The Westlake Review is a blog dedicated to doing a detailed review and analysis of every novel Donald Westlake published under his own name, as well as under a variety of pseudonyms. These reviews will reveal major plot elements, though they will not be full synopses. People who have not read a book being reviewed here should bear that in mind before proceeding. Some articles will be more general in their focus, analyzing aspects of Westlake’s writing, and in some cases of authors he was influenced by, or has influenced in turn. There will also be reviews of film adaptations of his work.
127 responses to “About The Westlake Review”
Thanks excellent blog subject! Look forward to working through his output. Regards from Thom at the immortal jukebox (drop a nickel sometime).
Just did, Thom–I am fully in concurrence with you, vis a vis The Man.
I must confess, I hadn’t even noticed it was possible to respond to the ‘About’ section. I just came over here to remind myself what I’d typed. I should probably edit the part where I say my reviews will ‘sometimes’ reveal major plot elements. Accurate, in the same sense that that the sun will ‘sometimes’ rise in the east.
I’m so happy that you’re doing this. My dad (through his company, M. Evans) published a bucketload of Don’s books in the 70’s and brought the manuscripts home for me to read. So I pretty much grew up on Don’s knee. When he passed, I spent a year hunting down copies of all 100+ of his books (including the porn novels he wrote with Larry Block). So glad that you’re keeping his work alive!
I often think M. Evans was his favorite publisher. I have no precise quote to that effect, but he did signal great pleasure with the freedom to experiment he found there, starting with Ex Officio (definitely Culver’s favorite).
As far as Westlake is concerned (as opposed to Stark and Coe), that really was a golden age. Cops and Robbers, Help I Am Being Held Prisoner, Jimmy the Kid, Two Much, Brothers Keepers, Dancing Aztecs–and a few that didn’t work out quite so well, but Nobody’s Perfect. We mustn’t build ourselves a Castle in the Air. Gangway! 😉
I made my way here via Trent Reynolds, and since I don’t see a contact e-mail, I’ll leave this here: if you’d like a galley of the collection of Westlake’s nonfiction that I’ve edited and that my employer, the University of Chicago Press, will publish this fall, drop me a note at lstahl at press.uchicago.edu and I’ll be happy to send one. I suspect you’ll enjoy it!
Really, really fun. I’ve read everything except the early smut– all the Holts and Clarks and Starks and Coes and Cunninghams– and your approach is both informative and thoughtful. I’ll be checking in regularly to see what you’ve been reading. Westlake was without peer. Many thanks.
Donald Westlakes stepdaughter is missing; see his official site. Consider a post and spread the word
I saw that post already–given the traffic this blog typically gets (most of it outside the search area), I don’t see any chance that a post here would make any difference to the search, and I’d feel like I was exploiting a private matter–makes sense for the Official Westlake Blog to post about it, of course. And here’s a link to that post–which includes a NY Daily News story about her disappearance–
It’s very easy to get lost in New York. I see missing person signs up all the time in my neighborhood and elsewhere. Someone behaving unusually, out on a New York City sidewalk, or in the subway, is not going to attract much attention, because we have so many homeless people. But between the press coverage and the police, I think the chances of finding her are as good as they’re going to get.
Katharine Adams was found, thankfully–she was missing for several weeks, which must have been terrifying for all concerned.
No details, and honestly, the details are nobody’s biz but the family’s. I tend to doubt it was social media that did the trick, but of course I hate social media. That’s why I have a blog. 😐
I just found this blog via The Google, and am having a wonderful time reading it from The Cutie onward. I’m currently reading the Tucker Coes for the first time, and looking forward to your reviews of those.
I’ll be getting to Wax Apple and A Jade In Aries pretty soon. Already reviewed the two Coes before that, of course. It is getting to the point where reading the blog through takes a fair bit of time. I’ve yet to do it, though I still find myself editing typos and other little imperfections out of articles I wrote months ago. But my sentiment towards mistakes in my articles roughly translates to “Whatever it is, I’m against it.” I’m sure you understand. 😉
I’m wondering if you might be able to help. My wife and I are trying to recall a book we both read some years back. It feels very much like a Westlake plot, but I don’t recall if it was, or what the title was. But I expect that if it was, you might be able to identify it quickly.
Our hapless hero is somehow roped into an adventure by some extremely alpha-male sort, military or ex-military. I’m pretty sure everyone calls him Colonel (or General?). Along the way, our first-person protagonist is constantly helped by one or another of the Colonel’s ex-wives, who are all very able, very beautiful, very helpful to our hero. He distinguishes them by their physical endowments. In the end, we learn that all along they’ve been very, very loyal to the Colonel.
I recall little of the actual plot, but remember enjoying it. Both of us would love to re-read it if we could just figure out what it was. Donald Westlake seems most likely, but I haven’t been able to hit on the right title.
Is this at all familiar?
For some strange reason it brings to mind a book by Westlake’s poker buddy, Hal Dresner, but I’m quite sure you’re thinking of something else. Maybe a book written by the protagonist of that book.
Honestly, it sounds like a sleaze paperback (do you remember if it was in hardcover or not?), and as such, could easily have been written by Westlake, but not under his own name, and could just as easily have been somebody else.
Based on your description, it is most definitely not a book in the established Westlake canon. The protagonist was American, I presume? If British, then a host of other possibilities emerge. Can you remember the nature of the intrigue the hero is drawn into?
I have not read it, in any event. I have read many books that vaguely remind me of it, some by Westlake, but that’s not the same thing. It sounds to fall somewhere in the Mystery/Suspense category, perhaps with a touch of espionage, and that’s a fathomless area of genre fiction.
Thank you. It definitely wasn’t a book in a book. And it was definitely in the Mystery/Suspense/Espionage arena. I *think* the protagonist was American, but I cannot recall anything about the actual adventures, except that they involved a fair bit of globe-, or at least country-, trotting. Since it had the feel of a Westlake story, this blog sounded like a good place to look. So thank you very much for your time. I’ll see if I can find somewhere more general to look.
A few years ago, I was going nuts trying to remember the title/author of a science fiction novel I’d read long ago. I found this forum where people could ask questions like that, frequented by devoted fans of the genre–a big enough brain trust that quite often you could get your answer, if you could provide enough data about the story/characters. And I got my answer quite quickly, which was a decided relief. Here’s the link–
Now your book isn’t science fiction, but there must be a mystery/suspense/espionage equivalent.
Thank you. It was the lack of an equivalent for this genre that actually got me looking around for other places. I’m a big user of stackexchange sites, so that had been my first hope.
I have asked on several sleuthing sites, but none with a community nearly as large or as active as that one. I’ll keep hoping, though.
It’s not a big deal. If my wife hadn’t wondered aloud and started us thinking about this some weeks back it would never have mattered at all. But again, thanks for your time!
Now that’s what I call irony. You’d think a genre devoted to solving mysteries would have at least one site where devotees could do precisely that. I suppose science fiction is more high-concept, so it’s easier to remember things specific to a plot, long after you read it.
Sorry I couldn’t help.
