Westlake, who usually tosses off punchlines with the zeal of a suicide bomber, misfires here. The set-up is promising enough: Francis Xavier Meehan, a career burglar up on federal charges for assaulting a truck incidentally carrying US mail (how was he to know?), is approached by Pat Jeffords, a politico who has decided, post-Watergate, to hire a real crook to redeem sensitive papers that could seriously jeopardize the president’s reelection bid. Meehan agrees when he’s offered a presidential pardon and spots a chance to make a bit on the side (the cache is secreted among the valuable antique firearm collection of rabid conservative Clendon Burnstone IV). Of course, since he’s dealing with crafty pols like Jeffords and Bruce Benjamin, Meehan demands legal representation and soon draws in his court-appointed attorney, the feisty Elaine Goldfarb (“No details!” she shrills when Meehan starts to confide his illegal plans to her). In the meantime, Meehan assembles a gang—not quite as hapless as any of John Dortmunder’s (Bad News, 2001, etc.)—cases Burnstone’s estate, drives up and down the northeast corridor, and bumps into one situation after another that craves a payoff. But Meehan and the reader are both out of luck: His attempts lead to nothing but quiet fizzles, with barely a glimmer of a double-cross at the end.
Few smiles, fewer laughs. Westlake will have to rev up his sense of foul play, and of humor, to deliver the political version of Elmore Leonard’s Get Shorty he’s assuredly capable of.