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.
Aw, darn. The audiobook currently playing on my iPod is The Road to Ruin, one of the recent offerings in the Dortmunder series. Westlake has been one of my favorite authors through the years.
As this article points out, Westlake has written under several pseudonyms as well as his real name during his prolific writing lifetime. However, in recent years he has concentrated on the Dortmunder series, published under his real name, and the Parker series, published under the name Richard Stark. John Dortmunder is the leader of a cozy group of criminal misfits who come up with lots of big ideas but whose best laid plans always seem to go wrong, leaving them to bungle through somehow. The Dortmunder novels are in a subgenre known as the caper novel and are quite entertaining. Ya gotta love these guys. The Parker novels, on the other hand, are–well, stark. Parker is betrayed by his wife at the beginning of the series, and this sets the tone for the rest of the books. Everyone betrays everyone else, usually quite brutally. Guys who’ve done things so bad that their rivals put out kill-on-sight hit orders on them hire surgeons to give them a whole new face–then kill the doctors after the surgery to ensure they won’t talk. A long time ago I read somewhere that the idea for the Parker novels came to Westlake once while he was stuck on a bridge in New York City, his hometown. I don’t remember now whether Dortmunder or Parker came first, but Westlake conceived of the two series as direct opposites.
This article says that another Westlake book, Get Real, is due to be published this April. I hope it’s a Dortmunder.