Help I Am Being Held Prisoner: Donald Westlake (1974)

‘That’s Künt with an umlaut’ explains Harold Künt, the main character of Donald Westlake’s lively, entertaining novel Help I Am Being Held Prisoner, but no matter how many times Harold protests the pronunciation of his name, he’s doomed to be called … well you can figure it out.

Having his last name mispronounced is just one of Harold’s problems. A bigger problem is that he’s serving time in prison for a practical joke that went wrong (you have to read the book to find out what he did).  Harold’s intentions may have been humour, but it’s no joke when he find himself locked up in prison and warned to avoid the showers when the Joyboys are there.

But wait … when Harold finds himself working in prison alongside the Joyboys, they seem like decent fellows and they befriend him. They can’t be that bad, can they?

Think of the idea of An Innocent Abroad, well Harold Künt is An Innocent Inside. Yes he is guilty of a thoughtless prank, but he isn’t a criminal as such. Thrown in with hardened criminals, Harold very quickly gets in too deep, but since his life depends on going along with the programme, he must survive by his wits. After all, ‘Snitches get stitches.’

Help I am being held prisoner

If you like the humorous novels of Donald Westlake, then you will enjoy Help I am Being Held Prisoner from Hard Case Crime. Harold is an entertaining, likable narrator, and it’s fun to go along for the ride in this well-paced blend of crime and humour.

“I think it’s beautiful,” I said.

“You want in?”

Later I would have more than one occasion to give that question deep thought, but at the moment it was asked I considered none of the implications; such as, for instance, the criminal nature both of the act and of my new companions. I was outside the wall, it was as simple as that. “I want in,” I said.

“There’s maybe more to it than you know right now,” he said. “I got to tell you that.”

The tiniest of warning lights went on at the end of some cul-de-sac of my head, but I was looking the other way. “I don’t care,” I said. “Besides, what’s the alternative?”

This is the first of 4 rediscovered novels from Donald Westlake scheduled to be published by Hard Case Crime

Review copy



Filed under Fiction, Westlake, Donald

15 responses to “Help I Am Being Held Prisoner: Donald Westlake (1974)

  1. Well, that goes straight on to my to buy pile.

  2. I’m so glad that some of Westlake’s ‘obscure’ work is being republished. The guy is hilarious. I love his Dortmunder series.

  3. The Bald Librarian

    I second Debbie Rodger’s comment!

  4. I had to laugh, Guy. When I saw this title in my inbox, all I saw was “Help, I am being held prisoner: Donald”. Well, you know what (who) I thought – and wondered whether you were reviewing a novel, a history, or a memoir/autobiography.

    However, I’m glad it wasn’t what I thought it was. This sounds a hoot. I do love the that last para of that excerpt you share. Great writing. I wonder if my son, who is looking for good writing but not demanding reading (full time teacher with a baby on the way) would like this. He’s scathing about the book he’s reading at the moment.

  5. I have never read him but this sounds it would be a good place to start.

  6. This seems like a lot of fun. I already have one book by him on the TBR, I need to read this one first but I’m tempted.

  7. Caroline & Emma: Yes if you are in the mood for a light hearted caper, then this is fun. I prefer Westlake’s light humoured novels, and he’s written a lot.

  8. My son has finally started reading this book that I gave him soon after writing this comment! I thought you might like to see what he wrote in his email to me:

    He started quoting the opening, which he followed with his comments (to the the asterisked sections):

    “Sometimes I think I’m good and sometimes I think I’m bad.* I wish I could make up my mind so I’d know what stance to take.
    The first thing Warden** Gadmore said to me was, “Basically, you’re not a bad person, Kunt.”***
    “Künt,” I said quickly, pronouncing it the right way, as in Koont. “With an umlaut,”**** I explained.
    “A what?”
    “Umlaut.” I poked two fingers into the air, as though blinding an invisible man.*****

    * Great first sentence. Either the main character struggles with his own morality or operates on both sides of good and bad. Either way, my curiosity is already piqued.
    ** Ah, so we’re in a prison. I love a well executed prison story
    *** Haha! What an audacious character name! Is this really happening?
    **** Haha! Umlaut has to be one of the funniest grammatical terms
    ***** Haha! What an inspired description for an umlaut!

    I love the book.”

    He has asked for more recommendations of Westlake or the like. I know you’ve reviewed at least one more here, but I’d love to hear what you’d recommend. Meanwhile, thanks so much for bringing this one to my attention!

  9. The Dortmunder series should keep him going for a while. Glad he enjoyed it so much.
    I’m also going to go out on a limb here:
    Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse: Victor Gischler
    Apathy: Paul Neilan
    Syrup: Max Barry
    None of the above are detective novels but you never know…..

  10. I’ve read this one. Haha. Old Kunt can’t catch a break. I like how they have the underground getaway and these guys get to roam around here and there. It added a cool element to it, especially since Kunt basically just got caught up in a practical joke. Very cool read. I laughed many times. Classic Westlake!

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