I don’t know if you’re still checking this thread, but this sounds an awful lot like one of the General MacKenzie Hawkins novels by Robert Ludlum (writing as Michael Shepherd), a rare foray into humor for Ludlum. There are two Hawkins novels, The Road to Gandolfo and The Road to Omaha, both of which concern a wild scheme hatched by the General, who enlists the reluctant aid of Army lawyer Sam Devereaux. And yes, the General has multiple well-endowed ex-wives.
(I’d feel pretty confident I’d cracked this one, but I don’t believe these novels are told in first-person.)
That was definitely it. Found it on a dusty shelf, with a bookmark dating my last reading to 1994 or 1995.
I’m very impressed with your sleuthing skills given that you haven’t read the book. I don’t really know how to go about it, but I did give it a try for a while on my own before posting here, and got nowhere.
Again, thank you very much!
(Oh, and apologies for all the typos in my earlier posts. I should really know better than to write anything longer than a text on my phone, especially a new one!)
You mean you actually own a copy, but couldn’t find it without knowing the title/author?
You mean you have that many books?
I bow before my master.
I do have a lot of books, but I did not remember that I owned it, or I would have hunted through the (1500? 2000?) ones I own until something clicked.
But it really was a very dusty shelf! 🙂
The first thing my sleuthing led me to was your Abebooks post asking the same question. But modifying my search terms (like deciding it was definitely a general and not a colonel) won the day. Happy to lend a hand, and I’ll likely seek it out myself now.
Rereading now, and its amazing how small a part of the story the bit with the ex-wives is; as that was the only memory I had of it, I had started to feel it had to be central.
Well, again, thanks for your help. I had stopped trying a few weeks after I posted those messages, hoping that one day it would jump out at me. I know that Ludlum wouldn’t have occurred to me. Even if I remembered The Road to Gandolfo, I knew much more about its plot than I recalled about my mystery book, but had forgotten the only part that I was searching for in some random book. Very odd.
Memory is nothing but odd. But better an odd memory than none at all. Westlake wrote a whole novel about that–only got published after his death.
You know, I’ve never read a single Ludlum book. But to the extent I am familiar with his work, I did not associate him with comic capers. Should I have?
Now and again at the library, we get something from an organization that calls itself ‘The Armenian Prelacy,’ and I keep thinking “Damn, I should forward a copy of this to Robert Ludlum, and maybe that would be the title of his next book! Maybe he’d name a character in it after me and kill him off!”
It sounds too similar to be a coincidence. The first person thing could simply be from Mr. Sauyet associating it with the equivalent Westlake books, since nearly all Westlake’s stories in this vein are first person (Dortmunder is something else entirely). Ludlum might well have patterned his comic stylings after Westlake’s to some extent (the two were somewhat acquainted, I believe).
Weirdness–the plot of the first book about Hawkins and Devereaux is a scheme hinges on a plot to kidnap Pope Francis I. That book came out in 1975. There had been, at that time, no Popes by that handle. I wonder if this book is popular reading at the Curia these days?
There’s a Linked-in page for a Scott Sauyet. Greg, you strike me as the type of person who’d have a Linked-in account. I don’t mean anything by that, I’m just saying. 😉
I haven’t actually read these (or anything else by Ludlum), but I’m quite good at this kind of hunt. I think I do have a Linked-in account, but it has been neglected for almost as long as the account has existed. I have no idea of my log-in information, though that’s likely retrievable.
I also posted this response on Abebooks, where Scott left the same query.
Well, that’s enough due diligence. If I know this type of obsession (and do I ever), he’ll keep checking for an answer to his question until he finds it.
I’m fairly good at this too, but Ludlum? I never would have guessed that. This type of farcical story involving foreign intrigue was quite popular back then–I talked about the Boysie Oakes novels of John Gardner when I reviewed The Spy in the Ointment.
One I keep meaning to track down is the novel that inspired Viva Max, once of my favorite films growing up, starring Peter Ustinov as a vainglorious Mexican general who takes back the Alamo–in the modern era. I was flabbergasted to learn that it was based on a book by Jim Lehrer. Yes, that Jim Lehrer. You just never know, do you? But then again, I knew you’d have a Linked-in account. Well, I think I did too, for a bit. Then I linked out again.
I’m quite sure that’s it. I read Gandalfo when I was young; I can even remember Ludlum’s intro about trying to write a serious novel but continually giggling.
I must have reread it as an adult, although I don’t recall rereading the actual plot. Even with that youthful memory, I would never have come up with Ludlum.
Thank you both very much! If you’re ever in the Hartford, CT area, please let me buy you a drink.
That’s how Westlake got into comedy–he tried writing The Fugitive Pigeon as a more serious book, and it kept coming out funny. So he went with it, and it turned into one of his biggest sellers ever. Ludlum probably sold better in a more serious vein. But I bet he had fun slumming with the clowns.
And thanks for reminding me of _Spy in the Ointment_. That one and _Up Your Banners_ are probably my favorites after _God Dave the Mark_. Might be time to reread… after Ludlum.
Oh and the first-person thing is probably just fading memory. It’s been many years, and he’s it’s quite possible that my Westlake guess influenced that.
Hey, I used to remember black and white movies in color, and vice versa. I can see why you posted here, since it’s a general discussion thread, but bear in mind, most of my regulars don’t come to the “About the Westlake Review” page on this blog very often, or we’d have had the answer ages ago. Glad you got it. I know how this type of thing tends to nag at you. I should have thought to bring in the Brain Trust myself. I’ve got a fairly erudite group of contributors in the main comments section. You should join us there sometime.
The Spy in the Ointment is one of my favorite early Westlakes. Maybe my favorite comic work of his from the 1960’s. Certainly my favorite comic spy novel. Best not read my review of it until you’ve reread it. Spoiler-laden.
Now that one I’ve read enough times that spoilers wouldn’t hurt.
I didn’t meant to start a long subthread here. And I have no idea where to post here, as it didn’t have anything to do with specific posts. I was just hoping to get your attention. Feel free to delete the whole thing if you like.
Thanks once again for the help.
I’ve been reading some of the reviews. I’m quite impressed.
I’d rather leave it up. You never know–somebody else may be making the same Quixotic quest for Gandolfo. 😉
I’m enjoying this quite a lot, thank you. But I’m also looking for the Dortmunder book where the O.J. regulars women’s auxiliary shows up. Could you please help?
Huh–can I? There’s only four books left–I don’t remember that from any of the ones I’ve both reread and reviewed, and I would. If this is a real thing, has to be The Road to Ruin, Watch Your Back! or What’s So Funny? I think I’d remember if it was Get Real. Watch Your Back! is the book most about the OJ, so maybe that’s it.
I don’t actually own copies of the last Dortmunder novels. Never needed to, since the library I work for has them. So can’t check it out right now.
I will certainly go to some pains to mention it in my review, if and when I come across it.
I own a short half of the Dortmunders myself, and lately I’ve been borrowing the ones I don’t own (from my hometown library and via inter-library loan). Watch Your Back! does have a mention of the auxiliary — in a scene where the bar does have more customers than the usual (no spoilers) — but this is such a casual mention as to confirm me in my belief that they were more substantially introduced in some other, rather earlier book in the series.
I’m not 100% sure that the word “auxiliary” was used to describe them at that time, though. Another less confident memory is that they appeared toward the end of whatever book it was, possibly in conjunction with getting together with the, well, *regular* regulars for some holiday celebration outside the confines of the O.J.
