Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Tucker Coe subsidiary

On the dust jacket of Tucker Coe's 1972 novel Don't Lie to Me it says: "A self-made conglomerate, TUCKER COE is a subsidiary of a writer better known to most readers under a different name, perhaps his own."

That "different name" is Donald E. Westlake, who died in 2008 after writing more than 100 books, mostly crime novels and mostly under his own name. Among his many other "subsidiaries" were Richard Stark (the popular Parker novels), Samuel Holt, Alan Marshall,  Edwin West, Curt Clark, John Dexter, Andrew Shaw, Barbara Wilson, Timothy J. Culver, J. Morgan Cunningham, Judson Jack Carmichael and John B. Allan (a biography of Elizabeth Taylor). All those pen names allowed Westlake, always a prolific writer, to have more than one new book in stores at the same time, all with different publishers. It also gave him more opportunity to write different kinds of novels, everything from soft porn (in his early Alan Marshall period) to hardboiled crime (the Richard Stark novels). Under his own name he mostly wrote comic crime capers, such as the Dortmunder series.

The Tucker Coe novels had a hero, Mitch Tobin, on the right side of the law, which was a bit unusual for Westlake. Tobin is an ex-cop working as a private investigator, which made him very much like any number of other fictional heroes operating in the 1960s and '70s. This may be why Westlake lost interest Tobin after only five novels.

Don't Lie to Me, the last of the series, is always entertaining. Tobin is working as a night watchman at a museum when he discovers the body of a nude man in one of the galleries. Anyway, that's what he tells the police. The real story is that he has a woman with him at the time, his former lover named Linda, who has come to see him to enlist his help in keeping her husband straight after his release from prison. Tobin doesn't want Linda to get involved in a murder investigation, and he also doesn't want his wife to find out he is seeing Linda again.

While the cops, who know Tobin is lying, and a gang of criminals, who want Linda's husband to work with them, are both out to nail him, Tobin reluctantly solves the murder himself.

This is a short, fast-moving tale that makes one wish the Mitch Tobin subsidiary had lasted longer than it did.

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