Saturday, January 3, 2009

Donald Westlake

Alas, Donald Westlake is dead at 75. Man, this guy wrote like a demon. I didn't like all of it, but I liked an awful lot of it. He wrote more than a hundred books under a dozen different names, and way, way more of them were good than the law of averages would lead you to expect. My favorites were the Richard Stark novels featuring the thief Parker; somehow Westlake's other books always seemed a little too insincere to me, a little too misanthropic. Parker's cold morality and professionalism seemed to bring out the best in Westlake--the prose was tighter, the humor blacker. He also did a fair amount of screenwriting, most notably The Grifters, one of the greatest crime movies ever.

This is a real drag for me, especially on the heels of David Wallace. All the rest of my favorite writers, please watch your back in 2009, and cut back on the cigarettes and booze.

9 comments:

Paul said...

What I really treasured in the Stark novels was how the story began and ended exactly when they did...no pre or aft amble. No wrapup. Pure narrative.

I will miss that.

jrlennon said...

Yeah, he didn't mess around.

Tania Hershman said...

I've never heard of Donald Westlake but loved the Grifters. A hundred books? Under a dozen names? Wow, this guy deserves a statue somewhere. It's fascinating how you spotted personality differences when he wrote under different pseudonyms. Thanks for bringing him to my attention, even if I'm a little late!

Pamela said...

I really treasure the Stark novels, yet my favorite Westlake is The Ax. He will be missed.

jrlennon said...

Tania, you definitely should read a little Westlake. You'll have no trouble finding him--he's the author of approximately 1 in every 30 novels.

Tania and Pamela, thanks for coming by!

Mr. Saflo said...

I never thought quite as highly of him as many do, but I like the Parker novels a lot. The Richard Stark that Hard Case brought back, Lemons Never Lie, was particularly neat.

jrlennon said...

"Lemons Never Lie" is what got me onto the Stark books! That's a good one...and the protagonist, the thief who runs a small artsy theater with the rest of his time, shows up in some Parker books as well.

Andrew said...

I liked The Ax and also The Fugitive Pigeon. Slayground was ok but I don't think he made as much of the premise as he could've. The Dortmunder books made me want to barf. Talk about smug.

Speaking more generally, I think one of Westlake's distinguishing features was that his novels generally had no redeeming social value. Except for The Ax, I don't really recall any social commentary of any form. There's a certain purity about that, although of course it's also limiting.

OutOfContext said...

This is a guy I've honestly never heard of until all my favorite bloggers mourned his death in posts. So I picked up Lemons and it is next on my list. I did read the short first chapter and if I could put down The Prestige I'd start reading that one right now. I also picked up the Westlake book Road to Ruin.

The Hard Case books are great--I've read about eight of them and only found one too bad to finish--that Spillane novel about a retired cop.