Anyway, thank you for the offer of help — and for being here so I could *ask* for help.
I’d remember any mention from any of the books I’ve reviewed up to now, because of necessity, my rereading for a review has to be pretty intensive. I won’t be getting to any of the final four for a while yet. But there is a solution to the problem, which I should have brought up already.
Nearly all the Dortmunders are available in ebook form (Don’t Ask only seems to be available on Amazon for Germany–but in English–don’t ask me why), and that means you can do a keyword search on Google, without owning the ebook yourself.
So they first appeared in The Road to Ruin. Then were more briefly mentioned in Watch Your Back! The word auxiliary does not appear in the last two books. Your instincts were well-founded. But this was a very short-lived tradition in the novels as a whole. I’ll give it a bit of attention when I get to those books. Maybe I’ll even do a whole article about the OJ, since I often have to give it short shrift in my reviews. I certainly will be giving it more attention in the review for Watch Your Back!, but even that isn’t really about the OJ. Trying now to remember how much it figured in the Dortmunder short stories, but I’ll be rereading that collection in the near future.
Thanks again! I tried using the look-up-the-excerpts function in Amazon itself, but that didn’t get me what I needed.
I have to admit, the OJ scenes and the regulars are often among my favorite bits — and I’ve wondered if someone had collected their works, so to speak.
(As for the short stories, I don’t know about other collections, but “The Dortmunder Workout” in Thieves’ Dozen has the regulars.
No trouble–in the past, I’ve used Google Books to try and figure out when Westlake first started using four-letter words. 😉
Well, in Dortmunder’s case, the first one’s probably “Kelp”. : ]
A silly question just occurred to me. Are you planning to include a book of novellas for which Westlake only wrote one? I speak of Transgressions, edited by Ed McBain and with the mini-Dortmunder “Walking Around Money”.
Oh sure. I have that one. I won’t review the other novellas in that collection, you understand (never did get around to reading them, maybe this time), but that one gets its own article. Far as I’m concerned, I’m here to review everything Westlake published under his own name or under a pseudonym from 1960 onwards, and some of the earlier stuff.
I can’t promise to review every pseudonymous sleaze paperback or short story for the pulps–I may never be able to obtain all of them–and honestly, most of them aren’t that good. In the case of the sleazes, it’s very hard to know for sure how many he wrote, and under which names, and in many cases there’s more than one writer involved with those, though the Westlake sleazes I have read are very Westlake, somehow.
I found out from D. Kingsley Hahn that Westlake would sometimes help out one of his poker buddies who was struggling with a sleaze book deadline, type up a few chapters, and stick Parker in there as a sort of signature, Kilroy was here. I’d love to find a few of those, but Mr. Hahn couldn’t remember the names of any of the books. And copies of those books are EXPENSIVE, dammit. Very very collectible. I keep hoping there’ll be some massive dump of ebook editions, authoritative collection. Of course I’d only be reading them out of scholarly curiosity. 😐
There’s also a fair few non-fiction articles. And he co-edited an anthology of mystery stories by famous ‘mainstream’ authors. I’m mainly interested in the rather brilliant preface he wrote for that.
But the main focus is the novels, always. That’s what he was great at. The rest goes to understanding him better.
Just now catching up on your blog as I finish off the Parker series. Thanks much for all your hard word ….
words … AND work!
Oh the words are hard, believe me.
But imagine how much harder they are when we’re talking about something like the Parker novels. Any clown can type a lot of words–but to know which words not to type? That’s the real work.
Sorry for the late response; I don’t check here that often.
Been working my through Westlakes catalogue. Glad I found this site. Great reviews.
It baffles me that nobody else got to this project before me. I did have a fair few noble predecessors, of course, even before blogs became a thing. And I don’t believe all book reviews can or should be as involved as mine.
But a writer this good is worth taking seriously (as opposed to solemnly, which he would not approve), and serious criticism must needs be long. I just hope I’m not going to be the whole show when it comes to Westlake. That other, better-credentialed critics will step up and find the things I missed, and the project will continue.
First, I love this blog. You are a very perceptive reviewer–I have come to the place where I have to come on here after each read (or re-read) of a Westlake novel, and invariably I go away thinking of the plot, characters, etc, in new ways.
Have you ever ever read the book, Fifty-to-one, by Charles Ardai? I looked around the blog to see if you had mentioned it, but could not find any mention. If you have not, I highly recommend it, and also suggest that you do a review of it once you have finished with the Westlake oeuvre.
I’ve exchanged multiple emails with Charles Ardai recently, and have yet to read one of his books. What to do here once I’ve finished reviewing all the remaining Westlake books has been an issue I’ve struggled with, but reviewing the work of people he was in one way or another associated with is certainly one answer to the problem.
Thing is, I’m not sure I’d feel comfortable reviewing the work of people I’ve ‘met’. Much as I regret Mr. Westlake never got to read any of my assessments of his writings (none of which I’d read prior to his death), there has been a certain freedom and enhanced objectivity adherent to knowing that I can’t possibly hurt his feelings on the relatively rare occasions I find him to have done a sub-par job. He was a pretty stern critic of his own work, of course. But his critiques and mine would probably not always have been in sync.
Anyway, I should at least read the book, before deciding if I have anything remotely coherent to say about it.
My apologies, I should have described the book a little. Fifty-to-one is constructed as a sort of meta-narrative that takes place some time in the early sixties. A young woman, new to New York, writes a book, her first, and has it published by a fictional version of Hard Case Crime. She wrote her book–about an organized crime bigwig (a real person within the universe of the book) who gets robbed–as fiction, but HCC publishes it as True Crime to increase sales. Once it is published, though, the woman and her publisher are shocked and dismayed to find that the bigwig had actually been robbed exactly as the book described, and that he now believes the publisher and writer had either robbed him or had known who did it, and is coming after them.
What I think makes it a book you should review is that, as a first time writer, the young woman seeks help from two other writers who are also being published by HCC, a couple of young men named Don and Larry. Yes, Don is our Donald, and Larry is Lawrence Block, or at least fictionalized versions of the two. And in the scenes they are in, there are several subtle references to DEW’s works (and probably Lawrence Block’s as well, but I do not know his works well enough to notice them).
I understand what you mean about not wanting to hurt the feelings of a living writer. But while Fifty-to-one does not reach Westlake-level quality, it is well done, and I think it would be a good addition to the blog. But read it yourself, of course. You may well decide to not review it, and that would be fine.
Have a great day, and thanks again!
I see he published this in 2011 (just got the ebook), so Mr. Westlake never read it either. Lawrence Block probably has, but I get the impression he doesn’t embarrass easily, and he probably loved it.
I will seriously consider reviewing it. Thanks for the suggestion.
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Great author and blog. Looking forward to your assessment of Forever and a Death; I’m only halfway thru.
You’ll probably finish reading before I finish writing. Part 1 should be up soon.
I came very late to this blog — only found it a month ago while googling for a list of Westlake’s best books — and I’m really loving these recaps.
Now that I’ve recapped all the novels, I’m hopeful people will still show up here, as they discover Westlake, try to figure out which of his books to try next. It can take a long time to work your way through–or it can go by so quickly, and you wish he was still around, making more. Well, nobody writes forever. Not even me. 😉
Amazing work here. I’ve enjoyed your blog for months now, ever since I first found it. It’s been a welcome companion as I’ve reread the entire Parker series this year.
