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View Full Version : Talking about Donald Richard Allan Sam Holt Stark Marsh E. Westlake


The Raider Dr. Jones
11-23-2012, 06:42 PM
Since he came up in the movies forum a minute ago...

Donald E. Westlake -- his real name -- died a few years ago. Also known as Samuel Holt, also known as Alan Marshall, and also known as a lot of other things, especially Richard Stark, the name under which he published the fairly famous Parker stories. He was one of the most prolific -- and if you ask me and a lot of mystery buffs, one of the best -- crime writers of the last century.

Westlake worked for a living. He first published a story in 1960 and pretty much didn't stop until he died. Part of the reason he came up with so many pen names is because he couldn't sell the volume of material he was able to turn out under just his own name.

Some favorites of mine...

The Hunter, The Outfit: Maybe Westlake's most famous series starts with The Hunter, from 1962, where he introduced the character of a professional thief named Parker. Parker steals for a living, kills when he has to, and is very good at both. Unfortunately for him, he's usually much better at it than his partners. Darwyn Cooke adapted these two in comic-book form recently. His version of The Hunter is pretty good, but his take on The Outfit is brilliant.

Bank Shot: Westlake didn't always do hard-boiled. The Dortmunder series, named for the main character, is also about professional crooks, but they're light comedy instead of existential noir. John Dortmunder, cat burgler and short-con artist, has many very good friends who are also very good at making sure any criminal endeavor goes wrong in a very strange way. The recurring supporting cast is fun, so is the use and abuse of settings in and around New York City. Bank Shot is one of my favorites, where a bank branch has been temporarily relocated to a Quonset hut and our boys try and jack up the entire thing.

Kahawa: Part heist plot and part African mercenary story, about a campaign to steal an entire train worth of coffee from Idi Amin. Reminds me a lot of Frederick Forsyth's better stories.

The Ax: This was pretty recent, like the early 2000s or late 90s? Westlake didn't usually write stories in first person, and he didn't do social critiques as a rule either (at least among what I've read), but The Ax is an exception. Gets deep into the head of a laid-off pulp and paper engineer who comes up with a complex scheme to get himself a new job. Very harsh, very thoughtful.

Healy
11-23-2012, 07:12 PM
Oh yeah, I loved Darwin Cooke's take on The Outfit. It's part of why I was a little disappointed with his adaption of The Score: Outfit's a tough act to follow.

Evil Dead Junkie
11-23-2012, 07:42 PM
I heartily endorse this thread.

keele864
11-24-2012, 10:55 AM
I heartily endorse this thread.

As do I.

It's kind of sad, but I've only read one novel by "Donald E. Westlake," though I've read fourteen by "Richard Stark." I really need to read more of the stuff he wrote under his own name, especially since I picked up two of the books you recommend, The Ax and Bank Shot, at sales.

Thus far my favorite Starks are probably The Jugger, The Seventh, and The Mourner, though there has yet to be one I've disliked.

Has anyone here read Westlake's sf? I'm kind of curious to try some of the books he wrote as "Curt Clark."

The Raider Dr. Jones
11-24-2012, 06:11 PM
I really need to read more of the stuff he wrote under his own name, especially since I picked up two of the books you recommend, The Ax and Bank Shot, at sales.

Nice one. The Ax was fairly recent and got a couple of editions, so it's not hard to find. But the older Dortmunders like that one can be tougher to hunt up. I've found that Westlake's stuff tends to get snapped up real quick by mystery buffs in used bookstores.

Before they got reprinted by whichever university press it was recently, you couldn't find the Parker novels for love or money, especially some of the rarer ones from the early 70s.

Another one I like, by the way: God Save the Mark, which I think won an Edgar award? It's a con-job story, but entirely told from the perspective of the victim. Really funny in parts, got at least one extremely pretty hardcover edition back in the day.

keele864
11-24-2012, 06:15 PM
Nice one. The Ax was fairly recent and got a couple of editions, so it's not hard to find. But the older Dortmunders like that one can be tougher to hunt up. I've found that Westlake's stuff tends to get snapped up real quick by mystery buffs in used bookstores.

Before they got reprinted by whichever university press it was recently, you couldn't find the Parker novels for love or money, especially some of the rarer ones from the early 70s.

Another one I like, by the way: God Save the Mark, which I think won an Edgar award? It's a con-job story, but entirely told from the perspective of the victim. Very inventive, very funny.

I've pretty much made a policy of buying Westlakes when I see them, so I've got a bunch (including a book club hardback of God Save the Mark) waiting for me. Plus I have an uncle who is a fan of Westlake and sends me nice things like copies of Breakout and Comeback and Backflash.

I haven't read The Ax yet in part because it might be too depressing (or inspiring) when I am (ahem) somewhat underemployed.

I love that the Parker books are in print from a university press. If only more academic publishers had the sense of fun that UChicago does...

Evil Dead Junkie
11-25-2012, 12:32 AM
The early Dortmunder books are tougher to find (Hot Rock is pretty easy) but they are worth it.

