Donald Westlake's large Dortmunder following will not be disappointed in The Road to Ruin (Mysterious, $25). The canny if bumbling John Dortmunder tries to steal some vintage cars from one Monroe Hall, a businessman who's just been convicted of fraud for depriving his investors of their much-needed retirement profits. Unfortunately, Dortmunder and his gang of charming thieves are not the only ones anxious to hoodwink the pouting Mr. Hall: Some union members on the one hand, and investment cronies on the other, are trying to force Hall to reveal the location of his offshore bank accounts and let them share the wealth. All are having trouble getting to Hall, who is hidden protectively away behind guards, walls, surveillance cameras and an electrified fence.

Westlake's playfulness gets the better of plot, character development, mystery and most other elements that usually make for interest in a novel. But this is a Dortmunder book, where the profit margin on capers seems to be measured in laughs and not dollars. The majestic lack of success of all these would-be villains produces some broad comedy at everyone's expense, from Dortmunder himself to Hall and the frustrated investors seeking revenge and recompense. The story might be light as a helium balloon, but it stays aloft on the currents of Westlake's benign humor.

-- Dennis Drabelle