Saturday, November 18, 2006

A New Interview with Donald Westlake

Donald Westlake | The A.V. Club: "Crime novelist Donald Westlake is a man of many aliases—Samuel Holt, Tucker Coe, Curt Clark, pseudonyms picked up over the course of 100-odd published books—but two names stand out, his own and Richard Stark. As Westlake, he mostly writes comic caper novels, notably his half-dozen books about luckless criminal John Dortmunder. As Stark, he's created one of the noir genre's most definitive antiheroes in the cold-hearted master thief Parker. His books have been filmed many times, including the well-regarded Point Blank in 1967, and he was nominated for an Oscar for his 1990 adaptation of Jim Thompson's The Grifters. His latest book is a new Stark novel, Ask The Parrot, which picks up Parker on the run from the law after the disastrous bank heist of the previous Nobody Runs Forever. Recently, Westlake talked with The A.V. Club about making it up as he goes, getting into his characters, and the crooks who read his books."

18 comments:

  1. For some reason, I have only read one Westlake book-The Axe, which I loved. What's one of your favorites for a second dip into Westlake.

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  2. Anonymous10:29 AM

    I'm a Westlake/Stark fan, and it's always nice to read about him; thanks for posting a link to that interview. (The writer makes an error in the interview's introduction, by the way. There are eleven Dortmunder novels, by my count, not a half-dozen.)

    Pattinase, I'd recommend The Score, The Hunter and The Outfit among Westlake's Parker/Stark novels. I also like almost all the Dortmunder books and Cops and Robbers.

    I haven't read The Axe, but I think one early Westlake novel might be close to it in feeling: 361. That's the novel Westlake is discussing in the interview, the one where he tried to express emotion through characters' actions rather than stating them directly.
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    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder is More Fun Away From Home"
    http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

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  3. Todd Mason10:39 AM

    ...and, trust me on this, TRUST ME ON THIS (its sequels, BABY WOULD I LIE? and "Come Again?" also good).

    About the only Really Bad place to start with Westlake I've found so far is ANARCHAOS, rereleased in the collection TOMORROW'S CRIMES, which is otherwise readable and sane, and mostly up to Westlake's usual standard. (I'll simply wonder for now about the pseudonymous book Bill bought at WFC.)

    And see THE STEPFATHER (not so much the sequels, which he didn't write)...or admire his script for THE GRIFTERS...

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  4. Anonymous10:44 AM

    I forgot about Baby, Would I Lie? That's also very good. And The Stepfather is a creepy, excellent movie, very different from most of Westlake's books, I think.

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  5. Thanks for the recs. I'm off to track one down.

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  6. Hey, Peter. How are things in Philly, city of my birth and heart? Grew up in West Oak Lane/Mt. Airy area.

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  7. Todd Mason11:14 AM

    Cool and clear in the S. Jersey burbs right now. Clearly, Westlake is a Philly topic...you'd think he was William McGivern...(and, thanks, Peter, for the missing comma in BABY, but do read TRUST ME ON THIS, first, Pattinase).

    THE STEPFATHER is in the same mode as THE AX and THE HOOK, I'd say...and "Come Again?" will have to be dug out of either the excellent MYSTERIOUS PRESS ANNIVERSARY ANTHOLOGY, the Gorman/Greenberg annual (WORLD'S FINEST) for 2002, or Maxim Jakubowski's MAMMOTH BOOK OF COMIC CRIME.

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  8. Anonymous1:13 PM

    I hate to admit this, but I didn't "discover" Westlake until last year. I've now read a handful of his books and am trying hard to make up for lost time. He's one of the greats.

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  9. Richard1:29 PM

    WESTLAKE RECOMMENDATIONS:

    Best Short story: "Too Many Crooks"
    Best Dortmunder novel: BAD NEWS
    Best Parker Novel: SLAY-GROUND
    Best Stand-Alone: DANCING AZTECS

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  10. Clearly there is no consensus on the best one or two and to do him justice will take me months. I'm on it. Thanks again.

