When you've written what is arguably one of the greatest American novels of the 20th century—the dark masterpiece The Ax—everything that follows must suffer in comparison. MONEY FOR NOTHING is another stand-alone novel which starts with an amazingly good premise. What if a company sent you a check for $1,000 a month for seven years and, hey, you just cashed them?

But one lovely Friday afternoon, on the ferry out to Fire Island to join your beautiful wife and child, someone from that company turns up next to you and announces, "You've been activated." Josh Redmont, a well-intentioned advertising executive of only average intelligence, finds himself in this very predicament.

The problem with the novel arises from the mounting credulity strain. Josh is braced by two spies competing for top-dog status in the same quasi-Baltic agency, then saddled with a roommate reminiscent of Boris Badenov's Natasha (whose advances he steadfastly resists), and finally teams up against the bad guys with an insouciant fellow amateur spy who bluffs his way through every situation.

Expecting a crime story instead of a spy novel, I kept waiting for the punch line. Nevertheless, Westlake writes beautifully, and even a silly story, in his hands, is entertaining. (Apr., 320 pp., $24.95)

Reviewed by: 
Kim Colley