Donald Westlake dies
Westlake wrote around 100 novels, virtually inventing the comic caper with his Dortmunder series and the amoral, professional thief/killer in twenty-seven novels featuring Parker, written under the pen name Richard Stark.
Westlake was also a screenwriter, and his screenplay for The Grifters earned an Academy Award nomination in 1991. He won three Edgar awards from the Mystery Writers of America, which named him a Grand Master in 1993
Westlake was one of the cleverest of crime novelists, engaging in such experiments as beginning two different novels with the same botched robbery in order to take the story in two different directions. He also liked to share chapters with authors whose work he enjoyed, a Westlake novel and a book by the cooperating author having a common chapter that features characters from both. He did this notably in the Dortmunder novel Drowned Hopes, which shares a chapter with Joe Gores' 32 Cadillacs, a delicious treat for anyone, doubly so for readers who know both writers.
The New York Times obituary of Westlake, by the way, is a shoddy piece of work, full of what the writer probably thought was delightful color ("who pounded out more than 100 books and five screenplays") but not mentioning Dortmunder, one of the author's two most influential and enduring creations. The obituary also makes the questionable assertion that Westlake's work translated well to the screen. The Dortmunder novels especially have been notoriously ill-served by screen adaptations.
(A knowledgeable observer of both crime fiction and journalism points out that the Times was likely caught unaware by Westlake's death. With a holiday schedule likely in effect, the Times had to draft a non-obituary writer and non-crime-fiction expert. But my correspondent also expressed surprise that the Times did not have an obituary ready in advance, as it should have and as newspapers traditionally do. Westlake was 75, he was extremely well known, especially in New York, and he had had health problems in recent years, though not apparently related to the heart attack that appears to have killed him. The Times dropped the ball on this one. )
© Peter Rozovsky 2009