Hard Case Crime, the award-winning line of mystery novels published by Titan Books, has discovered an unpublished novel by acclaimed mystery writer Donald E. Westlake. The Comedy Is Finished which Hard Case Crime will publish as its lead title on February 21st tells the story of an aging politically conservative comedian kidnapped by a domestic terrorist group that threatens to kill him unless the government frees some of their imprisoned comrades. Westlake, who died on New Year’s Eve 2009, was a three-time winner of the Edgar Allan Poe award, received an academy award nomination for the screenplay of The Grifters, and was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America, the organization’s highest honor. The Comedy Is Finished will be only the second novel ever to be published in hardcover by Hard Case Crime.
One of Westlake’s long-time publishers, Hard Case Crime also published authors such as Stephen King, Mickey Spillane, Pete Hamill, Madison Smarrt Bell, Ed McBain, Lawrence Block, and Max Allan Collins. In 2010, Hard Case Crime brought out Westlake’s novel Memory, then believed to be the author’s final unpublished manuscript. Subsequently, Max Allan Collins told Hard Case Crime editor Charles Ardai about the existence of one more, a manuscript Collins had received from Westlake in the early 1980s.
Westlake worked on The Comedy Is Finished over the course of several years starting in the late 1970s, but decided not to publish the novel when, after completing it, he saw Martin Scorcese’s 1983 film The King of Comedy, whose premise also involves the kidnapping of a television comedian.
“Aside from that one shared element, the two stories are completely different,” said Charles Ardai. “But Don apparently was concerned enough about the possibility that some readers might see a similarity that he set the book aside and never published it.”
The Comedy Is Finished takes its title from the closing line of the tragic opera Pagliacci, and though the novel is about a comedian it is not itself a comedy. Rather, it is a high-tension suspense story focusing on the FBI’s efforts to capture the terrorists, the victim’s struggle to stay alive, and the kidnappers’ conflicts as their plans begin to go awry.
“We are very excited to have the privilege to bring this lost work to light,” Ardai said. “Millions of fans around the world will get something they never expected to see again: a new novel by Donald Westlake.”
The Comedy Is Finished features a new cover painting in the classic pulp style by Gregory Manchess and will be released simultaneously in hardcover and e-book editions.