Money for Nothing

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Is there such a thing as a free lunch? This question is much on the mind of Josh Redmont, the protagonist of Donald E. Westlake’s Money for Nothing, when he receives in the mail a mysterious check for one thousand dollars from something called United States Agent. The check clears Josh’s bank, his phone calls to the number printed on the check go unanswered, and he needs the money, so when checks continue to arrive every month Josh wonders whether it is in fact possible to receive money for nothing. He gets his answer seven years after cashing the first check when he meets Levrin, from the United States Agent, who announces that Josh is now “active.”

By accepting the checks, Josh has permitted himself to be counted among the sleeper agents of an international spy ring out to assassinate the premier of Kamastan, a former member of the Soviet Union, and he is expected now to participate in the plot. To save his kidnapped wife and child, Josh enlists the aid of an off-off-Broadway actor, Mitch Robbie, another sleeper agent and a much more colorful and interesting character than Josh. Mitch shows Josh how to think of his situation as a scene in a drama, and shows that an actor in character can be every bit as dangerous as an experienced thug. In the end, Josh overcomes his timid passivity and learns that he has it within himself to make decisions, to stand up to the bad guys, to blow a man’s head off.

In Money for Nothing, Westlake combines his much-praised wit and humor with the brutality of the books he writes under the name Richard Stark. The result is lively and entertaining from absurd beginning to bloody end.