book: Gangway! (1973) by Donald E. Westlake and Brian Garfield


I was saddened to learn the other day that writer Brian Garfield died at the end of last year at the fairly modest age of 79. Back in the day, I read quite a few of Garfield’s crime novels, and by and large very much enjoyed them. (The one about which I had reservations was, oddly enough, the one that brought him the greatest fame, Death Wish, although I liked the novel a lot better than I liked any of the violence-glorifying, pro-vigilante screen adaptations I saw.) I got the impression, too, that Garfield was a thoroughly good egg, someone I’d have loved to have known.

Hearing of his death prompted me to dig out one of his books to read as a tribute, so to speak. The difficulty was finding one I was pretty certain I hadn’t read decades ago during my Garfield reading frenzy. And so it turned out that I found myself not only reading an extremely atypical Garfield book (surely I’d have remembered a Garfield/Westlake collaboration, since Westlake was another favorite author!) but also realizing after a few chapters that in fact I had read it. Still, it was about forty-five years ago, give or take, so I forgive my flawed memory.

It’s 1874 and young New York enforcer Gabe Beauchamps has been “advised” by his criminal boss that he might choose to continue his career as far away from New York as he could possibly get without drowning in the Pacific — in San Francisco, to be precise. By the time he gets there, Gabe has teamed up with beautiful pickpocket and con artist Evangeline “Vangie” Kemp. The two form the kernel of a tight little group that has all the requisite skill sets to perpetrate the heist Gabe has dreamed up: nothing less than robbing the US Mint of as much gold bullion as humanly possible . . .

It’s all great knockabout stuff, as if Terry Pratchett had decided to write himself a heist novel — more farcical, in fact, than even Westlake’s own solo comedy capers like the Dortmunder novels. I’ve no idea how many times I rocked with laughter, but it was certainly quite a few.

This is by no means one of the shining jewels in the Garfield crown, but it’s tremendous fun, a giddyingly fast read, and very likable. Oh, and it has a couple of truly groanworthy puns that I really enjoyed.


12 thoughts on “book: Gangway! (1973) by Donald E. Westlake and Brian Garfield

  1. I did not realize that Garfield and Westlake had written a book together. I haven’t read much Garfield, only Hopscotch, which I loved. I hope to read more. But I read many of Westlake’s books when I was young (mostly on the humorous side) and have read a few of them more recently. There are so many more books to read than I have time for.

    • There are so many more books to read than I have time for.

      I feel your pain, Tracy — exactly the same here. And the worst of it is, people keep writing new ones!

  2. This sounds like tremendous fun! I haven’t read anything by Garfield, only a Westlake solo effort: Somebody Owes Me Money, which I really enjoyed. Do you have a favourite of his or one in particular you would recommend?

    • So far as his comic novels are concerned, his Dortmunder series, begun with The Hot Rock, have their ups and downs but are never less than entertaining. His standalones can really hit the heights, though. From muddy memory, the ones I’ve enjoyed the most are I Gave at the Office and Help! I Am Being Held Prisoner.

        • Another one that I enjoyed — couldn’t remember the title earlier, but have just been googling — was Trust Me On This.

          Glad to find someone else who generally prefers standalones to series! I’ve been deliberately breaking this pattern the past couple of months — just to show I can, so to speak — but it’s difficult.

          • Thanks! I do like a series or two, but not too many at once. Given the fact that I’ve just started the first novel in Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time, I doubt I’ll have much capacity for any others in the foreseeable future!

  3. I have this one on the pile somewhere and I think I read it years ago. I’ve not read nearly as much of Garfield or Westlake as I would have liked to. Hopscotch was a big favourite and I think I liked Deathwish a bit more than you maybe. What of Terry Conniston? was enjoyed as well. I was also saddened to hear of his passing.

    • I’m pretty sure I haven’t read What of Terry Conniston?, so must look out for it. I’m planning to fit in Death Sentence at some point — not so much his sequel to Death Wish as his riposte to the movie, which by all accounts he loathed.

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