Crime writer Donald Westlake dies at 75

Prolific and influential crime novelist Donald A. Westlake died Jan. 1 after collapsing of a heart attack on his way to a New Year’s Eve party the previous day. He was 75. Westlake wrote more than 100 novels over the course of his long career, turning out material of extremely high quality with such speed that early on, he found it necessary to use a variety of pseudonyms, most famously Richard Stark, because publishers were leery of releasing more than one book a year by the same author. His writing was notable for its brisk, inventive plotting, sharply drawn and believable characterizations, and especially his mastery of both the drolly absurd and the starkly hardboiled. Westlake often used his pseudonyms for particular kinds of stories, something like a brand name. As Westlake, he wrote mainly lighter-hearted crime stories, including the recently republished Somebody Owes Me Money, as well as harder-edged material including the terrifically bleak thriller The Ax, in which an out-of-work job-hunter raises his chances of landing a new position by systematically tracking down and murdering the other qualified applicants in the area. Writing as Richard Stark, he created what became his quintessential character: master criminal and heavy heister Parker, the antihero of more than two dozen novels. Originally, Westlake intended the character to die at the end of his first book, and so never bothered to give him a first name. That choice stuck with the character, though, because it fit both his taciturn personality and his workmanlike attitude toward thievery, which he treated as a job to be done, carefully and thoroughly.

Originally published Jan. 2, 2009 on Read the complete article.

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