01-01-2009 09:31 PM
I was going to save this topic till March, since that's when we'll be publishing our next Donald Westlake novel, THE CUTIE, but earlier today I heard the terrible news that Don had passed away on New Year's Eve, at the age of 75. So as a tribute to him -- a great crime writer and a great guy -- I thought it would be good to have a little discussion of his work now.
Don was one of the all-time greats. He got his start writing pseudonymous paperback novels alongside friends like Lawrence Block and Ed McBain and then gained renown for two series in particular: the comic Dortmunder heist novels that he wrote under his own, real name and the very dark novels about a thief named Parker that he wrote as "Richard Stark." He also wrote any number of superlative standalone novels, such as THE AX, the single most brilliantly premised serial killer novel I've ever read.
I feel lucky to have gotten to work with Don on four books for Hard Case Crime, all of them reprints of obscure but excellent work from early in his career: 361, LEMONS NEVER LIE (written as Richard Stark), SOMEBODY OWES ME MONEY, and the forthcoming THE CUTIE. All first-rate novels, and working with him was a great pleasure.
So: Which Westlake novels are your favorites? What was the first Westlake you ever read?
And if you've never read one, well, for heaven's sake, you're already right here on BN.com -- go order one. Now. I'm serious, don't wait, don't put it off. You owe it to yourself. He was a very special writer, and there will never be another like him.
01-02-2009 12:04 AM
This truly is a great loss for mystery fiction. I met Donald E Westlake at a Bouchercon back in 1984--and I still remember he was a highlight of the Convention--his interview--could he have been questioned by Max Collins?-- was tremendously funny.
I've got a couple of signed editions--and he was even able to make his inscriptions funny-- I'll cherish his "It's 'Good Behavior' to buy this book" in the book of the same name.
Loved his capers, his Starks, his treatment of "The Grifters".
The first one I read was "God Save the Mark"--and I was off on a tear to read them all.
Thrilled that he made it into "Fifty to One"
01-02-2009 07:43 AM - edited 01-02-2009 07:47 AM
Having just discovered Donald E. Westlake, this comes a sad news. The only 2 books I have read are 361 and Someone Owes Me Money. Both excellent novels, with the later being in my top 3 that HCC had published. I agree that his work on the Grifters was well done and am waiting even more so for The Cutie to come out.
Off to Search for more Westlake books...
01-05-2009 02:29 PM
I have only been reading crime for a short time but I was able to Read all Of Donald Westlake's HCC books as well as the first 3 Parker books They were some of the most entertaining books in the HCC series and I am looking forward to The Cutie this year. Westlake's Prose ran from light and entertaining to as dark as they come. I wish his family the best. If you have not read any of his books you are doing yourself an injustice .. especially if you are a crime fan.
02-03-2009 09:38 AM - edited 02-03-2009 10:20 AM
I hate to admit it, but I have never read one of his novels.
Please, if you would, list for me the three novels I should pick up this weekend. I know I will eventually read them all, but I want to get three that will get me hooked on his work.
02-03-2009 12:02 PM
If you're in the mood for dark crime fiction, read THE HUNTER (the first of the Parker books, published as by "Richard Stark"), THE AX (generally agreed to be the standout among his serious standalone novels), and THE CUTIE (a reprinting of his Edgar-nominated first novel, orginally published as THE MERCENARIES -- the new edition will hit stores in about 4 weeks).
If you're in the mood for a comedy, read BANK SHOT (one of my favorites of the Dortmunder novels) or SOMEBODY OWES ME MONEY (a standalone that made me laugh out loud).
02-03-2009 06:44 PM
Ok. I have made a list of these titles, and will pick them up this weekend, and will wait to grab The Cutie. I usually hit my local BnN once a week, so I will find it as soon as it is put on a shelf. The comedy sounds pretty good, I may just go ahead and start reading that whole series. I will definately pick up the good standalone you mentioned.
Thank you for the list, cannot wait to sink my teeth into these.
03-11-2009 10:13 AM
well, I cannot tell you how right you were. I picked up the Hard case crime printing of Somebody Owes me Money, and read it in one sitting...wow, what a great story. I loved it, and now I am hooked on Westlake, and Hard case crime.
I have decided to read all of westlakes works now, and will try to start those you recommended. I want to read all of the dortmunder novels too, so which one of those should I start with? which one is the first one? do you need to go along in order in the series, or do they stand alone just with the same characters? I want to read them, but I want to read them right, if that makes any sense.
thank you again for the recommendations...wow, very impressed.
03-13-2009 04:57 AM
Glad you're on board! The first Dortmunder is THE HOT ROCK, but you can start anywhere and don't have to read them in order. I started with the second, BANK SHOT, and enjoyed it just fine.
03-13-2009 10:44 AM
I just came back from the local BnN and had to order the books, I could not find many on the shelves, which seems appalling to me. Anyway, I have three on order, all of those you recommended. I did manage to pick up THE CUTIE, and I must say, this is a fantastic story.
I really appreciate the help, and your recommendations are spot on!
03-31-2009 11:54 PM
I read The Ax recently and thought it was incredible. I really like stories about people who aren't criminals trying to figure out how to commit crimes.
04-11-2009 06:10 PM
I'm really sorry to hear that Donald Westlake passed. This is a terrible loss to crime fiction. He was the man.
I'm almost embarrassed to admit that the first time I ever heard of Westlake was after watching the Mel Gibson movie, Payback, (based on Westlake's novel The Hunter). I lliked this focus on the criminal rather than the people trying to catch the criminal and I ooked at the credits, and saw the book was written by a guy named Richard Stark, so I wrote that name down and found a book of his in the local library. I've been reading him ever since.
The first book of Westlake's I read was an early one of his as Stark, The Mourner. I've also read The Hunter and several of his newer Parker novels, like Comeback and Breakout. As far as my favorite, I'm looking at the list of his books, but I can't come up with a favorite. I just don't know. I've only read 4 or 5 of his Parker books and a few of the Dortmunder novels. I will say I enjoy Richard Stark's work more than Donald Westlake's work. It's just meaner, and I like that kind of stuff.
By the way, anyone who mildly enjoyed the move Payback should go rent the DVD that was re-cut by the original writer / director -- it's very interesting, especially with the commentaries by him and by Gibson about how he felt like he had to quit because they (Gibson) wanted to change too many things to make the character "more accessible" to audiences. Very interesting stuff.
04-13-2009 04:23 PM
^ Good call on the re-cut Payback DVD -- entirely different movie, imo (and for the better).
Speaking of Westlake/Stark, I am about to finish up The Outfit (Parker #3) and cannot wait to read the next 3 in the series (University of Chicago Press should have books 4, 5, 6 out anyday now).