Light and fluffy and fun, although with zero nutritional value…
Castle in the Air, first published in 1980, is one of Donald E Westlake’s caper books – a light-hearted and over-the-top adventure that may remind readers of the movie version of The Pink Panther, or maybe the movie version of Hopscotch. And, given that it reads kind of like a screenplay, it seems a bit odd that Castle in the Air never was made into a movie. Still, it’s a quick and fun read, and readers can easily imagine the movie if they wish.
As the story opens, the two main characters, self-proclaimed master criminal Eustace Dench, and innocent-seeming Lida Perez, are recruiting co-conspirators to help them search a Yerbadoroan castle which is going to be torn down and reconstructed, stone-by-stone, in Paris for an exposition. Why, one might ask, does the castle need to be searched? Well, because the current dictator of Yerbadoro has hidden his loot in some of the castle’s stones, as a way to get his ill-gotten gains out of the country. And since there are too many stones for Eustace and Lida to search by themselves, they recruit four other gangs of criminals to help them – a group from England, a group from Italy, a group from Germany, and a group from England.
What follows is a comedy of double-crosses as the would-be criminals chase through Paris: around the Place de Concorde, through the canals of the 19th and 11th Arrondissements, along the Seine, and through the Montmartre Cemetary…and some other places too. Of course, in the end, the good guys win, and the master criminals are last seen in the final chapter taking up new careers.
All-in-all, Castle is the Air is sort of like cotton candy – fluffy and enjoyable, but without a hint of nutritional value. Still, sometimes the world could do with a little more cotton candy, and although it’s a bit too light-weight to deserve five-stars, Castle in the Air is definitely entertaining enough for four – so that’s what it gets. And my thanks to Hard Case Crime and Edelweiss for the review copy….