RIP Donald Westlake
January 1, 2009 1:57 PM   Subscribe

Donald Westlake is dead. This prolific novelist wrote more than 100 books and several screenplays under many names, creating one of the most memorable comic caper series and hard violent fiction under his psuedonym, Richard Stark. John Banville called Stark and Georges Simenon "two of the greatest writers of the 20th century."
posted by ed (35 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
posted by Manhasset at 2:03 PM on January 1, 2009

Anybody who enjoys a good heist should pick up a Dortmunder novel posthaste (see the comic caper link). Dortmunder is a great comic character (one that Hollywood has spectacularly failed to capture despite many attempts) and the plots are masterpieces of Rube Goldberg complexity and Murphy's Law hijinks ensuement.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 2:04 PM on January 1, 2009

posted by From Bklyn at 2:05 PM on January 1, 2009

Mr. Westlake’s cinematic style of storytelling

It seems like authors who write cinematically tend to also write quickly/prolifically. They also tend to be genre writers and popular.
posted by stbalbach at 2:09 PM on January 1, 2009

Point Blank, made from his novel The Hunter, has one of the greatest cock punching scenes in the history of film.
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:28 PM on January 1, 2009

posted by Ber at 2:29 PM on January 1, 2009

. (for Westlake)
. (for Stark)

I just looked over at my bookshelf and realized that none of my Stark novels made the last move. Shit.

I do recommend following the Stark books in order, as they somewhat declined in quality over the years.
posted by Bookhouse at 2:30 PM on January 1, 2009


The Dortmunder books are consistently excellent. I am working on "Road to Ruin" currently, so it looks like I have 2 or 3 more books to go. "Drowned Hopes" still makes me convulse laughing when I think about it.
posted by sciatica at 2:30 PM on January 1, 2009

Take a look at the list of films based on his writing: Point Blank, the Grifters, Payback, the Hot Rock, the Stepfather, even Jean-Luc Godard's Made in U.S.A.

posted by jonp72 at 2:33 PM on January 1, 2009

The Grifters is a Jim Thompson novel. Westlake worked on the screenplay IIRC.
posted by Bookhouse at 2:35 PM on January 1, 2009

The Grifters is based on a Jim Thompson novel, but Westlake worked on the screen play. He was one of my favorites, both as a comic writer and as the hardest of the hardboiled writers. What a loss. Poor, poor Dortmunder.
posted by Divine_Wino at 2:39 PM on January 1, 2009

I hate to admit I thought he'd died some time ago.
posted by cjorgensen at 3:02 PM on January 1, 2009

Never read anything he wrote under his real name, but I love me some Richard Stark. This is a damn shame.

posted by brundlefly at 3:16 PM on January 1, 2009

I guess the sparrows got him.

posted by localroger at 3:31 PM on January 1, 2009

Point Blank, made from his novel The Hunter, has one of the greatest cock punching scenes in the history of film.

Certainly the greatest cock punching set to music composed using the 12-tone system.

posted by Joe Beese at 3:36 PM on January 1, 2009

I think reading a Stark novel in one sitting has to rank as one of the great simple pleasures in life.
Oh... and Westlake's aren't half bad either
posted by archaic at 3:42 PM on January 1, 2009

Sorry to hear this. Definitely one of my literary heroes; to my mind he alone is two of the great writers of the century. It's remarkable how he could be so funny, and also so hard-boiled, in different guises.

I've read all the 40+ books listed under his own name here, plus most of the Richard Starks, and all but one of the Tucker Coes... last year I found out he'd even written, as Curt Clark, a science fiction novel in the 1960s. Years ago when I wrote him a fan letter, I picked out Dancing Aztecs as a particular favorite of mine, and in his reply he said it was one of his as well.

His non-fiction book Under an English Heaven, about Anguilla, showed that Westlake could have made a fine reporter as well.

And how interesting — speaking of the movies made from his books — to think of the wide varities of Dortmunder onscreen: Robert Redford, George C. Scott, Martin Lawrence, Paul Le Mat, among others.
posted by LeLiLo at 3:44 PM on January 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

Under any name, one of my favorite authors.

posted by box at 3:48 PM on January 1, 2009

Bah...that's a damn shame. I've pretty much always avoided the "mystery" section of the bookstore, and I'd just stumbled upon the Dortmunder series last year. They're tremendously enjoyable light reading. I hate to think that soon I'll have read them all, and no more new ones.
posted by the bricabrac man at 4:02 PM on January 1, 2009

Metafictional Dortmunder highlight: Jimmy the Kid, in which the gang tries to base a heist on one of Richard Stark's Parker novels.

