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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

Forever and a Death

by
Donald E. Westlake


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Forever and a Death



Title: Forever and a Death
Author: Donald E. Westlake
Genre: Novel
Written: (2017)
Length: 463 pages
Availability: Forever and a Death - US
Forever and a Death - UK
Forever and a Death - Canada
  • First published posthumously in 2017; presumably written in the late 1990s
  • With an Afterword by Jeff Kleeman

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Our Assessment:

B- : decent ideas, but never really gels

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 17/4/2017 .


  From the Reviews:
  • "Credible characters and tangible suspense distinguish this highly readable thriller, which is longer and more complex than most of Westlake’s work." - Publishers Weekly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       As Jeff Kleeman describes, at length, in his Afterword, the origins of Forever and a Death can be found in Westlake's treatment for a possible Bond 18 -- the next in the then-staggering James Bond franchise, at a time when all hinged on the 1995 make-or-possibly-break GoldenEye. Westlake ultimately didn't get the gig, but used some of the material in writing Forever and a Death (keeping a Bondesque title, but with no Bond-figure figuring in the story) -- though it was never published during his lifetime.
       The opening chapters nicely set the stage, with tiny uninhabited Kanowit Island, a mere two miles across, on the south end of the Great Barrier Reef, being readied, in spectacular fashion, so that it can be turned into an upscale resort by developer Richard Curtis. Some clever engineering by George Manville makes this the testing ground for the application of a soliton to raze everything to the ground -- a wave propagated through the island, breaking up everything solid. And, while useful for this project, Curtis secretly has something much bigger in mind if it works -- the British handover of Hong Kong a few years earlier cost him dearly, and he wants to exact revenge, and a larger-scale soliton would more than do the trick .....
       An environmental group called Planetwatch, and one of its leaders, Jerry Diedrich, show up just before the soliton is set off. Diedrich has become a big thorn in Curtis' side:

He's been after me since just around the time I left Hong Kong, and it's me that he wants, not polluters or environmental criminals or any of that, it's me. Most of that Planetwatch crowd is off doing something about the ozone layer or some fucking thing, but he's got this one bunch fixated on me, he's got them convinced it's a crusade and I'm the evil tycoon that has to be brought down.
       Clearly it's personal -- though Curtis can't figure out why. And his bigger problem is that he does have things to hide, and so Diedrich's constant presence is more than just annoying. And then there's the question of how Diedrich always knows where Curtis is: there must be a mole in the organization, feeding him information.
       Kim Baldur is a young volunteer on the Planetwatch boat and, overeager, she goes over the side of the boat in her scuba gear just before the soliton is set off. She can't be expected to survive that -- but she does, and while the Planetwatch ship has to turn tail, Curtis' crew fishes her out. Curtis would rather she were dead -- causing enough legal headaches for Diedrich to keep him off his back for a while -- and since she's not he decides to help her along.
       When Manville realizes that girl still can be saved he knows what he has to do -- and that he's making a big and dangerous enemy in Curtis once he does. Stuck on a ship, escape isn't easy -- but Manville and Kim manage to make it to the mainland. They decide, however, that they don't have enough proof to go to the authorities -- giving Curtis time to begin to spin the story his way.
       Curtis really wants Manville and Kim out of the way, and he works to arrange that. Meanwhile, Diedrich reëmerges in the picture, too; Kim teams back up with him, while a kidnapped Manville is stashed in the Australian outback by Curtis until he can figure out how to handle the situation.
       The story eventually moves to Singapore -- Curtis' new base -- and finally Hong Kong, where Curtis' plan is meant to be set into action. Leading there, a couple of games of cat and mouse continue -- with some of Curtis' henchmen doing some dirty work along the way, though generally with mixed results. Still, the mole in the Curtis-organization is identified, and decommissioned (or rather: put to a different use).
       With Manville, Kim, Diedrich, and a helpful Australian policeman on his heels, Curtis still manages to stay a step ahead, and begins to put his plan into action. Will the good guys be able to stop him in time ?
       Forever and a Death has its moments -- but they tend to be of the cinematic sort. Although, character-wise, the novel doesn't much resemble a Bond-movie, it remains typical blockbuster action-fare, and from the opening scenes' soliton to the final showdown, most of this sounds like it would works better on the screen. (So also things like the question: "Is the submarine hooked to the bulldozer ?")
       Westlake also doesn't manage to keep the focus anywhere long enough. For a while, it seems Manville will be the dominant good guy hero -- but then he's stashed in the outback, twiddling his thumbs. More of a focus on the bad guy might have worked too, but Westlake doesn't go that route either. And the interactions with outside help -- an attorney, the police --, while showing some promise, are also mostly underused. Then there are the minor characters who come to the fore, but Westlake doesn't seem entirely comfortable leaving them there too long. It makes for an oddly paced -- indeed, often somewhat plodding -- novel, all the more noticeably so because it's well over four hundred pages long .....
       Forever and a Death could make an enjoyable action-film, but on the page it just doesn't work that well, with even the writing on the by-the-numbers and slightly uninspired side. This is a novel that probably would have worked much better either in much tauter form -- or expanded. At this longish middle length it just feels lumpy. (And while it's a good-sounding title, it's not exactly a great fit for the story itself.)

- M.A.Orthofer, 10 October 2017

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Links:

Forever and a Death: Reviews: Donald E. Westlake: Other books by Donald E. Westlake under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American author Donald E. Westlake lived 1933 to 2008.

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© 2017 the complete review

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