Thursday, January 01, 2009

From The NY Times--Donald E. Westlake

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.

15 comments:

Peter Rozovsky said...

That's sad news. That obituary, by the way, is a disgrace, and the Times ought to be ashamed of it. A Westlake obit that does not mention Dortmunder? That says Westlake was "considered" one the most successful and versatile of crime writers? That says he adapted well to the screen? He was consistently ill-served by screen adaptations, and anyone who knew anything about his career would know this. I hope the Times will also publish an appreciation of Westlake so this insulting piece of slapdashery will not be Westlake's last mention.
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Detectives Beyond Borders
“Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home”
http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

Todd Mason said...

The TIMES usually does do at least two obits of people of Westlake's magnitude...this woman is probably just on the obit desk, and pulled together what she could quickly verify. However poorly representative the adaptations of his work have been, his script certainly shown...THE STEPFATHER and the adaptation of THE GRIFTERS alone would redound to anyone's credit.

Todd Mason said...

His srcipts were shining examples, and showed his mastery, I meant to write, and somehow attempted to split the difference.

Peter Rozovsky said...

The Times should have had an obituary prepared in advance, as any good newspaper should for prominent elderly or ill people.

The Stepfather is seldom mentioned, but the movie is stunning crime/horror movie, an ornament to Westlake's career.
==============
Detectives Beyond Borders
“Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home”
http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

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Ed Gorman said...

Don Westlake was my favorite writer of crime fiction. He mastered every sub-genre he wrote in a nd created two of them in handling Parker and Dortmunder the way he did.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Right. But you wouldn't learn that from reading the Times obituary.

Todd Mason said...

Peter, you can't expect a paper as pompous as the TIMES to have a good obit on file for everyone, just the folks who go to lunch with important people like TIMES senior editors.

Even the work he published as by Curt Clark, which I'm not sure he was too fond of, should be treasured, with the major exception of ANARCHAOS, which deserves any bad assessment he gave it. But, man...I feel this loss stronger than most we've suffered in the past year...up there with Algis Budrys and Thomas Disch, and Miriam Makeba.

Peter Rozovsky said...

I wasn't sure the New York Times would condescend to prepare an adequate obituary for a pop-culture figure like Westlake. On the other hand, the Times does devote more space to crime fiction than many U.S. papers do, and Westlake was closely associated with New York, so one had hopes of getting something better than the Times offered.

This hit me harder than any of the other crime-fiction deaths in recent months. I've read more of Westlake's work than that of any other crime writer.
==============
Detectives Beyond Borders
“Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home”
http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

Bob Randisi said...

I've known Don Westlake for many years. I can't say we were close friends, more like acquaintances, for we would simply see each other every few years at one event or another. I also used him in at least one of my anthologies. He is the author of two of my favorite series, Parker, and the Mitch Tobin books, which he wrote as Tucker Coe. That series is in my top five, easily, of favorite P.I. series. I also enjoyed the one shot P.I. novel KILLING TIME.

75 is much too young for a talent like his to be taken from us. He had many, many more books in him, I'm sure. Now we'll never see them, and that's a sin.

My prayers go out to Abby and their family.

RJR

Peter Rozovsky said...

Parker or Dortmunder alone would have earned Westlake a place of honor among the highest. The Mitch Tobin books or Westlake's comic standalones or The Ax would have notable been career highlights for most writers. That one man did all this is pretty staggering.
==============
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://www.detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

Anonymous said...

The Times' expanded obit wasn't half bad compared to the Washington Post, which failed to give Mr. Westlake an obituary at all. The initial Times story wasn't an obit; it was a news story, later expanded into an obit.

Richard Wheeler

Anonymous said...

The Post finally did an obit, and a good one, on January 4.

Richard Wheeler

droid news said...

I did see the Post obit..was nice.

Angry Birds Game said...

I tried to find the Post obit- can anyone post up a link pls??