RARA-AVIS: Donald Westlake, An Appreciation

From: jacquesdebierue (jacquesdebierue@yahoo.com)
Date: 02 Jan 2009

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    Donald Westlake: An Appreciation

    I owe my discovery of Donald Westlake to three separate coincidences that happened within a few weeks years ago another reason why I don't believe in coincidences. First, I found a beaten-up copy of Slayground, a relentless Parker novel, a hardboiled novel unlike any other I had read before. Second, I found a copy of The Hot Rock, which informed me that there was a P.G. Wodehouse in crime fiction and that his name was Donald Westlake. The third one was a used volume by one Tucker Coe, the novel _A Jade in Aries_, which I found both magnetic and devoid of Chandler-Hammett-Macdonald schtick. It didn't take me long to find out that all three authors were one and the same, which surprised me and made me wonder for a moment if this were not an industrial operation. If so, it was the highest quality operation the literary-industrial complex had ever produced.

    Later, as I started catching up with the Dortmunder and Parker series, the latter not always easy to find, and with the new books that Westlake kept publishing with amazing consistency and regularity. I started connecting the styles and to see the literary carpentry that made Westlake's books both absorbing and enduring. Pick up any Westlake book and you can be assured it's rereadable, just like Wodehouse, Chandler and Ring Lardner are rereadable. I started to realize that this genre writer (I should say "multigenre" writer) was on a par with the greatest authors in crime fiction. I then tried to fill all the gaps in my Westlake collection, which is close to complete and not a single book has failed to be reread!

    Who can forget Westlake? From Parker's long-running series, likely the best hardboiled series ever published, to his late realist noir masterpieces _The Ax_ and _The Hook_, from Levin (too little remembered) to Mitch Tobin, to his excursions into science fiction and various hybrid experiments? Who can forget the adventures of _The Busy Body+, a masterpiece that combines real adventure with dry humor running through it but never breaking the spell?

    Taken as a whole, the work of Donald Westlake is second to none in the annals of crime fiction. His breadth is unmatched, his style rings true regardless of setting, and his sense of humor and demonstrated intimate knowledge of human nature is a gift that future generations of readers will rediscover once and again. We have lost a contemporary classic of American literature.

    Mario Taboada Rara-Avis

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