    Sorry for highjacking Bill's blog but he's out of town so....

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  11. Jeff Meyerson8:41 AM

    LTTG but Richard is right:

    Dancing Aztecs is a classic, and one of the classic "New York" books by anyone.

    The 5 Tucker Coe books are also worth reading, as is pretty much anything Westlake writes.

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  12. Anonymous10:18 AM

    Pattinase, you're from a part of this vast and sprawling city that I don't know well. I've lived in Old City and on the fringe of South Philadelphia, and I now live just a few blocks from Pat's and Geno's steaks.

    Westlake has written so much that it's east to forget about works one has read and liked. I agree with Richard and Jeff that Dancing Aztecs is excellent and with Richard on "Too Many Crooks." I don't know if Dancing Aztecs is the classic New York book by anyone. Westlake might award that honor to something by his friend Lawrence Block.

    Slay Ground is not up there with my favorite Parkers, but it's an ingenious book. Parker's escape from an armed robbery goes kablooey when his getaway driver flips out, forcing Parker to flee with the cash to an amusement park. He spends the entire book in the amusement park evading police and gangsters and resorts to some highly clever stratagems to do so. Not many writers would take on a challenge of limiting their settings like that, but Westlake pulls it off.

    He repeats the book's opening chapter in one of his novels about Alan Grofield, a wisecracking Parker sidekick, using the chapter as a springboard for Grofield's adventures after the robbery. And he does other fun things like swapping chapters with other writers. Westlake's Drowned Hopes, a Dortmunder novel, shares a chapter with 32 Cadillacs by Joe Gores, for example. So, yes, I think you'll enjoy reading Westlake.
    ========================

    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder is More Fun Away From Home"
    http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

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  13. No one ever mentions his first crime novel under his own name (I don't think though there were crime novels before that under any pseudonym, right?), THE MERCENARIES. It's a very good hardboiled thriller, with a Mob guy investigating a murder on his own premises.

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  14. Just got back to town. 361 should be easy to find since Hard Case just reprinted it. What I wonder is how on earth he plotted Dancing Aztecs without an outline.

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  15. Anonymous9:20 PM

    Thanks for recommending Olen palkattu murhaaja, Juri!
    ========================

    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder is More Fun Away From Home"
    http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

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  16. Todd Mason9:58 AM

    And see the THE BEST FROM XERO for Westlake's rather less temperate "resignation" from sf writing at the time (earliest '60s), with some comment from Avram Davidson and others (I don't remember at the moment if Ed Gorman's contributions to the book deal with this at all). Which didn't stop "Curt Clark" from contributing to sf and fantasy literature, in fact seems to be the reason he took that particular jokey pseud. See HUMANS for more recent Westlake fantasy.

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  17. Gerard10:19 AM

    Westlake's Stark novels are among my favorites. I like how the way the character has changed over time from the '60s to now.

    The brief description of the car wreck scene in "Slay Ground" used in a Grofield novel sounds like "Blackbird", which I read a few months ago. After the wreck, Grofield gets picked up by the Feds and is forced into being a spy. He is sent to Quebec to gather information on a African dictator, introduced in an earlier novel, who is meeting with other third world leaders in the north woods.

    I just checked the library catalog and saw that "Parrot" is out already. I thought the book was being released in Dec or Jan.

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  18. Anonymous11:31 AM

    Yup, that's it. Blackbird and Slayground share a first chapter.

    I found an advance reader's copy of Ask the Parrot a couple of months ago. It's actually not my favorite Parker. The action takes place on a smaller scale than in some of the books I like best in the series. Even the big heist involves just two people. There's more emphasis on one-to-one interaction among characters than in some of the other books. I think Parker's colleague in the heist is related to the protagonist of The Ax.

    Even in the Westlake novels that I don't like as much, I can usually appreciate what he's trying to do. The man is not afraid to try something different, even with a successful and long-running series.
    ========================

    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder is More Fun Away From Home"
    http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

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