Saturday, January 2, 2010

Donald Westlake: More thoughts

I see that I have had a lot more traffic on my last post than I usual get, and figure it was because of Donald Westlake. I feel a bit sheepish for not saying more about the my year exploring his work, so I figured I should at least say a few more words.

I first heard of Westlake when I was a teen or in my early 20s when my mother tried to push a copy of The Spy in the Ointment on me-- I wasn't interested and later sold off that copy as part of the great purge of 2002. I didn't think about Westlake (or honestly most crime fiction) again until I discovered the Hard Case Crime series in 2008.

When Westlake passed away on New Years Eve of 2008, I had only read a couple of his books, but the Richard Stark Hard Case Crime reprint of Lemons Never Lie had left me wanting more, and I had also enjoyed (but honestly not loved) 361. As news of his passing spread someone out there on the net proposed the idea of reading a Westlake book a month in commemoration and the idea stuck with me. Working in a library I had access to a number of his works and via the Friends of the Library and my local mystery book shop (Aunt Agatha's) I was able to amass a small but growing collection of his works.

As they say on the Out of the Past podcast "Works consulted for this year include":
Jan 09
The Hunter by Richard Stark
Butcher's Moon by Richard Stark
Feb 09
The Hot Rock by Donald E. Westlake
March 09
Dancing Aztecs by Donald E. Westlake
April 09
Man with the Getaway Face by Richard Stark
May 09
Kinds of Love, Kinds of Death by Tucker Coe
June 09

The Outfit by Richard Stark
July 09
The Cutie by Donald Westlake
Aug 09
The Mourner by Richard Stark
Sept 09
Parker: The Hunter (Graphic Novel) Adaption by Darwyn Cooke
Oct 09

Anarchaos by Donald E Westlake
Nov 09- Which was my short story month
From The Curious Facts Preceding My Execution by Donald Westlake
The Curious Facts Preceding My Execution

You Put on Some Weight
No Story
The Sincerest Form of Flattery



Just One of those Days

Sweetest Man in the world

Dec 09

The Score by Richard Stark
Somebody Owes Me Money (Book On CD) Donald E Westlake

Looking over the list of Westlake/Stark books that I read, I see that the one glaring area that I did not explore is his later books. Pretty much all of what I read was from the 60s and 70s. This wasn't planned, I think it was more of a case of my trying to start with his early series work and then catch up with the later adventures of Dortmunder and Parker once I had explored the early works. As I work my way though my collection I will get to the later works-- I swear.

I don't know that I can really identify any over arching themes from the Westlake books I have read-- maybe a distrust of organizations and a pointing out of the absurdity of contemporary life. There often seems to be someone who just wants to go to work, do the job and go home in Westlake's work, people just want what they are owed. I also think that the comedic work really complements the hard core down and dirty work, it's as if he is saying that you can either laugh at the world or fight it head on. Strangely I think I am at the point in my life where I am more likely to laugh at it, but I found myself reading more of the Parker books, which fall on the fighting side of the fence.

The good/sad news for Westlake/ Stark fans is that there is one more 'new' Westlake book headed into print in the spring of 2010. The prophets of crime over at Hard Case (and if you haven't picked up one of their books yet, I urge you to-- there is a link above to the site where you can check out their catalog and each book has a sample chapter available). Then there are the University of Chicago Press reprints of the Parker books of which the first 9 have been released and the next three are also slated for spring of 2010.

Donald Westlake official site
The Violent World of Parker
Hard Case Crime

Thoughts, comments, favorite Westlake books?


Ed Gorman said...

I'm halfway through memory and it is a testament to Don Westlake's skill not just as a crime novelist but a novelist period. I won't go into any detail here but there's a section that is positively Dickensian--brilliantly observed and told.

Iren said...

Thanks for stopping by and adding your thoughts-- and a tease. Memory is a book that I am very much looking forward to.

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