Books for the News

Death No Hindrance for Westlake

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Donald Westlake, the mystery author who wrote under numerous pseudonyms, including Richard Stark, has been everywhere in the book pages this week. To make sense of this surge in interest in the late great, we called on our colleague and noted Westlake aficionado Levi Stahl.

As one of the characters in his comic crime novels might have put it, for a dead guy, Donald E. Westlake’s been pretty busy this past week.
It started on July 17th with the publication by Grand Central of the fourteenth and final volume in Westlake’s series of comic novels featuring heister (and schlimazel John Dortmunder, Get Real. All of us fans ran to our local bookshop to pick it up, savoring the very last new Donald Westlake novel we’d ever see … except, as the gloomy and fatalistic Dortmunder himself might have predicted, it’s not the last one after all. Charles Ardai, novelist and founder of Hard Case Crime publishers, announced a few days later that he would be publishing a never-before-seen Westlake novel in April: titled Memory, the book tells the story of a man trying to rebuild his life after a savage beating by a cuckolded husband costs him his memory. Written in 1963 and shelved by Westlake after a few failed attempts by his agent to place it with a publisher, the manuscript was passed on to Ardai by Westlake’s friend Lawrence Block—who, no great slouch in the crime novel department himself, vouched for its quality in an e-mail to blogger Sarah Weinman; if you don’t want to take Block’s word for it, you can check out the first chapter at Hard Case Crime’s site. Sure, even those of us who are big fans haven’t read anywhere near all of Westlake’s 100-plus novels (well, except Ethan Iverson, that is), but nonetheless we can’t help but be excited at the prospect of an unexpected new one.
To top it all off, today saw the official publication of a Westlake work that’s simultaneously new and old: Eisner Award-winning comics artist Darwyn Cooke’s graphic adaptation of the first Parker novel, The Hunter, written by Westlake under the name Richard Stark. We’ve written before about our excitement over this project, and now that we’ve got a copy, we’re definitely not disappointed. The Los Angeles Times‘s Geoff Boucher praises Cooke’s “spare and stylized artwork (think somewhere between the vintage-cool of “Mad Men” and the storytelling flair of Milton Caniff’s Steve Canyon comic strips), calling the book “a meticulously faithful adaptation of the 1962 novel of the same name.” Parker fans won’t want to miss this one; Cooke’s definitely done right by the character we’ve been picturing for ourselves all these years.
And that “1962 novel of the same name?” Well, if you want to see what all the fuss is about, you can still get that one right here, the first installment of our ongoing series of reprints that will take the Parker novels all the way up through 1974’s hard-to-find Butcher’s Moon. Books seven, eight, and nine in the series–The Handle, The Seventh, and The Rare Coin Score—hit stores last week, all with an introduction by Luc Sante.
With all this going on, Westlake fans might be forgiven for canceling any heists they had planned for the weekend and just settling in with a stack of books.