11 January 2009

R.I.P. D.E.W.

Donald E. Westlake, one of the masters of the popular novel, died on the 31st of December, 2008. I originally wrote "masters of modern fiction" but that sounds like something from a lit-class essay. Westlake wrote crime novels, both comic and hard-boiled, as well as mysteries, screenplays, and other interesting things. My favorites? The Parker series (by "Richard Stark"), is iconic noir, consistently suspenseful and tough-as-nails with a sympathetic (but "bad guy") lead character. And Kahawa, his 1981 novel about spies, coffee, and killing in Idi Amin's Uganda, cuts deep--its sensitivity and humanity belie its superficial "adventure" label. Images from that book, more than any other in Mr. Westlake's prodigious canon, stick with me years later. The funny stuff is what made him famous though, from romps like Somebody Owes Me Money (recently re-issued by Hard Case) to manic soap operas like Baby, Would I Lie? and dark, twisted morality tales like The Hook. He could do it all, and has the books to prove it. One look at his bibliography will stagger your mind--he was first published in 1959, the year I was born. My own bookshelf devotes over two feet of linear space to Donald E. Westlake. I like the obituary by Mr. Hard Case Himself, Charles Ardai, in The Guardian--he sums it up nicely.

Requiescat in pacem.

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