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The first crime novel by the esteemed Donald Westlake. The novel follows mob lieutenant George "Clay" Clayton attempting to solve the murder of local kept woman Mavis St. Paul. Minor mob member Billy-Billy Cantell is framed for the murder, and Clay's boss Ed Ganolese ordering him to find the killer, first planning to turn him over to the police, then for mob justice.

The title has no relation to the trope The Cutie (and probably pre-dates it) but instead refers to the Terms of Endangerment phrase that Ganolese sarcastically uses to describe the killer who is causing him such a headache.

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Tropes:

  • Addled Addict: Billy-Billy is very erratic and socially stunted from his drug addiction. It really says something when a fellow Junkie whose actual nickname is Junky comes across as a Functional Addict next to him.
  • Ambiguous Ending: The novel ends with someone knocking on Clay's door, right as he's realized that he'll be implicated in the following investigation due to Clancy's wife knowing about him, with Clay desperately trying to convince himself that the knocking is coming from a call girl he ordered, and not Ed deciding that You Have Outlived Your Usefulness.
  • Amoral Attorney: The mobs lawyer, Clancy Mitchell, is heavily involved in their activities, And he's the killer.
  • Because You Were Nice to Me:
    • Clay started working for Ed in the first place after Ed provided him an alibi from a drunk-driving charge.
    • Billy-Billy somehow befriended one of Ed's primary drug contacts during WWII (the details are sketchy) enough for the man to demand that Ed and Clay save his neck.
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  • Cain and Abel: Billy was Clancy's brother, but was viewed as an embarrassment and a threat to his cushy new life by Clancy, which was why his brother used him as a fall guy and eventually killed him.
  • Convicted by Public Opinion: Clay was shunned by his friend and family after a fatal drunk driving accident in college which he was in fact guilty of but avoided being arrested for.
  • "Could Have Avoided This!" Plot: Before having Clay kill Clancy, Ed makes sure to emphasize to him that he wouldn't be in that situation if he'd just asked Ed for help in dealing with his blackmailing wife, which Ed would have been happy to do.
  • The Cynic: Clay is thoroughly convinced that there isn't a person in the world who isn't at least mildly crooked in actions, at heart or both, and that he is a prime example of At Least I Admit It.
  • Dark Secret: Mavis was murdered because She was still legally married to Clancy and could have had him arrested and disgraced for bigamy, as well as a past embezzlement charge which had led to him going on the run and abandoning her in the first place.
  • Deceased Fall-Guy Gambit: Once Billy-Billy is murdered, the police believe he committed the murders and the mob lets them think it. This actually backfires on the killer as while it ends the police manhunt once they think the killer is dead, it also causes the mob to decide to just kill him once he's caught, rather than let the law handle him.
  • Gold Digger: The only men Mavis was interested in were ones with money and power, although as her latest sugar daddy and best friend stress, she had to at least like the person a little.
  • Hypocrisy Nod: Clay pisses off the books Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist by pointing out how even if he isn't corrupt in the sense of taking money, he has quite likely shut his eyes to other cops taking graft or done things like throw away the traffic ticket of someone who has too much clout to go against.
    Detective Grimes: There are things I have to do that I don't have any choice over. And I don't like to be reminded of them.
  • Late-Arrival Spoiler: A later Westlake novel which features the return of Ed Ganolese, fighting a mob war against that books protagonist and his father, features a major, albeit subtle clue to the solution of the mystery in this book. Ed has a different lawyer than Clancy.
  • Mafia Princess: Its mentioned that Ganolese has a daughter going to a fancy boarding school whose unaware of how he makes his living (something which is also true of Clancy's wife and kids).
  • Morality Pet: Clay's girlfriend is the person he shows the most warmth and protectiveness towards, although he openly states that he'd kill her if Ed ever asked. At the end of the novel, Clay dumps her specifically because his feelings for her are getting so strong that he feels their jeopardizing his role as a mob enforcer.
  • Never One Murder: It's three, by the final chapters, and then the killer falls victim to The Killer Becomes the Killed.
  • Psycho for Hire: Clay describes another mob assassin he once had drinks with who proudly boasted about how much he loved the killing itself and was fully convinced that everyone else in the world feels the same way (something Clay denies, stating that he is capable of being shockingly dispassionate about murder, but doesn't enjoy his work).
  • Speech Impediment: Billy-Billy tends to stammer a bit when he's coming off a heroin binge. He gets called "Billy-Billy" because that's how he stammeringly introduces himself.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: During Clay's summation, Starkweather the mob accountant, quickly realizing the direction this is going, excuses himself and hurries away due to not wanting to be a witness to a murder.
  • Villainous BSoD: The killer, after being exposed and left at the mercy of the mob, makes a weak attempt at denial then practically shuts down in terror, barely able to say anything besides Ed's name, in a faint, pleading tone.
  • Villain Protagonist: Clay is a cold-blooded, self-righteous killer and racketeer, although with some Pet the Dog moments.
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