Thursday, January 01, 2009

Donald E. Westlake, R. I. P.

Damn and double damn. Terrible loss, terrible way to begin the year.

Donald E. Westlake, Mystery Writer, Is Dead at 75 - Obituary (Obit) - "Donald E. Westlake, a prolific, award-winning mystery novelist who pounded out more than 100 books and five screenplays on manual typewriters during his half-century career, died Wednesday night. He was 75.

Mr. Westlake collapsed, apparently from a heart attack, as he headed out to New Year’s Eve dinner while on vacation in San Tancho, Mexico, said his wife, Abigail Westlake."


Donna said...

He will be missed.

I loved his Dortmunder books. I read my first one, Bank Shot, when it came out in '72 and made sure to catch each new one as soon as it was published.

He kept them fresh and funny for over 35 years.

Westlake's last Dortmunder book, Get Real, will be published next summer. I remember finding it on Amazon and wondering if it would be his last book, but not because of his age. I had read before his last Dortmunder book -- What's So Funny -- that he was almost blind. And wondered how much longer he would keep on writing.

But I wasn't expecting this. Too bad.

Unknown said...

I read the first Richard Stark book around 1967 or so. Maybe a little later, but not much. What a great discovery that was. I can hardly take in this bad news.

ShellyS said...

Damn, that's so sad.

Anonymous said...


I just saw this on J.D.'s blog.

The first one I read was Cops and Robbers in 1973.

My favorite - though I haven't reread it so check if that's still true - was Dancing Aztecs, a real New York book (as so many of his were).

I've read all the Starks and Coes and lots of others, though I still have a new yet to read.

He will be badly missed.


Randy Johnson said...

Damn and double damn is right!

David Jack Bell said...

He leaves behind a hell of a legacy.

David Cranmer said...

This just floored me. I'm at a total loss and saddened.

Anonymous said...

Really a terrible loss. I remember reading The Hot Rock when it first came out back in 1970 or so and how much I laughed out loud. For the next 38 years I bought every Westlake book. He will be missed.

Anonymous said...

Donald E. Westlake is a writer to measure oneself by. The last book I purchased of his, I picked up used because it had a picture of him when he looked young, literary, slightly beatnik, and I think it's the picture I'll remember him by. It's a sad, sad day.But the other side of this is that his death at the beginning of a new year allows us to rediscover him as a writer in appreciation and remembrance as well, if one takes the task upon oneself, to write in appreciation of such a role model. It's hard to play at Westlake's level and, perhaps, impossible to top his game. We will remember and appreciate you, Don.


Unknown said...

Not many can play at that level. As Bum Phillips said about Earl Campbell, he might not be in a class by himself, but it sure don't take long to call the roll.

Anonymous said...

Well, hell, I thought 2009 was going to be better than 2008. This is not a good thing. I haven't been this stunned since Ross Thomas died. A true giant. And even at 75, much too soon.


Dave Zeltserman said...

Very sad news. Westlake was a true giant in the industry. It didn't matter whether he was writing comic caper or ultra hardboiled, the guy was great. I've been reading him since I was 14--I think The Spy in the Ointment was the first book of his I read. He'll be greatly missed.

Anonymous said...

Don was the last writer I discovered, prior to becoming a pro, who had a profound effect on me.

At that time, around '67, my two favorite recently discovered writers were the very different Donald E. Westlake, who wrote comedies, and Richard Stark, who wrote tough crime novels. They sat side by side on my shelf.

Then I read an Anthony Boucher review that revealed Westlake and Stark were the same writer -- and in amazement removed the divider on my shelf between the two authors.

That's a story I shared with Don and that he loved.

They are all gone -- the writers I loved who influenced me -- Mickey, Don, Evan Hunter, the Black Mask boys, Jim Thompson, even Mark Harris and Richard Yates, my favorite mainstream writers. All gone. But living forever.

Steve Steinbock said...

Another huge loss to the Mystery world. I think Hot Rock was my first encounter. (If I'm remembering correctly, that was the first Dortmunder).

First time I saw him in person was at the Seattle Bouchercon in 1994 during which he elbowed a cream pie onto Parnell Hall's face.

I'm sure that right now he's got the angels in stitches, laughing away in heaven.

Juri said...

Just when I read The Hot Rock for the first time during the holidays. Damn. I really liked his early novels, 361 and The Mercenaries (Cutie is the title now, right?) and his Starks. Dortmunders were never big for me, but he was still a true entertainer. Finally it's beginning to seem that an era is gone.

Anonymous said...

In a very strange twist, I pulled a Westlake book off the shelf before going to sleep last night. I didn't make it far, only twelve pages. By a wonderful turn of fate, I read the opening to _The Busy Body_ (1966). A wise guy named Engel is suffering through a "foofaraw," that is, a "grand send off" that Nick Rovito, the boss, knows Charlie Brody doesn't really deserve it ("it was obvious they hadn't been thinking about good old Charlie Brod at all, they'd been thinking about the send off"), because as Westlake tells us: "In a way, none of this was even necessary, since Charlie Brody hadn't kicked off in the line of duty, hadn't been gunned down or anything like that. All he'd had was a heart attack." So Charlie gets a grand send off, a "Cecile B. DeMille extravaganza of a funeral."

Undeniably, we all have a ticket to the same line that we all must turn in. We'll all be where a wise guy named Engle suffering more from his knee (kneeling and genuflecting) and shoulder (pallbearing) pain than our loss. Someone, if we're lucky, might quote the following rhyme for us: "A tisket, a tasket,/A black and yellow casket,/Charlie Brody kicked the bucket / And now he's in a casket,/And now he's in a casket, / A casket,/ And now he's in a casket." And hopefully we'll get the titter of humor if we're blessed enough to have a boss who will give the rhymer the "fish eye." If we're lucky.

Well, Don, even though I'm "still pretty new at these meetings," I want to say, paraphrasing you:

"Let's give old Donald Westlake a send-off! I mean, a SEND-off!"

Thank you for continuing to inspire us, Don.

- Lawrence

Gerard Saylor said...


Anonymous said...

If someone checks out your book collection and says something favorable about your Westlake collection - then you can rest assured they are great people. It's kind of a litmus test, I guess.

I don't know for certain which one of his was the first I read. As I recall, it was during the school year of 1976/77 (I was born in 1963 - you do the math). That was quite a year for me, literarywise; within a short period of time I discovered Ed McBain, Raymond Chandler, Patricia Highsmith, Ross Macdonald, Sjöwall & Wahlöö - and also a certain Donald E. Westlake. I'd like to think it was "Jimmy the Kid" that was my first - I still think it's the best of the Dortmunders. Still, it might as well have been "Cops and Robbers". Or something else. How I wish I could recall.

Anyway, when I later discovered that the Richard Stark author that was mentioned in "Jimmy the Kid" really existed and had written the book that "Point Blank" was based on, and in fact was Westlake himself, it totally blew my (then) young mind.

I don't think he was ever boring. That's a hell of a great achievement.

Here's to you, Donald.

Anonymous said...

And Donald's influence is still, of course, being felt. One testament to his continued influence is the IDW comic version of Parker that is soon to be released. You can find more at comic book writer Chuck Dixon's blog here (scroll about half way down the current page):