About The Westlake Review

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.

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54 responses to “About The Westlake Review

  1. Thanks excellent blog subject! Look forward to working through his output. Regards from Thom at the immortal jukebox (drop a nickel sometime).

  2. 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. :\

  3. levistahl

    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!

  4. Chris Ward

    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.

  5. Buk

    Donald Westlakes stepdaughter is missing; see his official site. Consider a post and spread the word

  6. 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–

    http://www.donaldwestlake.com/2014/10/25/a-sad-and-sadly-real-mystery/

    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.

  7. Katharine Adams was found, thankfully–she was missing for several weeks, which must have been terrifying for all concerned.

    https://www.facebook.com/findkatharineadams?notif_t=fbpage_fan_invite

    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. 😐

  8. 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.

  9. 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. 😉

  10. 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.

      • Scott Sauyet

        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–

          http://scifi.stackexchange.com/

          Now your book isn’t science fiction, but there must be a mystery/suspense/espionage equivalent.

          Good luck.

          • Scott Sauyet

            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.

  11. 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. 😉

  12. 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.

      • Scott Sauyet

        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.

        Cheers!

        • 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.

      • Scott Sauyet

        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.

      • Scott Sauyet

        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.

  13. 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.

          https://books.google.com/books?id=Sj9A3d4mf_MC&q=auxiliary#v=snippet&q=auxiliary&f=false

          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.

  14. 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.

  15. Eye Gee

    Just now catching up on your blog as I finish off the Parker series. Thanks much for all your hard word ….

    • Eye Gee

      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.

  16. Geoff

    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.

  17. Lee Turnbull

    Hi Fred,
    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.

      • Lee Turnbull

        Hi Fred,
        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!

        Lee

        • 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.

  18. Pingback: The Westlake Review | A bunch of data

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  20. Ryan

    Great author and blog. Looking forward to your assessment of Forever and a Death; I’m only halfway thru.

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