The Busy Body
Author: Donald E. Westlake
Narrator: Brian Holsopple
Published 2012 by HighBridge Audio
5 hours, 30 minutes – Unabridged

The Busy Body by Donald E. WestlakeFirst published in print in 1966, The Busy Body is an early stand-alone novel by the late Donald E. Westlake, who died in 2008 after a long and illustrious career penning both comical crime capers and gritty, violent thrillers. The Busy Body falls firmly into the former category, and the fact that it was adapted into a 1967 motion picture starring Sid Caesar, Richard Pryor and Dom Deluise should give you a fair idea of the farcical tone of the story.

Aloysius Engel (“Al” to everybody but his mother) is a young up-and-comer in the New York mob family bossed by Nick Rovito. At the age of 29 he’s already Rovito’s right-hand man. When the need arises to dig up the body of a recently buried associate, Engel is the only one the boss can trust to get this delicate job done right. It seems that some very valuable product was hidden in the lining of Charlie Brody’s best blue suit – the one his grieving widow chose for him to be buried in. All Engel has to do is dig up the body, retrieve the suit, and re-bury Charlie. Simple, right? Only, everything that can go wrong, does go wrong, starting with the fact that when Engel opens Charlie Brody’s grave, the coffin he finds there is completely empty. To get that suit back, he’ll have to track down the body first.

Engel concludes that the logical place to start is the funeral home (or “grief parlor,” as he unfailingly refers to it). But when he gets there, things go from bad to worse when he discovers that the mortician has been stabbed to death in his office, mere minutes before Engel walked in. A woman screams and faints, the cops come rushing in, Engel bolts … and the fun begins.

Narrator Brian Holsopple tells the story well. Westlake’s tough guys, hapless goofs, and alluring broads all achieve authenticity in his vocalizations. The tale unfolds in third person, but everything that happens is viewed through Engel’s point of view. Even though he’s really nothing but a garden variety two-bit gangster, the warmth and fluidity of the narration helps endear him to the listener.

Prepare to sit back, leave the 21st century behind, and enjoy the mid-60s, old-school splendor of The Busy Body. Because this is a period piece, all right – from the sweet dumb floozies and the cool, calculating dames to the $1.85 New York cab fares. It was entertaining for this number-one fan of the AMC TV series Mad Men to picture Al Engel and his gang inhabiting the same 1966 Manhattan as Don Draper and Peggy Olson: maybe sharing a Formica-topped counter at the diner, or ordering Scotch on the rocks from the same bartender in a neighborhood dive. Anyway, a lot has changed in 45 years or so, but the humor inherent in the antics of bumbling crooks and in the way that even the best-laid plans keep going awry are timeless. It is easy to see the debt that today’s crime farce kings owe to Westlake. Fans of Carl Hiaasen and Elmore Leonard would do well to give The Busy Body a listen.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this audiobook from the publisher as part of the Solid Gold Reviewer program administered by Audiobook Jukebox. No payment was received in return for a review. The receipt of the book had no influence on the opinions expressed in my review.