Donald Westlake’s latest novel, HUMANS, is a departure from his standard offerings. Although it involves a crime caper, it is certainly not a crime novel, except in the broadest sense of a crime against humanity. God, it seems, has gotten bored with the human race and has decided to put an end to the earth. He enlists an angel, Ananayel, to perform the task.
Ending the world is no easy matter, since humans have free will. It is Ananayel’s job to nudge each member of a selected group into wanting to engage in actions that eventually will cause the earth’s demise. He is able to use various small miracles, such as opening locked doors, but by and large must leave the task of destroying the earth to his selected agents, who include a Kenyan prostitute with AIDS, a Soviet joke-writer dying of radiation poisoning from Chernobyl, a Chinese student dissident, a has-been pop music star from Brazil, and a career criminal from Omaha. A Westlake novel is not complete without a hitch in the plans; in this case, it comes from an arch-fiend who likes what humans have done to the earth and wants to save them.
The novel is definitely comic, as Ananayel is sometimes inept in his work and has a sardonic view of humanity. He reports to the reader on his progress and plans in short chapters throughout the book. Other characters are comic only in how they treat their tragic circumstances. This story could be horrifying if told by someone else, but Westlake makes it hilarious.