By JENNIFER 8. LEE
Published: January 1, 2009
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.
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David Jennings for The New York Times
Donald E. Westlake in 2001.
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.
Mr. Westlake, considered one of the most successful and versatile mystery writers in the United States, has earned three Edgar Awards, an Academy Award nomination for screenplay writing, and the elite title of Grand Master from the Mystery Writers of America in 1993.
Since his first novel, “The Mercenaries,” was published by Random House in 1960, Mr. Westlake has written under his own name and several pseudonyms, including Richard Stark, Tucker Coe, Samuel Holt and Edwin West. Despite the diversity of names, one shared feature was that almost all his books were set in New York City, where he was born.
He used many names in part to combat skepticism over his rapid rate of writing books, which at some points reached four a year.
“In the beginning, people didn’t want to publish more than one book a year by the same author,” said Susan Richman, his publicist at Grand Central Publishing, his current publisher. In the later half of his career, Mr. Westlake had narrowed himself to his own name and Richard Stark, author of a dark series about a one-name criminal named Parker.
The full panoply of all his books was a spectacle to behold, his friends said. “We were in his library, this beautiful library surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of titles, and I realize that every single book was written by Donald Westlake, English language and foreign language editions,” said Laurence Kirschbaum, his agent.
Mr. Westlake’s cinematic style of storytelling, along with his carefully crafted plots and crisp dialogue, translated well to the screen. More than 15 of his books were made into movies, some multiple times. In addition, he himself wrote a number of screenplays, including “The Grifters,” which was nominated for an Academy Award in 1991.
Donald Edwin Westlake was born to Lillian and Albert Westlake on July 12, 1933, in Brooklyn, but raised in Yonkers and Albany. He attended a number of colleges in New York State, but did not graduate from any of them. He married his current wife, Abigail, in 1979, and the couple made their home in Gallatin, N.Y. He was previously married to Nedra Henderson and Sandra Kalb. He is survived by his wife; his four sons by his previous marriage, Sean Westlake, Steven Westlake, Paul Westlake, Tod Westlake; two step-daughters, Adrienne Adams and Katherine Adams; a step-son, Patrick Adams; his sister, Virginia; and four grandchildren.
He was writing all the way till he passed away. His next novel, “Get Real,” is scheduled to be released in April 2009.