Donald E. Westlake

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Donald E. Westlake
Donald Westlake.jpg
BornDonald Edwin Westlake
(1933-07-12)July 12, 1933
Brooklyn, New York, United States
DiedDecember 31, 2008(2008-12-31) (aged 75)
Pen nameJohn B. Allan, Judson Jack Carmichael, Curt Clark, Timothy J. Culver, J. Morgan Cunningham, Richard Stark, Edwin West, among others
NationalityUnited States
Genre crime fiction
Notable works The Hot Rock , The Grifters , The Hunter , Anarchaos

Signature Donald Westlake signature (cropped).jpg

Donald Edwin Westlake (July 12, 1933 December 31, 2008) was an American writer, with more than a hundred novels and non-fiction books to his credit. He specialized in crime fiction, especially comic capers, with an occasional foray into science fiction and other genres. Westlake is perhaps best-remembered for creating two professional criminal characters who each starred in a long-running series: the relentless, hard-boiled Parker (published under the pen name Richard Stark), and John Dortmunder, who featured in a more humorous series.


He was a three-time Edgar Award winner, and alongside Joe Gores and William L. DeAndrea was one of few writers to win Edgars in three different categories (1968, Best Novel, God Save the Mark; 1990, Best Short Story, "Too Many Crooks"; 1991, Best Motion Picture Screenplay, The Grifters ). In 1993, the Mystery Writers of America named Westlake a Grand Master, the highest honor bestowed by the society.

Personal life

Westlake was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Lillian (Bounds) and Albert Joseph Westlake, [1] and was raised in Albany, New York.

Westlake wrote constantly in his teens, and after 200 rejections, his first short story sale was in 1954. Sporadic short story sales followed over the next few years, while Westlake attended Champlain College (a now defunct college created in the post WWII GI Bill boom) of Plattsburgh, New York, [2] and Binghamton University in Binghamton, New York. He also spent two years in the United States Air Force.

Westlake moved to New York City in 1959, initially to work for a literary agency while writing on the side. By 1960, he was writing full-time. His first novel under his own name, The Mercenaries, was published in 1960; over the next 48 years, Westlake published a variety of novels and short stories under his own name and a number of pseudonyms.

He was married three times, the final time to Abigail Westlake (also known as Abby Adams Westlake and Abby Adams), a writer of nonfiction (her two published books are An Uncommon Scold and The Gardener's Gripe Book). The couple moved out of New York City to Ancram in upstate New York in 1990. Abby Westlake is a well-regarded gardener, and the Westlake garden has frequently been opened for public viewing in the summer.

Westlake died of a heart attack on December 31, 2008, while on the way to a New Year's Eve dinner, while he and his wife were on vacation in Mexico. [3]


In addition to writing consistently under his own name, Westlake published under several pseudonyms. [4] In the order they debuted:

Westlake sometimes made playful use of his pseudonyms in his work:

Additionally, Westlake conducted a mock "interview" with Richard Stark, Tucker Coe and Timothy J. Culver in an article for the non-fiction book Murder Ink: The Mystery Reader's Companion.

Writing style

Donald Westlake was known for the great ingenuity of his plots and the audacity of his gimmicks. His writing and dialogue are lively. His main characters are fully rounded, believable, and clever. Westlake's most famous characters include the hard-boiled criminal Parker (appearing in fiction under the Richard Stark pseudonym) and Parker's comic flip-side John Dortmunder. Westlake was quoted as saying that he originally intended what became The Hot Rock to be a straightforward Parker novel, but "It kept turning funny," and thus became the first John Dortmunder novel.

Most of Donald Westlake's novels are set in New York City. In each of the Dortmunder novels, there is typically a detailed foray somewhere through the city. He wrote just two non-fiction books: Under an English Heaven, regarding the unlikely 1967 Anguillan "revolution", and a biography of Elizabeth Taylor. [4]

Westlake was an occasional contributor to science fiction fanzines such as Xero , and used Xero as a venue for a harsh announcement that he was leaving the science fiction field. [11]