My 16th novel is VEGAS HEIST, written in the spirit of Richard Stark and set in 1965. The title is self-explanatory.
It’s earned very good reviews from Charles Ardai at Hard Case and Ron Fortier at Pulp Fiction Reviews, among others. If you’d like a free copy, reply back to vplexico at gmail.com or @vanallenplexico on Twitter. Thanks and keep up the great work!
Ah, don’t bother. I just kindled it. I don’t promise to review it, but I’ll read it, we’ll see. Since I’ll never make a living at this, I prefer to remain independent. I’m perverse that way. Geez, why buy the cow if you can get the eggs for free? Hmm, that didn’t come out right.
Fred, for me there’s depth and resonance in every statement you make and I see a determined, eccentric, deadly-serious, light-hearted flippancy bringing us back to earth. Always a two-sided coin presented as the uselessness of choice. As existential as all fuck. I love your stuff. Lots to admire and in this crazy age, to be amazed by and thankful for. I have started a publishing company in Brisbane Australia h-a-r-p-o.com.au and I would love to be in contact with you as we grow. Our first title “Where Angel Fears to Tread” being launched 8 Nov, let me know if you’d like to see the MS now getting close to final copy editing. Just a few plot issues to straighten? out. firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Whyte
That’s above my pay grade (like I have a pay grade to be above). A title referencing places where angels fear to tread definitely works for somebody getting into publishing. As they say in Westeros, I wish you good fortune in the wars to come.
Also, I’m not an existentialist, and I don’t think choice is useless (neither did Westlake, pretty sure), but of course I can see how the admiring way I write about French noir might be interpreted that way. You can like somebody’s style without sharing his or her philosophy.
Depth and resonance? I’d settle for correct spelling and coherence.
Not sure this belongs here, but I did not want clutter your Existential Query post with a petty remark. Anyway, in that post you seem to imply that Fred Fitch (the other one) comes from The Fugitive Pigeon instead of from God Save the Mark. Either I am missing something or it must have been a slip of the pen? In other news, I have decided to spare myself a reread of Smoke by reading your three-part review instead. I had started the reread but could not get too interested. I am sure this is not what you wanted your reviews to be used for, but it works… On the bright side, thanks to your review of Smoke, I might end up reading The Invisible Man for the first time…
It was a tough week…….
Love this, been reading for years and hope there’s more coming!
Any inside dope on a Westlake biography? Anybody writing one?
I hope so too. My feeling is, when I finally get unblocked, there’s going to be the mother of all dumps.
I heard years ago about somebody working on a Westlake bio. Never happened. There’s going to come a point when most of his contemporaries aren’t going to be around anymore, so I hope at least the interviews are being done.
Thanks for creating this wonderful resource. I discovered Westlake by accident in September – ended up reading The Ax and then the first twenty Parkers in about three weeks. My wife thought something was wrong with me. Your reviews were a perfect companion for this experience.
That’s often how it goes, Dave. He sneaks up on you. Parker’s probably the most dangerous gateway drug, though I guess technically he’s the hard stuff. Westlake would be the methadone program.
I went from Stark to Coe to Westlake. Then the minor pseudonyms. It’s all him down deep. The good news is, there’s plenty more to read. The bad news is, you will eventually run out. In the meantime, in-between time, ain’t we got fun?
In that case, I’m already an addled junkie. I read The Hot Rock in the middle of my Parker jag, but it didn’t do very much for me. Maybe I should try Coe.
Tobin is a hard-boiled detective but with a much broader emotional register than Parker. Though the kicker is, he’s doing all he can to suppress his feelings, because they take him places he doesn’t want to go.
It may be you’re not going to be a fan of the more humorous Westlake stuff (there’s humor in everything he wrote, but not always on the surface), or it may be you’re not in the right frame of mind for it yet. Hmm. Give Two Much a go, when you get the chance. That’s humor, but of a decidedly savage satirical vein. Also sexy as hell.
Two Much is great so far. Thanks for the recommendation!
Not everything he did under his own name is all cuddly cariciature. Westlake could be at his most brutal when he wasn’t working through a pseudonym. I love the Dortmunders, but the need to preserve the characters for another installment does limit what he can do there.
A lot of his best stuff still isn’t evailable–A Likely Story, Adios Scheherazade, Killing Time, Killy–too off brand for some. He’s a writer with so many faces, and only some of his readers like them all.
Have you read 361? Might also mention Trust Me on This. And Put A Lid on It. And if you want to go really dark, The Hook.
Ye, he was a master of moods and genres. My pal Charles Ardai of Hard Case Crime has republshed a bunch of my dad’s old Dons, but the one I really want him to bring out is JIMMY THE KID, a brilliant comic mashup of Parker and the Dortmunders. Maybe you folks could lobby him a little. He’s a very nice guy and open to suggestions. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
I’d love a Hard Case edition, but the Dortmunders are all on Kindle–with the exception of Don’t Ask, which is only e-vailable in Germany. But in English. (??? Ask the copyright lawyers, I guess.)
Jimmy the Kid can be had very easily on Kindle, but I fully agree that it’s one of the funniest books of the series. They did a movie version (which I’m sure is terrible, like all the others, but somehow never on cable), and typically books that get a movie stay ‘in print’ even if that doesn’t mean what it used to.
I’m an enormous fan. My dad published Don’s books for a bunch of years and he and I used to read his fresh manuscripts together straight out of the box. After he passed, I went online to buy every book he published. 100 plus and counting…
This was which publisher now? M. Evans, perchance? He had so many, it can be hard to keep up. I think even he lost track.
George de Kay, I presume.
Who co-founded M. Evans. Got it in one! I don’t know much about the history of that publisher, but the personal feel of that reminiscence told me it couldn’t be a large house. That was a story about a place where the people running it were really into the books they put out. And since it was a ‘bunch’ of Westlake novels, that really narrowed the field.
Yep, M. Evans. A happy mom & pop shop.
I have often thought that was his favorite publisher. Certainly the one where he did his best work under his own name.
Have you ever read anything by Lynne Truss? I was led to her by a positive review in the Wall Street Journal of the latest book in a comic crime novel series. I read the first book in the series (A Shot in the Dark) and found much of it very clever and witty in the Westlake comic caper style.
Unfortunately, it’s pitched to a very high energy level and I got tired of it after awhile. The series is also one long story, which also turned me off. But it was fun for awhile.
Also, I found a Lawrence Block novel at a big used book sale a couple of weeks ago—The Thief Who Couldn’t Sleep. I’d never read any of his books. So far, very good.
Nope, haven’t read any of her work. There are so many crime/mystery novelists. If you read one book in that genre, by a different author, every day, for a hundred years, you would not run out of new names. Many more would have emerged in the interim, and you’d probably end up falling behind. Finding something to your specific taste–that can be harder.
I know of that Block series you mention, but haven’t tried it. I tend to prefer his standalones, but I would like to read the Evan Tanners at some point.
At that used book sale where I found the Lawrence Block, I couldn’t find any Westlakes among the hundreds of available mystery books across several tables (the sale was in a shopping mall).
