Charles Ardai’s imprint Hard Case Crime has unearthed an overlooked 1974 novel by Donald E. Westlake, and it is a can’t-put-down, hilarious page-turner.  The book apparently came and went with little fanfare in the mid-70’s, had a hardcover edition from a lesser known publisher, was briefly a Ballantine paperback, and now Ardai has resurrected it.  It should have been a classic with a movie on the order of “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight,” with 70’s stars like Lee Marvin and James Caan.  Westlake gives us a protagonist that we can relate to, an Everyman sleepwalking through a surrealistic world that has somehow spun out of his control.  An ordinary guy with an addiction to pulling practical jokes goes to prison over a joke gone wrong, and he soon falls in with a gang that has a secret passage outside and is planning to rob not one, but two banks, while they are still incarcerated.    Ordinary guy puts up with all the ensuing shenanigans while trying desperately to sabotage the plot so that he doesn’t become a real criminal instead of just a hapless practical joker.  I have to confess that I didn’t know Donald Westlake’s work that well before now, except that he used to show up a bit in science fiction magazines.  But now I probably won’t be able to get enough.  –Dale D. Dalenberg MD