Motion pictures and television

Several of Westlake's novels have been made into motion pictures: 1967's Point Blank (based on The Hunter ) with Lee Marvin as Parker (changed to Walker); Mise à sac  [ fr ] (based on The Score) with Michel Constantin as Parker (changed to Georges), also in 1967; 1968's The Split (from the book The Seventh) with Jim Brown as Parker (changed to McClain); The Hot Rock in 1972 with Robert Redford; Cops and Robbers in 1973; The Outfit with Robert Duvall as Parker (changed to Macklin), also in 1973; Bank Shot in 1974 with George C. Scott; The Busy Body (with an "all-star cast") in 1967; Slayground with Peter Coyote as Parker (changed to Stone) in 1983; Why Me? with Christopher Lambert, Christopher Lloyd, and J. T. Walsh in 1990; Payback in 1999, the second film made from The Hunter, with Mel Gibson as Parker (changed to Porter); What's the Worst That Could Happen? in 2001 with Martin Lawrence as Dortmunder (changed to Kevin Caffery); Constantin Costa-Gavras adapted The Ax for the European screen in 2005, to great critical and public acclaim – entitled Le Couperet , the film takes place in France and Belgium rather than the novel's setting of New England; Parker in 2013, based on Flashfire, with Jason Statham as Parker.

In his introduction to one of the short stories in Thieves' Dozen, Westlake mentioned legal troubles with Hollywood over his continued use of the Dortmunder novel characters; the movie studios attempted to assert that he had sold the rights to the characters to them permanently as a result of the Redford film.

The novel Jimmy the Kid has been adapted three times: in Italy as Come ti rapisco il pupo  [ it ] in 1976; in the U.S. as Jimmy the Kid in 1982, starring Gary Coleman; and in Germany as Jimmy the Kid in 1998, starring Herbert Knaup.

The novel Two Much! has been adapted twice: in France as Le Jumeau (The Twin) in 1984; and in the U.S. as Two Much in 1995, starring Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith.

Jean-Luc Godard's Made in U.S.A. in 1966 was an extremely loose adaptation of The Jugger. Neither the film's producer nor Godard purchased the rights to the novel, so Westlake successfully sued to prevent the film's commercial distribution in the United States.

Westlake was himself a screenwriter. His script for the 1990 film The Grifters, adapted from the novel by Jim Thompson, was nominated for an Academy Award. (Westlake the screenwriter adapted Jim Thompson's work in a straightforward manner, but Westlake the humourist played on Thompson's name later that year in the Dortmunder novel Drowned Hopes by featuring a character named "Tom Jimson" who is a criminal psychopath.) Westlake also wrote the screenplay The Stepfather (from a story by Westlake, Brian Garfield and Carolyn Lefcourt), the film of which was popular enough to inspire two sequels and a remake, projects in which Westlake was not involved.

In 1987 Westlake wrote the teleplay Fatal Confession, a pilot for the TV series Father Dowling Mysteries based on the novels by Ralph McInerny. He also appeared in a small role (as the mystery writer Rich Vincent) in the third-season episode, "The Hardboiled Mystery."

While the seventeenth James Bond film GoldenEye was in post-production, Westlake wrote story treatments for the eighteenth James Bond film (eventually titled Tomorrow Never Dies ) in collaboration with Bond series writer-producer Michael G. Wilson. None of Westlake's ideas made it into the completed film, but in 1998 the author used the first treatment as the basis for a novel, Fall of the City. The existence of the novel (and its connection to the Bond treatments) was revealed in an article published in issue #32 of the magazine MI6 Confidential; the article also provides a detailed analysis of the two treatments. [12] Fall of the City was published under the title Forever and a Death in June 2017 by Hard Case Crime.

Westlake co-wrote the story for the pilot of the ill-fated 1979 TV series Supertrain with teleplay writer Earl W. Wallace; Westlake and Wallace shared "created by" credit.



