[Damnation Decade] The Gene Hackman of Authors

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[Damnation Decade] The Gene Hackman of Authors

Postby RobToth » Fri Jan 02, 2009 6:59 am

Donald Westlake, one of the great gold-plated crime authors, is dead at 75. His books are textbooks on style: No wasted words--even the jokes illuminate the characters--and he never, ever wrote pastiche. (e.g., no off-the-shelf noir metaphors, no tough-guy slang.) By now, it's a cliche to say that somebody writes like people talk, but Westlake not only pulls it off but turns it into art.

You can't go wrong with any of his books, but my favorites are his Parker novels (written as Richard Stark), about a single-minded thief and the world he runs in. Those are Westlake at his toughest; he also wrote an absurdist companion series, the Dortmunder novels, about a hapless crook whose schemes always explode in his face. (One of those books, maybe the first one, was the basis of a stellar '70s crime movie, The Hot Rock. The Parker books supplied a bunch of obscure '70s heist movies that I haven't seen, as well as a late-'60s oddball masterpiece, Point Blank.) I haven't read many of Westlake's standalone novels, but if The Ax isn't high art in pop form, I don't know what is.

R.I.P.! I'll bet he's figuring out how to sneak past St. Peter in a phony guard's uniform right now...
I operate under Seventies rules no matter what time it is.
--Donald Fagen
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