Have you done any research into the used book market for Westlake books? In general, I’ve found Westlake hardbacks much more plentiful on used bookshelves than paperbacks. Also, the Parker paperbacks usually sell for more than the Westlake paperbacks.
On a slightly related topic, I’ve been able to read the original Random House editions of Westlake from the 1960s through my state’s library interloan service. There’s something about reading the first edition of a novel that really brings it to life.
I agree, but I think you can find most of his stuff via ebay and Amazon marketplace–how much you shell out will be the usual supply/demand story. I wouldn’t say I did research–I just went shopping. I rarely find Westlakes in used book shops. I like to think this is because people hang onto their Westlakes. Maybe get buried with them. (I’m considering that option.)
He was never what you’d call a best-selling author. He sold consistently well, but not so well as to have his books printed in such quantities as to overtax the landfills, the way James Patterson does. (To each his own, I suppose.)
Kindle is certainly an option as well, however less satisfying (there are tricks Westlake played with typography that don’t quite translate to digital ink sometimes). Some of the books I just listed are not evailable.
Interlibrary loan is a good way to go. Just make sure you get them back in the same condition they arrived.
CONTENT WARNING: Long tangent.
I love my library’s interlibrary loan program. Any time I come across a title I’d like to read, I check my library’s online catalog. If they don’t have it (which, being a small library, they often don’t), I can, with the click of one button, check the collections of every other library in the state, at least one of which almost always has the title I’m looking for. Another quick click, and the book is on its way to me.
I guess this is all pretty standard now, with even the smallest libraries boasting online card catalogs and linked electronic databases, but it’s still somewhat wondrous to me. (And I still think, all these years later, that Nicholson Baker’s 1994 lament about the obsolescence of old paper card catalogs was a little silly.)
My librarians have indicated to me that I take advantage of the interlibrary loan system far more than any other patron. Whenever I walk in the door, they immediately check the hold shelf, assuming I have at least one book waiting. (They’re usually right.) Last time, the librarian waved away my proffered library card. “I don’t need that,” she said. “You’re Greg!”
A while back, I noticed that requested books were taking longer and longer to reach me. It used to be, I’d request a book and two days later, I’d be holding it in my hand. But for a time there, requested books seem to get stuck with the “IN TRANSIT” status for weeks at a time. The reason for this turned out to be that new courier service hired to shuttle books between libraries backed out of its contract, less than a month after taking over the job. So, the librarians stepped into the breach, loading up the trunks of their cars with books and dropping them off on their own time. Some even paid to mail the books – especially if they were destined for smaller, more remote branches.
Once, I wanted to see the Billy Wilder WWII adventure movie “Five Graves to Cairo,” which at the time was not available on DVD or streaming, and only one library in Maine (Colby College’s) had a VHS copy. Colby doesn’t play well with others when it comes to sharing multimedia content, so it seemed like I was out of luck.
I explained my dilemma to my librarian and she said she’d see what she could do. A week or so later, she e-mailed to say she’d tracked down a copy from a library in Michigan, and I could come check it out whenever I wanted.
tl;dr: Librarians are the real heroes.
I’m currently working in the same office as several such heroes. (Our interlibrary loan department, which I am not a part of, but they had to stick me somewhere after our basement flooded). Those of you who have gotten to read Philip through my emailing it in scanned form to you owe them your thanks. Though I did do the scans myself. Ahem.
Nice insight into how inter-library loan systems work. My only complaint is the big DO NOT REMOVE sticker they put on the cover. But the book cover images in this forum have helped make up for that. And glad that Michigan came to your rescue—that’s the system I use.
After Don passed, I went on a mission to find, buy and read all of his 100+ books that I could find, including the pseudonymous ones, the British travelogue, the Liz Taylor bio and the 40 porn novels that he either wrote over weekends himself as Alan Marshall or farmed out his alias to cash-strapped friends to write under that name. (I have an original copy of A GIRL CALLED HONEY that he wrote with Larry Block — as Sheldon Lord — that retailed at 35 cents in 1960 and that I bought a couple of years ago for a cool $85 🤪). Otherwise, online prices are pretty reasonable, and I now have an entire bookcase of Westlakiana. (Can I send pics to this site?)
Sent from my iPhone
Sure, let’s see if it comes through. That’s some of my books at the top of the blog, but I never could put them all in one image. Even if I could find them all. (I’ve never been the best-organized collector, of books, records, comics, debts, or anything else.).
(editing) Um–British travelogue? Which book is this?
(editing again) You mean Under an English Heaven? That isn’t a travelogue, nor is it particularly British, though they do make a cameo appearance. 😉
I understand what you’re saying about the huge number of crime/mystery novelists. The only other writer that I’ve really latched on to was M.C. Beaton, in particular, the Hamish Macbeth series. I think my father turned me on to that series at about the same time I turned him on to Dortmunder and Parker. Beaton and Westlake have something in common—they both died at the end of the year. Beaton died on 12/30/19, which means she got to miss 2020. Lucky her.
I wonder if anybody has ever tried to count how many detective series there are in the mystery genre?–just novels. I’m going to guess somewhere between 50 and 100 thousand.
Far more than anyone could ever read in twenty lifetimes, and I doubt anyone’s ever going to try and count them all either–by the time you were done, they’d have already created thousands of new sleuths, and you’d never catch up.
I was searching through an online newspaper archive for the earliest reference to Donald E. Westlake. I came upon these two interesting stories. Do you know if they refer to our Donald E. Westlake? The ages and locations seem to indicate that.
The Times Record
Troy, New York
07 Jan 1953
Albany Youth Held Theft Of Microscopes At Champlain College
Two Champlain College students, one of them an Albany youth, being held at Plattsburg today for grand jury action in connection with a series of campus thefts.
According to state police, Donald E. Westlake, 19, of Albany and Joseph A. Genovise, 19, of Brooklyn were arrested when they returned to the campus Monday after Christmas vacation. They have been charged with third degree burglary and second degree larceny. Pending action of the grand jury, both youths .were ordered to Clinton County Jail.
The two were charged with breaking into the college’s biological laboratory last month and stealing two microscopes valued at about S200. Troopers said one of the microscopes has been recovered from an Albany pawn shop. The Brooklyn student also has admitted stealing an enlarger and other equipment from the college photographic room last October while serving as photography editor of the Champlain student newspaper.
Press and Sun-Bulletin
Binghamton, New York
12 Jul 1958
3 Convictions For Speeding Costs License
A Harpur College student lost his right to drive an automobile today because of three speeding convictions within 18 months.
Donald E. Westlake. 24, of 804 Broad Street, Endicott, changed to guilty a plea of innocent he entered to a speeding charge in City Court June 14.
“This means I have to revoke your operator’s license under state law,” Special Judge Robert J. Ryan told the young motorist.
The judge also fined him $10.
Mr. Westlake was accused of driving 70 m.p.h. in a section of the Vestal Parkway where the limit is 50 m.p.h.
Two previous speeding convictions are recorded on the motorist’s license. On each occasion, he was fined $10 in Port Dickinson and in Johnson City.
I knew about the microscope thing, if you want more background, read The Getaway Car, reviewed on this blog. I knew from the way he tended to write about cops that he’d had some kind of bad experience with the law, and was very excited to have my suspicions confirmed.