The following table can be sorted to show Westlake's novels in chronological order,
or arranged alphabetically by title, or by publisher, or by author credit, or by series.
YearTitlePublisherAuthor CreditSeriesNotes
1959All My Lovers Midwood Books Alan Marshall
1959Backstage LoveMidwood BooksAlan MarshallPhil CrawfordAlso published as Apprentice Virgin
1959Man HungryMidwood BooksAlan Marshall
1959SallyMidwood BooksAlan Marshall
1960All About AnnetteMidwood BooksAlan Marshall
1960All the Girls Were WillingMidwood BooksAlan MarshallPhil CrawfordLater printed as What Girls Will Do
1960A Girl Called HoneyMidwood BooksAlan Marshall & Sheldon LordA collaboration between Westlake and Lawrence Block
1960The MercenariesRandom HouseDonald E. WestlakeAlso published in the UK as The Smashers. Republished in 2009 under Westlake's preferred title, The Cutie.
1960So WillingMidwood BooksAlan Marshall & Sheldon LordA collaboration between Westlake and Lawrence Block
1960Virgin's SummerMidwood BooksAlan Marshall
1960The Wife Next DoorMidwood BooksAlan Marshall
1961Call Me Sinner Nightstand Books Alan Marshall
1961Passion's Plaything Bedside Books Alan Marshall
1961Off LimitsBedside BooksAlan Marshall
1961Brother and SisterMonarch BooksEdwin West
1961Campus DollMonarch BooksEdwin West
1960Young and Innocent Monarch Books Edwin West
1961Killing Time Random House Donald E. Westlake
1962 The Hunter Pocket Books Richard StarkParkerLater published as Point Blank and Payback. First appearance of master thief Parker.
1962 361 Random House Donald E. Westlake
1962Strange AffairMonarch BooksEdwin West
1963KillyRandom HouseDonald E. Westlake
1963Sin Prowl Corinth Publications Alan MarshallPhil Crawford
1963Campus LoversMonarch BooksEdwin West
1963 The Man with the Getaway Face Pocket Books Richard StarkParkerAlso published in the UK as Steel Hit.
1963 The Outfit Pocket BooksRichard StarkParker
1963 The Mourner Pocket BooksRichard StarkParker
1963 The Score Pocket BooksRichard StarkParkerAlso published in the UK as Killtown.
1964Pity Him AfterwardsRandom HouseDonald E. Westlake
1965The Fugitive PigeonRandom HouseDonald E. Westlake
1965 The Jugger Pocket BooksRichard StarkParker
1966 The Seventh Pocket BooksRichard StarkParkerLater published as The Split.
1966The Busy BodyRandom HouseDonald E. Westlake
1966 The Handle Pocket BooksRichard StarkParkerAlso published in the UK as Run Lethal.
1966The Spy in the OintmentRandom HouseDonald E. Westlake
1966Kinds of Love, Kinds of DeathRandom HouseTucker CoeMitchell Tobin
1967Murder Among ChildrenRandom HouseTucker CoeMitchell Tobin
1967 The Damsel Macmillan Publishers Richard StarkGrofield
1967 The Rare Coin Score Fawcett Books Richard StarkParker
1967God Save the MarkRandom HouseDonald E. WestlakeEdgar Award winner for Best Novel
1967Philip Thomas Y. Crowell Co. Donald E. Westlake
1967Anarchaos Ace Books Curt Clark
1967 The Green Eagle Score Fawcett Books Richard StarkParker
1968Who Stole Sassi Manoon?Random HouseDonald E. Westlake
1968 The Black Ice Score Fawcett Books Richard StarkParker
1969 The Sour Lemon Score Fawcett Books Richard StarkParker
1969Somebody Owes Me MoneyRandom HouseDonald E. Westlake
1969Up Your Banners Lancer Books Donald E. Westlake
1969 The Dame Macmillan PublishersRichard StarkGrofield
1969 The Blackbird Macmillan PublishersRichard StarkGrofield
1970The Hot Rock Simon & Schuster Donald E. WestlakeDortmunderOriginally planned as a non-comic Parker novel; introduces John Dortmunder
1970Adios ScheherazadeSimon & SchusterDonald E. WestlakeBuilds on Westlake's experiences writing soft-core porn.
1970Wax AppleRandom HouseTucker CoeMitchell Tobin
1970A Jade in AriesRandom HouseTucker CoeMitchell Tobin
1970Ex Officio M. Evans Timothy J. CulverAlso published under the title Power Play.
1971 Lemons Never Lie World Publishing Company Richard StarkGrofield
1971I Gave at the OfficeSimon & SchusterDonald E. Westlake
1971 Deadly Edge Random HouseRichard StarkParker
1971 Slayground Random HouseRichard StarkParker
1972Bank ShotSimon & SchusterDonald E. WestlakeDortmunder
1972Cops and RobbersM. EvansDonald E. Westlake
1972Don't Lie to MeRandom HouseTucker CoeMitchell Tobin
1972 Plunder Squad Random HouseRichard StarkParkerCrosses over with the 1972 Joe Gores novel Dead Skip