Dortmunder himself has one of the clearest introductions I've ever read of a character, he's just completely there from paragraph one. The first chapter of Rock opens with him released from prison, and then flinging himself up against the wall and shrieking in terror when his friend comes to pick him up in an ominous unfamiliar car. It's awesome.

And the way he meets his girlfriend (who tries to explain the auteur theory to him in one of my favorite things that Westlake ever wrote) is just priceless.

The Raider Dr. Jones
11-25-2012, 08:45 AM
The early Dortmunder books are tougher to find (Hot Rock is pretty easy) but they are worth it.

I think it's one of the down sides of Westlake being so prolific, his stuff never stayed in print very long. New book comes out, old book goes away, repeat, and the cycle went pretty quick in his heyday when he was doing like six novels in a good year.

The Dortmunder stuff could stand coming back in some nice omnibus editions. They were always pretty short, you could fit three of them in a modern-day trade paperback.

Another favorite Dortmunder of mine: Why Me, where he burgles a jewelry store and accidentally steals a cultural artifact wanted by dozens of nationalists, religious fanatics, terrorists, etc. (If you read Phil Foglio's Buck Godot comics, he essentially steals the Winslow.) Funny, funny stuff, and a nice clever resolution.

Healy
11-25-2012, 08:27 PM
And the way he meets his girlfriend (who tries to explain the auteur theory to him in one of my favorite things that Westlake ever wrote) is just priceless.

Mind posting this in Passages or something if you haven't already? I'd like to read it.

Evil Dead Junkie
11-26-2012, 12:10 AM
Mind posting this in Passages or something if you haven't already? I'd like to read it.

I would the problem is its in the book Bank Shot which I don't currently own.

The Raider Dr. Jones
11-26-2012, 12:40 AM
I forget where the bit about the auteur theory is, but the bit where they meet (his girlfriend May is a clerk at a grocery store) goes like so:

They’d met almost a year ago, when she’d caught Dortmunder shoplifting at the store. It was the fact that he hadn’t tried any line at all on her, that he hadn’t even asked for her sympathy, that had won her sympathy. He’d just stood there, shaking his head, with packages of boiled ham and American cheese falling out of his armpits, and she just hadn’t had the heart to turn him in. She still tried to pretend sometimes that he couldn’t pierce her toughness, but he could.

Evil Dead Junkie
11-26-2012, 09:28 AM
Now that you mention it the auteur theory part is probably in Jimmy The Kid. Which I also don't own at the moment.

The Raider Dr. Jones
11-26-2012, 10:06 AM
Yeah, Jimmy the Kid is the one with all the film references. (It's also the Parker/Dortmunder crossover, and it is incredibly funny.) Lemme see here...yeah, here you go.

"Well, he was smart to bring it around to you," she said. "He wouldn't be able to do it right without you."

"Kelp brings a plan to me."

"To make it work," she said. "Don't you see? There's a plan there, but you have to convert it to the real world, to the people you've got and the places you'll be and all the rest of it. You'd be the aw-tour."

He cocked his head and studied her. "I'd be the what?"

"I read an article in a magazine," she said. "It was about a theory about movies."

"A theory about movies."

"It's called the aw-tour theory. That's French, it means writer."

He spread his hands. "What the hell have I got to do with the movies?"

"Don't shout at me, John, I'm trying to tell you. The idea is..."

"I'm not shouting," he said. He was getting grumpy.

"All right, you're not shouting. Anyway, the idea is, in movies the writer isn't really the writer. The real writer is the director, because he takes what the writer did and he puts it together with the actors and the places where they make the movie and all the things like that."

"The writer isn't the writer," Dortmunder said.

"That's the theory."

"Some theory."

"So they call the director the aw-tour,' she explained, "because that's French for writer."

"I don't know what we're talking about," Dortmunder said, "but I think I'm getting caught up in it. Why do they do it in French?"

"I don't know. Maybe because it's more classy. Like chifferobe."

Evil Dead Junkie
11-27-2012, 12:56 AM
Nook has them for cheap as well. That's great news, they used to be at 10 bucks a pop which is stupid expensive for a hundred and fifty page book I can get used for 2.99.

Lawerence Block has done something similar with his back catalouge, the vast majority of it is 5 bucks (used to be 4) even the more recent stuff like the Hitman series.

Olli T
11-27-2012, 12:58 AM
Thanks to this thread, I now have more even more reading backlog than before.

The Raider Dr. Jones
11-27-2012, 08:37 AM
Also discovered that the U of Chicago Parker reprints are four bucks each on Kindle. Still not a bad deal, since the physical editions are a bit pricey.

keele864
11-27-2012, 09:59 AM
Also discovered that the U of Chicago Parker reprints are four bucks each on Kindle. Still not a bad deal, since the physical editions are a bit pricey.

I guess UChicago Press is having a sale... (http://www.press.uchicago.edu/infoServices/Sale_catalog.html)