RARA-AVIS: Re: Donald E. Westlake, a bit tardy

From: dermdocsx2 (dermdocsx2@cox.net)
Date: 06 Jan 2009

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    Sorry if I am arriving at this Westlake appreciation a bit late, given all the testaments that have been posted, but I wanted to share a bit as a dedicated fan.

    I greatly enjoyed the Stark and Westlake novels, especially the Starks. What struck me most was the professionalism that came through in the writing, especially given the circumstances of sometimes a penny a word. Like John D. MacDonald, Lawrence Block, and others, Westlake was a very versatile writer who excelled in whatever it took to give a professional, polished fictional story. The ability to create and make it entertaining was awe-inspiring to say the least.

    Also, I am struck by how much influence he had over the years, especially with the prototype of Parker. In the latter half of the twentieth century, he essentially pioneered the criminal/antihero as series protagonist. Max Allan Collins acknowledges the direct influence on his Nolan series, and his Quarry series owes to Westlake as well. Garry Disher's Australian Wyatt series is a Parker Down Under and I think even Andrew Vachss's Burke series owes a debt to Parker. Dan Simmons's Joe Kurtz was the illegitimate son of Parker and Tom Piccirilli's Cold Spot is the story of an alternate universe Parker as a grandfather. The influence will continue to be felt.

    I think one of the most interesting things is the liberation that a pseudonym gave a talented writer. Richard Stark became Westlake's hardboiled alter ego and essentially "branded" the type of writing Westlake wanted to pursue. Readers knew what kind of story they were getting with a Stark, and knew that with a Westlake, they would get a more lighthearted, if not downright hilarious, story. Perhaps the only other current writer who can be allowed such diversity without a pseudonym is Lawrence Block, whose Scudder and Burglar novels traverse the extremes as did Westlake/Stark. The tradition of branding is I think well established, often to allow an author more freedom: Evan Hunter was Ed McBain, John Camp is John Sandford, Reed Farrel Coleman is Tony Spinosa, Tim Cockey is Richard Hawke, John Banville is Benjamin Black. I believe these authors, with the exception of McBain, owe much of their literary freedom to a tradition paved by Westlake. Like McBain, McDonald, and others, Westlake had too much talent for one nom de plume to contain.

    Finally, I hope the group doesn't find this sacrilegious: could a talented and loyal friend of Westlake's (Block and Collins come to mind) be considered by Westlake's heirs to continue the adventures of Parker? Collins was the chosen heir to Mickey Spillane for the Mike Hammers, having finished the recent Goliath Bone. Perhaps the adventures of Parker don't have to end, but even they are over, what a fantastic body of work they represent alone, and when taken with all of Westlake's other work, what a tremendous legacy this great author has left.

    Patrick Lee

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