Saturday, January 3, 2009
Nobody Lives Forever - A Eulogy
Donald E. Westlake, 1933-2008
The title is taken from a title by a book by Richard Stark, one of the most respected and admired hardboiled crime writers since the genre was created. Only, there is no writer named Richard Stark. It was just one of the noms de plume of Donald E. Westlake, who died of an apparent heart attack new years eve, in Mexico.
He is one of my all-time favorite writers, and my collection of Westlake/Tucker Coe and Richard Stark books takes up over a shelf of my crime fiction bookcase(s). He wrote stand-alones and series-- and even within the series are variations. The back cover blurb of one of the Richard Stark novels revealed that Westlake wrote about Parker during inclement weather and the thespian/occasional criminal sidekick, Grofield on sunny days. Writing under his own name, Westlake created the often hysterical Dortmunder gang series, which among others, features a particularly clever one called "Jimmy the Kid," where one of the members of the gang has read a Richard Stark book and bases it on a kidnap caper. Another, "The Hot Rock," was made into an underrated film with Robert Redford and George Segal. The Richard Stark books have been turned into many films, from the first ("Point Blank") to "Payback" with Mel Gibson. The protagonist Parker has been portrayed by Lee Marvin, Robert Duvall, and even ex-football star, Jim Brown. Westlake also wrote a screenplay or two. He brilliantly adapted Jim Thompson's pulp classic, "The Grifters" into a faithful and smart movie.
I noted, during a brief Google search, that Westlake was a favorite of neocon nutjob, William Kristol's, to which I say only do not besmirch the author for one of his fan's lapses in bad taste. He was also one of Stephen King's favorites and even referred to "Mr Stark" in "The Dark Half." To the best of my knowledge, Westlake rarely if ever interjected politics in his work. The couple exceptions that come to mind are the recent "Put a Lid on This" and "Money for Nothing." Neither of them are overtly nor explicitly political in any partisan way. Both are highly recommended, as are ALL the Stark books.
He was one of the great ones. And he will be missed, both in "inclement weather and on sunny days."