I did not know about the speeding tickets, but that’s a really big reveal as well, since that’s clearly what he drew upon for Clay’s backstory in The Mercenaries. Supposed he’d killed someone, and gangsters had hushed it up for him? A lot of stories get born that way, but I did not know about this.
Thanks—glad to pass it along. Here are the earliest references I found to his writing career:
The Akron Beacon Journal
12 Jul 1959
It’s Murder —And The Authors Did It
“Best. Detective Stories of the Year,” 14th Annual Collection, edited by David C. Cooke (Dutton, $2.95).
Other writers represented immediately recognizable to detective story aficionados I’m sure, are Roy Vikers, Hugh Pentecost. William O’Farrell, Donald E. Westlake, Prank Ward, Jack Dillon and J. W. Aaron.
Westlake achieves a certain amount of humor In a story about a con man, who in the guise of a man of the cloth, bilks the local spinster out of the family jewels.
Wichita Falls Times
Wichita Falls, Texas
19 Jul 1959
BEST DETECTIVE STORIES OF THE YEAR edited by David C Cooke Dutton $295
This 14th annual collection contains ten stories of more than ordinary merit. “Over There— Darkness” by William O’Farrell has been made into a Hitchcock television program. “Suppose You Were On the Jury” has a surprise twist. “Summer Saint” by Donald E Westlake is a tongue-in-cheek story by a new writer. Varied reading for odd moments.
And the only name on that list I recognize is Westlake’s. Many called, few chosen.
Would you try searching these?
Albert Joseph Westlake (his dad).
Lillian Marguerite Westlake (mom).
And the wives–Nedra Henderson (married 1957), Sandra Foley (1967), and Abigail Adams (1979).
So basically obits, weddings, birth notices. I don’t think they typically publish divorce proceedings in the papers unless it’s a celebrity or a politician, and Westlake was neither.
I couldn’t find any exact matches for the mother or father. If you know a good way to narrow the search (location, date), I can search further with variations of the name.
For Nedra Henderson, I found this:
Press and Sun-Bulletin
Binghamton, New York
09 Aug 1957
MARRIAGE LICENSES To Donald E. Westlake. 24. of 27 Pine Street, and Nedra D. Henderson. 20, of 44 Burbank Avenue. Johnson City
I found lots of other stuff on Nedra. She had many mentions between 1951 and 1957, particularly for her theater activities. Then after 1979, she evidently became a well-known expert on food and restaurants.
I couldn’t find anything on Sandra Foley or Abigail Adams.
Abby, Don’s last wife, is great. She’s an avid gardener and the fierce proprietor of all things (movie, graphic novels, etc.) Westlake. Years ago, I tried to buy the movie rights to a Parker (Butcher’s Moon, I think) but his agent told me that the estate would only sell the rights for all 24 as a bundle. Maybe that changed because Taylor Hackford’s not-so-good Jason Thatham single came out the next year, and I think there’s another Parker coming out soon. I guess the best Don movies are the ones he wrote himself — The Stepfather and The Grifters. I love them both.
The producer of the ‘Parker’ movie, Les Alexander, was a longtime acquaintance of Westlake’s, who was always talking about adapting one of his books. It never happened. He seems to have talked the family into letting him do Flashfire, which I continue to think is the worst Parker novel, and hard to think of a worse place to start a franchise from–the deal was that they’d adapt more books if the first film succeeded, which it didn’t.
I think the 24 book package deal condition has gone the way of all things, at least as far as films are concerned, since there’s now talk of a Parker movie starring Robert Downey Jr. Maybe they just transferred that to a television series deal, but they’re not going to do a TV series if the movies keep flopping.
It’s a crying shame. The bare-bones books (the earlier ones where he’s not trying to turn Parker into James Bond and the later ones where he’s older and smarter) are SO filmable!
I searched some more for his mother Lillian and found this on Ancestry.com.
(My searches have been on the Ancestry.com affiliate Newspapers.com, but I don’t have full access to Ancestry.com)
Lillian Westlake in the 1940 Census
Age 41, born abt 1899
Birthplace New York
Home in 1940
181 Second Avenue
Albany, New York
Household Members Age
Head Josephine L Bounds 71
Son Edgar V Bounds 33
Daughter Margaret R Bounds 29
Daughter Lillian Westlake 41
Grandson Donald Westlake 6
Granddaughter Virginia Westlake 4
Useful data. Obviously leaves out a lot. Some online sources have her maiden name spelled ‘Bounda’ which I was pretty sure was a typo.
So Westlake was never an only child in the sense that he was aware of being one. His sister was there and presumably monopolizing his mothers’ attention at times, right when he started to come to consciousness.
What can you find about Virginia Westlake?
Couldn’t find anything on Virginia Westlake in Newspapers.com. Her Ancestry.com entry basically repeats the above, and says she was born about 1936. A MyHeritage.com site has all the basics for Donald, but just the minimal for Virginia.
Speaking of Newspapers.com, if you’ve never seen it, you should check it out. They have a free trial subscription. I’ve stumbled across several interesting feature stories about Westlake as he rose to fame in the 1960s.
I’ve been using that site to get more specific dates for the release of his books, so that I can read them in the correct order. I’ve made it through the 60s for Westlake, Stark and Coe. Mostly I turn up press release type articles and reviews—not too much advertising.
Some things jumped out in the 1960s:
— Of the first five Parker books, I found newspaper references for only two (The Outfit and the Score).
— No mention of his children’s book (Philip)
— Didn’t find a mention of Somebody Owes Me Money until 1973.
If you didn’t find an obit, she’s probably still around. My mom was born in 1931, and I talked to her last night. Without resorting to a spirit medium. I hope some aspiring biographer or other has talked to Virginia, but I wouldn’t bet good money on it. Bitcoin, maybe.
She’s led a very quiet life. Her brother rarely if ever referred to her. There are no brother/sister relations of note in any Westlake novel or story I’ve read. You can read a lot into a blank space, but usually it’s just a blank space. Except things happened there, and I have no idea what they were.
I’ve been cutting back on subscriptions, and we’ve got The NY Times (which is a really well-constructed archive), but I might consider getting that, if I get back into a serious research kick.
The order of publication is not necessarily the order he wrote them in. Westlake worked with multiple publishers at the same time. He frequently worked on multiple books at the same time, which shows up when you read books from the same general time period back to back. (The same idea, used several different ways).
Paperback originals hardly ever got reviewed. They were not taken seriously. No matter how good they were. You want to guess how many Edgar nominations Richard Stark got? That’s right. Edgar loved Westlake, and ignored Stark entirely. Because Westlake was hardcover, and Stark was paperback, until he moved to Random House, by which time Westlake had run out his string with Edgar.
I assume the one for The Outfit was before the Duvall movie? I don’t think the French film adaptation of The Score was going to inspire any book reviews. Interesting it was just those two.
You have to be fair. Book reviewers have a lot of stuff to cover. A new Westlake, under any name–hardly an epochal event. As he used to say, he wrote too much. People never had much time to miss him before he was back.
I took another deep dive into the newspaper archives to find the first reference to Donald E. Westlake and Richard Stark as the same person. The article I found was also an interesting feature article about him.
