesome villain. The book reads a bit like a police procedural, but written from the opposite side of the fence. The killer, when finally revealed, comes as little surprise, but the book's mystery elements are not its most important anyway. What works here is the NYC atmosphere and the sense of sand running through the hourglass.
The cover you see above is from the rarer-than-rare edition put out in 1963 by the British publishers Four Square. If you want one it'll cost you about $100, which we think is overpriced. But we usually think that. Paperbacks to us are utilitarian. They're things you carry in a rear pocket. Also, you should never pay more than ten bucks for anything you're tempted to grab to smash a moth. But fret not—the Hard Case Crime version published in 2009 under Westlake's preferred title The Cutie is cheap, and, to many eyes, is probably the prettiest version.