Book Review: Castle in the Air by Donald E. Westlake

Castle in the Air, by Donald E. Westlake, is a recent crime caper reprint (1980) from the always entertaining Hard Case Crime Books. In Castle in the Air, master criminal, Eustace Dench, has discovered a scheme by the president of a small, politically struggling, South American country called Yerbadero. The president’s plan is to send his own castle, brick by brick, to an Expo being held in Paris, France. The president of Yerbadero has hidden all his wealth in the pieces of the castle and plans to take his wife to the Expo, retrieve his wealth, and never return to his home country. He knows Yerbadero is about to be taken over by a group of militant guerrillas. One of those guerrillas, Lida Perez, has gotten wind of the scheme and has offered to split the spoils with Eustace Dench’s crew if they can find a way to steal an entire castle from beneath a thousand watchful eyes in the middle of France.

Castle in the Air is a mad romp of a crime caper with constant thrills, successes, and missteps. The sheer size of the diverse cast adds to the manic craziness that never stops. The reader is on a breathless journey to keep pace with each group as they travel by car, boat, train, and bicycle across the entirety of Paris. Eustace’s group represents six countries: the United States, Britain, France, Italy, Germany, and Yerbadero. The leader of each contingent also gathers their own group of varied criminals and ne’er-do-wells to help with their individual parts of the planned heist. Those numbers add up quickly, and it is not long before the reader is frantically trying to keep up with the antics of over fifteen significant characters, all of whom have their own piece of the complex puzzle in which an entire castle must be gathered in parts from various shipping ports, highways, and train yards. The comic happenings are ramped up due to the fact that nearly nobody in the clan speaks anything but their native tongue, and because each criminal, of course, wants a much heftier share of the loot than is their due.

Castle in the Air, by Donald E. Westlake, is an exciting adventure all the way through, with laughs on every page, and is another great entry to the Hard Case Crime collection.

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