Press and Sun-Bulletin
Binghamton, New York
25 Nov 1966, Fri
(Column by Tom Cawley)
The last time I saw Donald Westlake was the summer of 1957, and things were bleak. He was living in a room over on Pine Street and knocking himself out working nights at some handy job around town, and writing a novel during the daytime, while he also tried to keep up with a schedule of classes at Harpur College. Beans out of a can were his meals.
The last time I heard from him, he was living in Brooklyn and his first novel had just been published by Random House, “The Mercenaries,” (inspired by the Apalachin Mafia raids) and his letter said, “I keep waiting to get blase, but I keep going up and down and going weep-weep whenever I see me or the book mentioned in print.
“I also look at myself in the mirror a lot these days. I’m writing another book.”
There was a long silence until last February, when Random House published a book called “The Busy Body,” which, to my unpracticed and uncritical eye, is one of the funniest gangster-type romps around, and there was a publisher’s photograph of Westlake on the jacket, looking very contented indeed. He’d filled out a little. Fewer beans, more calories.
Last Sunday, the Times had a long story on Godfrey Cambridge, the comedian, who is going to act in a William Castle Productions motion picture of “The Busy Body,” so I thought it was time to find out if the Westlake cuisine had improved and whether he’d got a new typewriter yet.
It was pretty beat up in that Pine Street rooming house, where he also wrote editorials for the Harpur college paper, the Colonial News, of which he was editor. He also used it to write the book for the 1958 student musical. He also was very broke and didn’t graduate.
I traced him into the fastnesses of New Jersey, but he didn’t answer his phone and I wound up with his agent, Henry Morrison of East 38th Street.
“He’s doing just fine,” Mr. Morrison said happily. “Fine indeed. We sold ‘The Busy Body’ to Hollywood and I can’t tell you the exact figure, but it’s close to $50,000, and the sales are good. He went to Harpur College up there, you know, and he is a fine writer. In fact, he is going spectacularly well.”
After that, I finally caught up with Westlake in an office-apartment in Manhattan, and he said, “Hey, how are things around lovely old Binghamton? I’m writing a lot, even under a pen name, Richard Stark, for MacMillan and some paperback originals, and isn’t it nice about Hollywood?
“The reason I didn’t graduate at Harpur is that I didn’t have enough money to finish.”
The $50,000 winner sighed and said, “I’m a dropout.”
This is so deeply disorienting on so many levels. He actually sounds like a college kid here, probably because meeting somebody he knew in college brought out the insecure goofy kid who never dies in any of us.
Like he mentions the Grofields first? He may have had higher expectations for those books than I thought. And I figured he must have expected something to keep writing them as long as he did. Parker is only about four years along at this point, Westlake can’t possibly know he’ll be writing Parker novels up to the end of his lifespan, while Grofield ends up in limbo. I think he was disappointed with the character. Not a single movie, and he’s an handsome charming actor! No, they wanted the guy who is described as ugly, and disfigured his dead wife’s face. Hollywood is weird.
Still, wouldn’t he have already sold the rights for what became a movie with Lee Freakin’ Marvin? Point Blank came out less than a year after this interview.
Godfrey Cambridge is not, of course, in The Busy Body. Richard Pryor was, so probably Godfrey passed. Westlake was never much in the loop about what they were doing with his books, nor perhaps would he have wanted to be, but the main thing is, the check cleared. 50k in 1966 would be nearly half a mil now. (Morrison’s split wouldn’t be more than 10%, maybe less). He’d succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. And of course the IRS insisted on taking a huge split. So he kept working. And now he’s got a chance to brag to a former associate. Local boy makes good! By writing about bad!
He didn’t like to rat on his pseudonyms, but it’s a Binghamton paper. Who’s going to know? Well, eventually everybody. Still, how long can this Stark thing last?
As I’m sure you all know, the legend goes that Anthony Boucher, in his NYT review of Butcher’s Moon, he outed Don as Stark and Don was so furious that he killed the series for decades until Abby talked him into giving it another go. Hence the final 8. He did the same thing with the Samuel Holt series when he was busted by an advertising sign in the window of a local bookstore.
(Which doesn’t explain the early demise of Tucker Coe or the strange disappearance of Timothy J. Culver, whose only — massive — political novel, Ex Officio, my dad published in 1970. And whatever happened to Judson Jack Carmichael?)
Sent from my iPhone
This is even more disorienting. The review I found in the Times was by Newgate Callendar, (aka Harold Schonberg), who took over Boucher’s Criminals at Large column. It’s not at all clear the reviewer even knows Stark is a pseudonym. Or would care if he did. (His main gig was music critic).
That would be legendary, Mr. Boucher reviewing a 1972 book after his 1968 demise. Then again, he he did write a story titled The Compleat Werewolf. Perhaps he rose from the grave, like Lawrence Talbot! Howling at the Butcher’s Moon! (Only a Butcher’s Moon is no moon at all, so that’s likewise confusing.)
I don’t think any of that legend you recount is remotely accurate. Somebody sold you a bum steer. Westlake stopped writing as Stark because he lost the voice a while–he’d start, and then toss it out, because it sounded wrong. Abby asking him to start again sounds dodgy, because she said he was a son of a bitch to be around when writing as Stark.
The Holt story isn’t wrong so much as incomplete. Westlake wasn’t happy with how the Holt books were coming out. He was irritated at being outed so soon, but he probably hoped people would figure out Holt was him, given all the clues he stuck in there. He did one more Holt after said outing.
And the kicker is, he outed himself as Stark, in the very article you so generously found and posted for us. I think he liked having a bit of distance between himself and his various aliases, but he wasn’t going to throw away a good source of income over losing it. He stopped writing as Coe because he ran out of stories to tell about Tobin. Stark was the only one that stuck, because he never ran out of things to say with Parker.
I was a kid, growing up loving Don. Memory is fungible. Thanks for the corrections.
I was in late middle age when I discovered him, and had informational resources available to me that could only be dreamed about when the two of us were kids. And I spent several years of my life going through those with a fine-tooth comb. And still missed so much along the way.
Memory is fungible if you’re lucky. Meaning renewable, improvable. Paul Cole is Westlake’s most tragic protagonist, precisely because his memory isn’t fungible–it’s reversible.
Sorry for confusing you with Bob, I am often not to much more acute than Paul Cole when I have time to respond to these.
Let’s just agree that Don’s work is funny, entertaining and kinda brilliant, no matter the tone or genre. He was one of the greats, right?
Absolutely. But that’s not a very long discussion. Except sometimes with fans of other crime fiction authors. 😉
Who do you like currently?
Who do you like these days?
I assume currently wouldn’t include writers who are dead? I like Lawrence Block, but kind of so-so about most of his recent stuff. Right now, I’m reading Ripley’s Game for the first time–only one of the Ripliad I hadn’t gotten to. Highsmith died in 1995. It still feels current.
S.A. Cosby is worth watching, he’s current, but only three novels so far, and his shorts are hard to find. Hoping Hollywood doesn’t lure him in, though that is where the money is. He’s a very big fan of the Parker novels, has some insights similar to mine (so similar, sometimes I suspect he’s a TWR reader). He’s more woke with every novel, and let me say, I want everybody to be equal, but equal means treating everybody the same, and in crime fiction, it means treating everybody like shit, most of the time. If you’re worried about who you offend, you are dead. The more visible he gets, the more he worries about getting canceled, is my take. Though I don’t doubt the sincerity of his social conscience. My hope is, he gets more confident in his choices as he goes.
