Friday, January 09, 2009

Donald Westlake

This is a bit sentimental. But I mean every word of it...

2008 was a tough year on mystery writers. It opened with the death of short story specialist Edward Hoch, and then in close order he was followed by Gregory Mcdonald, James Crumley, Tony Hillerman, and now very recently Donald E. Westlake. I’m a fan of each of these writers and I was saddened and reminded how damn unfair life is, especially the death part.

The last writer to die in 2008—Donald Westlake on New Years Eve—was one of the true masters of the genre. He came of age in the 1960s and Mr Westlake pretty much wrote it all. He started his career writing confession stories and moved on to short fiction and then novels. He wrote in just about every genre, but he found a home in the mystery arena. His work ranged from the hard and humorless Parker novels to the witty and downright funny Dortmunder series. And he wrote a whole lot in between.

I was first introduced to Westlake’s work in the early-1990s with his adventure story Kahawa—a novel that is a mixture of fast and sleek action, suspense, and more than a little wit and humor. I moved on to the Parker novels and then found one of his best novels: The Ax. I have three copies of The Ax; two mass markets and one hardcover. You can’t have enough copies of a Westlake novel.

Mr. Westlake’s work speaks for itself much better than I do and I know I’m a little late on this, but I wanted to put my two cents in. Donald Westlake was a writer, a storyteller, and damn good at both. His work will be missed and I know that what he left behind will be read for years and years. At least they will be at my house.

A toast: To all the wonderful entertainers we lost in 2008. To Don Westlake, Tony Hillerman, James Crumley, Gregory McDonald, and Michael Crichton.

I hope heaven--of such a place exists--is a bookstore and library fashioned as one. And if it is, I know the work of these fine gentlemen will be in stock.

Click Here to listen to interviews on NPR's Fresh Air with Donald Westlake from 1988 and 1997.

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