Monday, December 24, 2007

Converging series

And this has nothing to do with mathematics. Rather, it's something I've noticed from time to time in Donald Westlake's books the last few years. You may know that the man is prolific, author of at least four crime-fiction series and scores of standalones. His production, in fact, lies at the heart of this comment because a question like the one I'm about to pose could only apply to a writer whose production spans multiple series.

The question concerns motifs or situations from one series bleeding over into another. Comeback, Westlake's 1998 novel about the ultra-professional thief Parker (written, like the other Parker novels, under the name Richard Stark), opens with a heist at a religious rally. One of the robbers is disguised as an angel. He makes an especially nervous angel, and if you think that sounds like something out of Westlake's comic caper novels about John Dortmunder, you're not the only one, even though Comeback is Parker all the way – cool, taut and serious.

A later Parker novel, Ask the Parrot, has Parker teaming up with a man resentful because he has lost his job for being honest. The motif of good man forced to desperate measures because he lost his job echoes Westlake's standalone novel The Ax.

Can you think of other prolific, multifaceted authors who borrow from their own work the way Westlake does?

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

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9 Comments:

Anonymous Steve Lewis said...

Peter, I think Ed McBain's work could stand some scrutiny along these lines. Not too long ago I read an 87th Precinct novel in which Matthew Hope had a minor but still significant role. From the conversation that resulted, this wasn't the first time they'd met.

Also, and Richard Moore pointed this out to me a long time ago. In Gladly the Cross-Eyed Bear (1996), Matthew Hope comes across a 60-year-old PI named Guthrie Lamb. It seems that Lamb had been around before, in a couple of short stories from a pair of 1952 pulp magazines.

What a long time between appearances!

You can look it up at http://www.thrillingdetective.com/eyes/lamb.html.

Best

Steve

December 25, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Thanks for furthering my crime-fiction education. I've read just a couple of the 87th Precinct novels and none featuring either Hope or Lamb (an interesting pair of names).

I'd be interested in knowing whether the Hope stories typically had a different approach from the 87th Precinct novels and whether Hope's appearance in the latter heralded a bringing together of the two approaches. Westlake has always been interested in crossovers, I think, especially with Slayground and The Blackbird beginning with the same event, then taking off in different directions according to the personality of the protagonist (Parker in the first book, Grofield in the second). And then there are the chapters he shared with Joe Gores.

If my speculation in this comment is correct, he does a third kind of crossover as well: of approach, but not of characters.

December 26, 2007  
Anonymous Steve Lewis said...

Peter, Yes I realize that my previous comments about the character crossovers in Ed McBain's books didn't really address your question -- about a crossovers in approach. I've not read enough McBain, I'm sorry to say, to be able to say.

The 87th Precinct novel I was talking about was The Big, Bad City, I first that I've read in many many years. Truthfully I was disappointed, but perhaps in ways that exist in all of Precinct books, but also perhaps since it is a recent entry, some weariness (leading to carelessness on the authorial end) was involved. I ought to read more before saying more, so I won't.

To get back to your question, Curt Purcell has said (on rara-avis) that in three of Lawrence Block's early books, Grifter's Game, The Long Green Heart and Lucky with Cards, well, I'd better let Curt say it: "... in each of these three stories, the grifter debates how best to part the rich guy from his money and put him out of the way, and each time he arrives at a solution he rejects in the other two."

Now that's pretty neat, isn't it?

Best

Steve

December 26, 2007  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Terry Pratchett doesn't write crime fiction, but there's crossover galore in the Discworld books.

I hope all DBB readers (and the writer) had wonderful Christmas Days/evenings! For various reasons, we didn't even start the event until 8:00pm last night; I don't want to do that again.

December 26, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Steve, it was still interesting to think about the different types of crossovers that crime-fiction writers come up with.

I like that gimmick in the three Block novels, of which I've read just Grifter's Game, a superb example of creepy later noir. Hard Case Crime has reissued all three books, so they should be relatively easy to get.

I've read two of the 87th Precinct novels. I'm not sure where they fall in the sequence.

December 26, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Linkmeister, what is the weather like out that way this time of year? I'm in an online group of crime-fiction readers from Australia, who are naturally wishing one another Merry Christmas, talking about presents or even complaining about hearing too many Bing Crosby Christmas carols, and all this in their summer.

What kinds of crossovers are there in the Pratchett books? Does Pratchett write more than one series? Do the series borrow motifs and even storylines from one another, in the matter of the examples in my comment?

December 26, 2007  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

1:25pm, Wednesday: 79 degrees and sunny.

That's about average for Christmas week. Dad used to say if you couldn't swim on Christmas you weren't in Hawai'i; obviously your Oz friends would differ.

November-February is "rainy" season; we get the bulk of our precipitation during those months (on O'ahu; other islands, particularly Kau'ai, get more).

Pratchett puts main characters from one book into cameos in another: Death is a frequent visitor, as are some of the Witches, Sam Vimes of the City Watch (the cops), and the wizards at the Unseen University. Here's an incomplete character list.

December 26, 2007  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

And yes, he's got several mini-series going, but the books are all accessible as standalones.

I haven't read any of his juveniles, which he turns out in between Discworld stories.

December 26, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

I have a good idea for a post next year about Christmas in warm climates. Or maybe I'll sneak it in before New Year's this year.

What's interesting about Westlake's crossovers is that he can use a motif from one series while maintaining the "host" series' mood. Ask the Parrot has a smaller cast of characters and a more solitary feeling to it than do most of the other Parker novels. This, and the predicament of the fellow with whom Parker teams on the big heist, is part of what reminds me of The Ax. Come to think of it, Westlake's hilarious Dortmunder novella Walking Around Money, one of the best things he's ever done, has some similar touches.

December 26, 2007  

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