1973Comfort Station Signet Books J. Morgan Cunningham
1973Gangway!M. EvansDonald E. Westlake and Brian Garfield
1974 Butcher's Moon Random HouseRichard StarkParker
1974Help, I Am Being Held PrisonerM. EvansDonald E. Westlake
1974Jimmy the KidM. EvansDonald E. WestlakeDortmunderIncludes chapters from an otherwise non-existent novel by Richard Stark entitled Child Heist.
1975Two MuchM. EvansDonald E. WestlakePublished as Double Feature in 2020 under the Hard Case Crime imprint.
1975Brothers KeepersM. EvansDonald E. Westlake
1976Dancing AztecsM. EvansDonald E. Westlake
1977Nobody's PerfectM. EvansDonald E. WestlakeDortmunder
1980Castle in the AirM. EvansDonald E. Westlake
1981Kahawa Viking Press Donald E. Westlake
1983Why Me?Viking PressDonald E. WestlakeDortmunder
1984A Likely StoryPenzler BooksDonald E. Westlake
1985High Adventure Mysterious Press Donald E. Westlake
1985Good BehaviorMysterious PressDonald E. WestlakeDortmunder
1986One of Us Is WrongTor BooksSamuel HoltSam Holt
1986I Know a Trick Worth Two of ThatTor BooksSamuel HoltSam Holt
1987What I Tell You Three Times Is False Tom Doherty Associates Samuel HoltSam Holt
1988Trust Me on ThisMysterious PressDonald E. WestlakeSara Joslyn
1989Sacred MonsterMysterious PressDonald E. Westlake
1989The Fourth Dimension Is DeathTom Doherty AssociatesSamuel HoltSam Holt
1990Drowned HopesMysterious PressDonald E. WestlakeDortmunderCrosses over with the 1992 Joe Gores novel 32 Cadillacs
1991The Perfect Murder: Five Great Mystery Writers Create the Perfect Crime HarperCollins Jack Hitt with Lawrence Block, Sarah Caudwell, Tony Hillerman, Peter Lovesey, Donald E. Westlake Collaborative novel, devised and edited by Hitt. Westlake contributes two chapters.
1992HumansMysterious PressDonald E. Westlake
1993Don't AskMysterious PressDonald E. WestlakeDortmunder
1994Baby, Would I Lie?Mysterious PressDonald E. WestlakeSara Joslyn
1995SmokeMysterious PressDonald E. Westlake
1996What's the Worst That Could Happen?Mysterious PressDonald E. WestlakeDortmunder
1997The AxMysterious PressDonald E. Westlake
1997 Comeback Mysterious PressRichard StarkParker
1998 Backflash Mysterious PressRichard StarkParker
2000The Hook Warner Books Donald E. WestlakePublished in the UK as Corkscrew
2000 Flashfire Mysterious PressRichard StarkParker
2001 Firebreak Warner BooksRichard StarkParker
2001Bad NewsWarner BooksDonald E. WestlakeDortmunder
2002Put a Lid on ItWarner BooksDonald E. Westlake
2002 Breakout Mysterious PressRichard StarkParker
2002The Scared Stiff Carroll & Graf Publishers Judson Jack CarmichaelPublished in the UK as by Donald E. Westlake
2003Money for NothingMysterious PressDonald E. Westlake
2004The Road to RuinMysterious PressDonald E. WestlakeDortmunder
2004 Nobody Runs Forever Mysterious PressRichard StarkParker
2005Watch Your Back!Mysterious PressDonald E. WestlakeDortmunder
2006 Ask the Parrot Mysterious PressRichard StarkParker
2007What's So Funny?Warner BooksDonald E. WestlakeDortmunder
2008 Dirty Money Grand Central Publishing Richard StarkParker
2009Get RealGrand Central PublishingDonald E. WestlakeDortmunder
2010Memory Hard Case Crime Donald E. WestlakeWritten in the 1960s, published posthumously.
2012The Comedy Is FinishedHard Case CrimeDonald E. WestlakeWritten in the early 1980s, published posthumously.
2017Forever and a DeathHard Case CrimeDonald E. WestlakeWritten in 1998, published posthumously.



Produced screenplays

Unpublished/unproduced works

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  7. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on August 26, 2010. Retrieved September 5, 2010.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
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  11. Westlake, Donald. "Don't Call Us, We'll Call You" and responses by Frederik Pohl, Donald Wollheim, Harry Warner, Jr., Steve Stiles and others, reprinted in: Lupoff, Richard A., & Pat Lupoff. The Best of Xero. Tachyon Publications, 2004, pp. 120 et seq.
  12. Poggiali, Philip. "Fall of the City: Bond 18 and Westlake", MI6 Confidential, no. 32, 2015, pp. 22–26.
  13. Egan, Sean. Ponies & Rainbows: The Life of James Kirkwood. Albany, GA: BearManor Media, 2015.
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  16. "Ghasem Ebrahimian", Winter Film Awards.