Old pro Westlake deftly moves his cat-and-mice novel between Davis’ PoV (written in present tense), that of Wiskiel and of the five radicals, each of whom develop their own relationship with the aging comedian. His treatment of Davis, who could easily have been drawn as an Old Hollywood monster, is both canny and sympathetic. While his two women radicals appear a bit underwritten, his presentation of the two dynamic male kidnappers seems right on the money, most notably team leader Peter Dinely, who we watch steadily deteriorate as the comedy approaches its finish.
Because it is set 40 years ago, some readers may have issue with some of the book’s plot mechanics (there’s a bit with a severed ear that wouldn’t work at all today on a forensics-savvy readership.) And while the novel’s well-tuned political dialog will ring true to those of us who remember such Judean People’s Front debates from the sixties and seventies, I suspect that readers of a different generation will skim over ‘em to get to the good stuff. Westlake, known for both comic crime novels (his Dortmunder novels) and noiry caper books (the Parker series), keeps The Comedy Is Finished balanced between suspenseful and bleakly comic. He even inserts a joking reference to himself when he has Davis mention a “writer I call the Tragic Relief with the initials dee-double-u.” Reading this Hard Case resurrection, you can’t help wishing that dee-double-u was still around crafting new novels.