RARA-AVIS: Re: Donald E. Westlake, Mystery Writer, Is Dead at 75 (NYT obituary

From: JIM DOHERTY (jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 06 Jan 2009

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    Re your comment below:

    "What a string of recent losses: Evan Hunter, James Crumley, Tony Hillerman, and now Westlake..."

    To say nothing of Hillary Waugh, Julius Fast, Fred Grove, and Hitchcock screenwriter John Michael Hayes, all lost within the last quarter of the year.

    Personal story about Westlake some of you might find mildly interesting. I may have mentioned it on an ealier occasion.

    Some years ago, I was invited to contribute to an anthology of short stories called TALES FROM THE RED LION. The common thread was that all the stories would involve a famous English-style Chicago pub called the Red Lion.

    It happens that the Red Lion is right across the street from the Biograph Theatre, where John Dillinger shot it out with the FBI back in the early '30's, which inspired me to pit my series cop, Dan Sullivan, against a modern-day Dillinger. It occurred to me that, when it comes to modern-day Dillingers, Westlake, as Richard Stark, pretty much wrote the book (actually more than a dozen books). Consequently, I developed (I can't actually say I created) a character called "Karper," who was clearly meant to evoke Parker.

    In fact, he so clearly evoked Parker, that I thought, as a matter of courtesy at least, if not actual law, I should ask permission first. So I wrote him a letter explaining my idea, asked if he had any objection to my playing in his back yard, and enclosed a stamped, pre-addressed post card to facilitate his reply. On the postcard, I typed out three choices. NO OBJECTION. LET ME READ THE STORY FIRST AND I'LL LET YOU KNOW. And DON'T WRITE THE STORY. I asked him to check the one that matched his answer, and assured him that I'd abide by his decision.

    He sent the card back in short order, with the "NO OBJECTION" choice checked off, and wrote a little postscript in which he offered three to one odds that his series character would whup my series character in the final version of the story.

    That always seemed to me to indicate two fine qualities. First, he was a real gentleman who was willing to help a newcomer out. Second, he had a dry sense of humor that came through in virtually all of his books, even the non-comic ones.



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