Proliferate mystery author Donald Westlake brings a thriller of mystery and espionage in Money for Nothing, published by Mysterious Press, copyright 2003.
Without any explanation Josh Redmont starts receiving checks for one thousand dollars every month and has no idea of where they are from or who could have sent them. At first he tries sending them back but there is no return information except the sender’s name which is written as “United States Agent”. Examining the check further he sees that the check’s credentials were from a Washington D.C. bank with an address of K Street, N.E. Washington D.C. drawn off the Inter-Merchant Bank, also of Washington.
In these early days Josh is not very financially stable and works for a temp agency in downtown Manhattan and so he asks Fred Stern, his employee representative, if they had anything to do with these checks. His flat answer said it all, “We don’t pay people to do nothing.” Josh thought the same way but there it was every month, a check for on thousand dollars and they continued coming for years while he continued his life. He gets a well paying position as an advertising copywriter, meets a woman who he falls in love with, gets married, they conceive a baby boy, and life is good until one day, seven years later as he is boarding a ferry, a man comes up to him smiling and introduces himself as Mr. Nimrin who represents the United States Agent. He goes on to tell Josh that he has now been activated and further orders are to come.
No further explanation is offered and Mr. Nimrin simply walks away smiling, his words and Russian accent still bouncing in Josh’s head. Josh keeps an apartment on the Upper West Side for when he is at work in the city and a rental house on Fire Island where his wife and child stay. One day upon his return to his apartment Josh is surprised to find a very beautiful woman in his living room sitting on his couch and sipping champagne. She smiles in welcome and offers him a glass in one of his prized champagne flutes. She introduces herself as Tina Pausto and explains that she has been billeted here to oversee the delivery of a certain product that is needed for a mission here in New York. He is hesitant at first but accepts that she will be staying in his apartment for a short time. He comes back the next day to find that Tina is not there and instead finds boxes of AK 47s tucked under his bed and uniforms in his closet. He identifies the uniforms as hailing from a newly formed country that used to be part of the Soviet Union but is now named Kamistan and is ruled by a dictator who is greatly hated for his cruelty to his people.
Across the world, Fyedder Mihommed-Sinn has never been out of his homeland in fear of a gypsy curse placed upon him when he was baby that proclaimed that he would be killed if ever he left. Yet since one of his countrymen had won an Olympic gold medal in track and field his decision to go to Yankee Stadium to honor this athlete’s achievements was not questioned except to see how much security should be provided for his visit to America’s largest city. Josh reads about Mihommed-Sinn’s visit, recalling Tina’s activity in his apartment to receive weapons and equipment, and realizes that he has been activated to assist in the assassination of Mihommed-Sinn. Josh now fears for his life as well as his wife and son because he makes contact with another man on Nimrin’s list and finds out that a third has been tortured and murdered. He begins treading a fine line as he tries to extricate himself and his family from these increasingly dangerous circumstances all while avoiding the suspicions of the operatives who seem to be all around him.
It truly amazes me how Donald E. Westlake ties this all together and comes up with one of the most inventive spy thrillers he has written. I can’t say enough about his ability to inject humor into what is obviously a tragic tale. The episode where Josh is in touch with Mitchel Robbie, who lives and performs in a small theater, is a very funny and suspenseful part of this brilliant novel!
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