His early shorts with Skunk Mitchell (a character not exactly patterned after Parker, but you might say cast from a similar mold) are interesting (I have only been able to read one, to date). Skunk is just a supporting player in the novels so far. A linking character in his little fictional pocket of Virginia, and a damn good patch it’s turning out to be. A crime writer needs a base of operations to work out of, stomping grounds, and he’s got that. So we’ll see. His first two novels basically have unresolved endings. The third is my least favorite, and will probably make a good buddy flick, if they get around to it.
I read a really good short story by Doug Allyn in an anthology, Puncher’s Chance, about corruption in the boxing world. He’s got two novels out, might want to give them a try. Except in my experience, it’s rare that crime writers do both the long and short form well. He might be an exception.
Best current crime fiction I’m enjoying is The Old Man, on FX, and that’s really spy fiction, and as Westlake said, what’s the difference? Mainly that the spies are better paid. I don’t read Thomas Perry, but based on what I’ve garnered from the book reviews, they have left the original novel far behind, and I’m guessing that’s a good thing. The casting is without flaw. Obviously my favorite characters are the two Rottweilers. Currently in a pet hotel. They are going to have to be awfully careful how they finish off that subplot.
It’s just such a huge field. And most of the best stuff isn’t current. Most of the best stuff was written either before I was born, or not that long after. And I’d like to read all of it before I’m dead.
Trying to think of the titles of some Westlake books I’d like to re-read (so far I’ve knocked off about 60, so it’s hard to remember).
• Includes an office setting with no actual walls, but dividing lines that symbolize walls. It was a great commentary on the way boundaries and space are used as power symbols in offices.
• A group of people try to crash a large, expensive wedding, but are met by a security force that is more than their match. I laughed out loud at the chaotic craziness of it.
• The main character stumbles breathlessly into the office of a psychologist or psychiatrist, who asks him a bunch of questions that he doesn’t understand. Later, she explains that she was just trying to calm him down.
Also, the death of Queen Elizabeth yesterday made me think of a Westlake book where a character referred to her with her German name, to make some kind of point about something. I can’t remember the name of that book either.
Oooh, I love memory games! I need to keep testing to make sure I still have memory. Let’s see how many I can get without doing a search on my own fucking blog.
Trust Me On This. Square-icles, they were called. I am now inside a cubicle. There was a flood in our office, and when they finally got around to replacing the furniture, we returned from our exile in other departments to find ourselves entombed. I’d take square-icles in a heartbeat.
Also Trust Me On This. There were hounds released and everything. The Martha’s Vineyard estate of the widow of the English general who was responsible for the British army being surrounded at Dunkirk. Had she been in command, it would have been the Germans who had to get shuttled away in privately owned seacraft. I don’t know where to, that’s hardly my department.
I don’t remember any female psychiatrists or psychologists in Westlake. He liked women. He did not like headshrinkers. But I could be wrong because memory. Can you provide any further detail? It is sometimes the case that people have read quirky mystery novels that are not unlike what Westlake wrote but are not written by Westlake.
The female psychiatrist is in Money for Nothing. Your review of that book was a big clue when I did a word search on your site. A visit to the library confirmed it. What I remembered was slightly different than the actual text. The main character figured out for himself that she intentionally calmed him down from his hysterical state when he entered the office.
I’d forgotten that scene–but yeah, there she is in my blog, which has a search engine, unlike my memory.
Nimrin takes him there because it’s a safe place for them to talk, since it’s illegal to spy on people in a psychiatrist’s office, because confidentiality, and because he and the psychiatrist are a thing. Her calming him down is incidental to the need for secure communication.
This is very high (or low) on my list of the ten worst Westlake novels ever, and I’ve only read it twice (second time for reviewing purposes), so my memory can be forgiven for failing me, particularly since the psychiatrist is a minor character, and not a terribly interesting one. So I got two out of three, which as we know, ain’t bad. 😉
Is this BLOG still active? I am curious about an offer regarding the book, “Philip”. H.
I guess it’s active in the sense that it has a faint pulse, minor brain activity, mostly coming from others, in the comments section. I want to do more articles, and never get around to it. Maybe soon. Maybe not. This is not what you wanted to know.
Philip is still imprisoned in my gmail account, and making a mess there, as is his wont. You would think the authorities would have come looking for him by now–I keep hoping his pretty blonde mother will call–but he probably got dirt all over their uniforms, and housekeeping has probably been much less of a chore for her. He doesn’t care, so long as he has that damn dump truck. Hey! Do not get dirt on my Filson jackets, kid! Dry Cleaner is costing me a fortune!
So yes, if I can find the email I sent myself with all the scans, I can forward it to you. Btw, would you be willing to take Philip himself for a short while? He’s no trouble at all. A perfect little angel. Just like we were at his age. 😐
If you can’t find it, I still have the email you sent me in 2014 with the Philip attachment, which I’m happy to forward along to anyone.
I’ve always found it before. Anyway, need an addy to send it to.
Just finished The Playboy Book of Crime and Suspense (1966). It collects a lot of hard-boiled and darkly humorous short stories from 1955 to 1964. As I read it, I wondered how much Westlake might have been influenced by these writers. Much of its content was reminiscent of his early 60s writing as Westlake and Stark. I read it mostly to re-read The Distributor by Richard Matheson, which I first read about 50 years ago in my teens.
Here are the authors and stories:
Hildebrand Rarity/ Ian Fleming
Everybody Hates David Starbuck / Steve Allen
Hustler / Walter S. Tevis
Walk to the Station / Stanley Cooperman
Naked in Xanadu / Ray Russell
Bottom of the Ocean / Ken W. Purdy
Cry from a Penthouse / Henry Slesar
Sign of Scorpio / Charles Mergendahl
Man in the Well / Berkely Mather
New Deal / Charles Einstein
Hunger / Charles Beaumont
Supermen / William M. Clark
Speak to me of Immortality / Ken W. Purdy
Morning After / Wade Miller
With All Due Respect / Fred McMorrow
Devil to Pay / Stephen Barr
Harpy / T.K. Brown III
Hobbyist / Fredrick Brown
Sender of Letters / Herbert Gold
Balance Sheet / Morton Fineman
No Fire Burns / Avram Davidson
Fist Full of Money / Henry Slesar and Jay Folb
Incident of Land’s End / Jacob Hay
Lucky Day for the Boar / Gerald Kersh
Peeping Tom Patrol / Michael Shaara
Room of Dark / GIlbert Wright
Distributor / Richard Matheson
Last Will and Testament / Ray Russell
Interesting. Eight of those author names are meaningful to me. I have mentioned Wade Miller on the blog, reviewed one of their mystery novels here–actually two authors in one. Robert Wade, Bill Miller. (This was not uncommon back in the day–Ellery Queen was really Frederic Dannay and Manfred Bennington Lee).
Matheson and Beaumont! If they’d just gotten a Rod Serling contribution, they’d have had themselves a Twilight Zone Trifecta! 🙂
How great! Just ordered it.
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