Call Me a Cab
(Hard Case Crime Series #152)
By Donald E. Westlake
Hard Case Crime (Titan Books) — 1st February 2022
ISBN: 9781789098181 — Paperback — 256 pp.
An easy-going New York City cab driver named Tom picks up a fare for JFK airport who seems anxious and out-of-sorts. Engaging in some small talk with her, Tom learns her name is Katherine and that she is headed to the airport to fly to California to give her longtime fiancé Barry a final decision in person on the marriage. She has hesitated on fully committing to the union; though he has been patient, he has now given her an ultimatum. If only she had more time to just think, to figure out the source of her indecisiveness, and find a confident answer within her heart.
Katherine asks Tom what the cost would be to drive her to California in the cab. This would give her time to calm her panic and figure things out in isolation. She has the money; Tom has the time; an arrangement is made. Their journey begins. Along the way a close friendship builds between Tom and Katherine through their conversations and the events that go along their journey across country. They learn things about one another, and themselves. Ultimately, Katherine finds her answer.
Call Me a Cab has an exceptionally simple plot, with two simple characters. But, the interactions between Tom and Katherine are fascinating and refreshing, with flowing language from Westlake that probes psychology and human emotions with humor, playfulness, and respect.
It’s arguable that the novel doesn’t fit into the Hard Case Crime press mission or genre fold. However, I don’t remotely care, and I don’t imagine any other fans of the HCC series would either. Unlike all the other Westlake titles in the HCC library, Call Me a Cab has no crime in it at all, nor really any mystery. It does contain the element of suspense, but it’s a romantic suspense, a suspense of two characters who gradually share more of a bond making efforts to not consummate feelings of attraction they may begin to feel, because of Katherine’s relationship with Barry and because of her vulnerability in a state of uncertainty and confusion at figuring out herself. Interestingly, grappling to suppress and comprehend her friendship with Tom leads her to eventually realize the source of her hesitance with Barry.
I feel as though this is a really hard novel to review or write about, particularly with details because of its simplicity. It’s probably best if I simply wrap it up by stressing how satisfying Westlake’s deliberate and elegant prose is to read here. The reader falls into companionship with Tom and Katherine and those who have fun ‘shipping’ fictional characters who have that connection that feels so perfect, will adore this too.
Westlake wrote Call Me a Cab, it seems, as an exercise in telling a caper story without a caper. I would say that equally it is a romance story without any physical romance. With offerings like this, I’ll always support HCC willingness to stray a bit from their usual fare.