This is terrible news - I'd been on a Parker buying kick in the last few months, and checking for the older Dortmunders is the first thing I do in a used bookstore. Thought he'd be cranking out a new one every few years forever.

posted by ormondsacker at 6:23 PM on January 1, 2009

Oh NO! Eartha and Westlake in the same week? It's too horrible.

Some years ago I scavenged his email address from a mass email a well connected literary friend sent out. I always meant to write to him to thank him for Dortmunder, who helped get me through the tough months after my dad died. I never found a way to avoid the fangirl tone, and so never sent anything. Now I never can.


Dortmunder is up there with Elizabeth Bennet in the pantheon of utterly delightful fictional creatures.

You can read many sample chapters and get a taste of his puckish humor at his website.
posted by CunningLinguist at 6:44 PM on January 1, 2009


posted by yeoz at 7:03 PM on January 1, 2009

As Senora Floydd said: "He died before dinner? How sad!"
He'll be sorely missed.
I love Dortmunder but have never read anything under Donald Westlake's pseudonyms, so I have that going for me. Which is nice.
posted by Floydd at 7:37 PM on January 1, 2009

I've been curious about Westlake's stuff, as he's one of the two non-mainly-SF authors constantly mentioned by Spider Robinson (the other being John D. MacDonald -- and I believe both Westlake and MacDonald dabbled in SF occasionally as well?). What'd be a good Westlake/Stark/etc. to start with?
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 8:18 PM on January 1, 2009

RSMM - Start at the beginning with Parker: The Hunter, The Man With the Getaway Face and The Outfit are all top-notch hardboiled fiction.
posted by Bookhouse at 8:42 PM on January 1, 2009


I was just talking about him tonight in the context of heist movies. I like the Dortmunder books, but I really liked Kahawa for some reason.
posted by BrotherCaine at 9:31 PM on January 1, 2009

What Bookhouse said.

The Parker books used to be hard to find -- my collection was half awesome Fawcett Gold Medal covers, and half "Why is Parker wearing a Members Only jacket?" terrible, but University of Chicago Press just started reissuing the whole shebang in September, two titles per month, so you can grab them pretty much anywhere now.

Parker is one of the most unrepentant, genuinely criminal borderline villains put to print, and that he remains so likable is a testament to Westlake as a writer. Any fans of crime fiction or bad-asses in general owe it to themselves to read at least one.
posted by Amanojaku at 10:59 PM on January 1, 2009

posted by Rabarberofficer at 3:54 AM on January 2, 2009

posted by parker at 4:17 AM on January 2, 2009

Ruins my day.

I've recommended him here before and do so now again.
posted by IndigoJones at 10:21 AM on January 2, 2009


Deeply saddening, though the old guy had some good years and some amazing books. I was damned lucky to meet him this autumn and tell him how much The Ax influenced me. He turned this, naturally, into a joke, but I would not be writing fiction without that book, and I'll go out on a limb and say it's one of the better American novels of the last fifty years.
posted by Football Bat at 1:17 PM on January 2, 2009

I think I have read everything he has written, under all the pseudonyms (and some of them, like Tucker Coe, are pretty hard to find). I think the most outrageously funny are Dancing Aztecs and Drowned Hopes, the scariest are The Ax and the screenplay for The Stepfather, the most hard boiled the script for The Grifters and about half of the Parker novels.

For some more samples of the Westlake wit, see his Wikiquote page.

posted by ubiquity at 5:50 PM on January 2, 2009

Oh no.

I always wanted to write to him and tell him how much his writing inspired me, made me laugh, kept me entertained during long car trips, and got me through bad days and good. He's one of my literary heroes, and I will likely never write half as well as he did, but I've had his books on my inspiration shelf for years, and I return to them often to see how a master craftsman works.

Right now, I can look over and see the shelf containing my collection of his novels. The battered and well loved paperbacks as well as the hardcovers I'm slowly buying to add to my permanent collection, and I'm tearing up to think now that there won't ever be another brilliant novel to fit into that shelf.

posted by snowleopard at 5:52 PM on January 2, 2009

posted by OolooKitty at 7:41 PM on January 2, 2009

I read all the Parker novels for the first time earlier this year and enjoyed them tremendously. How sad.

posted by tricked by a toothless cobra at 7:39 PM on January 3, 2009

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