"KEEP BUSTIN'."

Vern eulogizes the great Donald E. Westlake

Well, shit. The first bummer of 2009, or the last one of 2008. Turns out last night before his New Year’s Eve dinner the great mystery writer Donald Westlake collapsed and died. He was 75.

Westlake was a hell of a prolific writer. He started in 1960 and delivered books faster than his agent thought he should. Supposedly it was bad to try to promote more than one book in a year, so he started using pseudonyms. Under the Westlake name he wrote around 50 books – add in the pen names and that number doubles. Movies based on his books include THE HOT ROCK (a fun Robert Redford heist comedy recently reviewed by Quint), BANK SHOT, A SLIGHT CASE OF MURDER and the most recent Costa-Gavras movie THE AX. He was also a screenwriter who sometimes adapted other writers – Patricia Highsmith for RIPLEY UNDER GROUND, Dashiel Hammett for a TV anthology, Jim Thompson for THE GRIFTERS (he was nominated for an Oscar for that one). Personally I think his best screenplay is THE STEPFATHER, which does such a great job of including dark satire of ’80s family values in the subtext of an effective thriller. He was often known for lighthearted and goofy material but he was definitely good at the mechanics of a tight mystery or thriller story.

The reason this one hits me hard is that one of the other writers hidden beneath the friendly Westlake exterior was Richard Stark. If you had asked me yesterday I would’ve told you Stark was my favorite living writer. Aside from four spinoffs about an actor/thief named Grofield, Stark’s entire output was the 24 novels of the Parker series. These are the sparsely written, ridiculously badass adventures of a guy who plans heists, then leads the team executing them. He’s the best at what he does, knows how to work with the best people, and is usually disciplined enough to follow his rules and obey his instincts. But something always goes wrong anyway and that’s his other job, the problem solver. The guy who cleans up the mess. Usually, but not always, he’s able to outsmart and outfight everybody and get away with his ass intact, and most of the loot.

Part of what makes Parker a fascinating character, somehow, is his lack of humanity. He’s all business. He doesn’t have quirks, hobbies, or emotions. He doesn’t have attachments. He only sees women after a job, not during. Too risky. In so many crime stories the smartest guy still gets screwed because he thinks with his dick. Parker knows not to do that.

Parker has been put on film many times, but with more humanity and (like Westlake) not under his original name. The best and most famous is POINT BLANK starring Lee Marvin and based on the first Parker book, The Hunter. Marvin is so god damn tough as “Walker” that it’s hard not to think of him as the perfect image of Parker, even though the character (and arty feel) are pretty different from the pulpy, straightforward novel. Other actors have followed but, like pretty much all men, they’re no Lee Marvin.

One notable not-Lee-Marvin is Mel Gibson, who played “Porter” in PAYBACK, also based on The Hunter. I think both the fun theatrical version and the more harsh director’s cut are worth watching, and even if it’s not as good a movie as POINT BLANK it’s a little closer to Westlake’s characterization. Too bad they didn’t turn it into a series like James Bond. They wouldn’t even have to keep Gibson, because in the second book (The Man With the Getaway Face) he gets plastic surgery to hide out.

Another good Stark-based movie is THE OUTFIT starring Robert Duvall as “Macklin.” That one’s based on my favorite of the books, the third one, where he gets fed up running from the criminal organization he pissed off in The Hunter/Point Blank/Payback and takes the war to them. He convinces all his friends to simultaneously rob the Outfit’s affiliates, so you get several heists for the price of one. The book is better, of course, but the movie’s good. It was directed by John (OUT FOR JUSTICE) Flynn but, like his masterpiece ROLLING THUNDER, has only been released on VHS. Both are well worth searching for.

Lesser Parker-based movies include Godard’s MADE IN U.S.A. (supposedly based on The Jugger, but to me it just seemed like tedious new wave fucking around with American iconography) and the okay SLAYGROUND with Peter Coyote as “Stone.” Then there are two not on video in the U.S. so I have no idea how good they are: THE SPLIT (with Jim Brown as “McClain”!) and the French MISE A SAC (based on The Score, a great book where Parker’s crew tries to take down a whole mining town).

Westlake wrote all his books on manual typewriters, but he he still managed to have a good (if rarely updated) donaldwestlake.com. He was still writing at 75, and the Parker novels were still going. I’m not sure if he would have wanted to write a last one or not, but it turns out the last one is last year’s Dirty Money. He had stopped in ’74 but started up again with Comeback in ’97. I can’t vouch for the new ones because I haven’t gotten to them yet – I was reading them in order and I can’t find The Sour Lemon Score. Then I have a couple books after that but when I get to Plunder Squad and Butcher’s Moon I’m fucked

I highly recommend reading The Hunter and any others you can find. The first three are supposed to be adapted into comic books in the next couple years, but I dare you to read them without pictures first. For more information check out The Violent World of Parker. Also, talkbackers please recommend your favorite of Westlake’s non-Parker books. 361 was a nice and brutal one reprinted by Hard Case Crime, but I would like to be enlightened about the many other styles he wrote in.

Donald Westlake, aka Richard Stark/Tucker Coe/Samuel Holt/Edwin West/Curt Clark/Timothy J. Culver/John B. Allan/J. Morgan Cunningham

1933-2008

–Vern

Originally posted at Ain’t-It-Cool-News: http://www.aintitcool.com/node/39641

View the archived Ain’t-It-Cool-News Talkback

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 1:22 a.m. CST

    RIP

    by Fat and Curious

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 1:26 a.m. CST

    Payback was a great movie

    by the milf lover

    I still need to see the director’s cut. Cant say I know anything else about Mr. Westlake as I am not much of a reader at all. Still, my condolences to his loved ones on their loss.

    On a different note, you say “They wouldn’t even have to keep Gibson, because in the second book (The Man With the Getaway Face) he gets plastic surgery to hide out.” What? So that means Frank Miller stole that bit for Dwight when he did it in Sin City: A Dame To Kill For? Damn.

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 1:32 a.m. CST

    Nicely done Vern!

    by Clarence Boddicker

    A good read and educational at the same time. I’ve never read his works…perhaps now I will.

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 1:35 a.m. CST

    RIP Dortmunder

    by DonRivella

    Westlake was unbelievably prolific. I usually try to stay away from authors who publish books more frequently than I vacuum my house, but you can’t go wrong with Westlake. While not all his books are masterpieces, none of them has disappointed me. I find it remarkable that he managed to write both one of the funniest (Dortmunder) and one of the most bad ass (Parker) crime series. If you don’t know the man’s work, check it out, it’s not too late.

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 1:54 a.m. CST

    Westlake was great

    by Continentalop

    I saw “Point Blank” years ago (and just bought it for my dad for Christmas) and that influenced me to go out and read his Richard Stark/Parker series. The funny thing is, as big as fan as I am of Westlake’s novels and his screenplays, I did not know until now that he wrote the script for “The Stepfather”. I guess there is always something new to learn.

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 2:08 a.m. CST

    Westlake was the best

    by brisco1138

    I had the pleasure of interviewing him two years ago for a 20th anniversary article I wrote about the making of The Stepfather. He said he loved talking about the movie because it was one of his few good experiences with Hollywood. He told some great stories, including how the filmmakers couldn’t change even ONE word in the script unless Westlake approved of it (that was written into his contract — a contract, he joked, that should be in the Smithsonion!). He was a truly talented man whose presence will be missed. RIP Don… We talked for a couple of hours, but you treated me as if we had been friends for life.

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 2:17 a.m. CST

    NOOOO

    by The Dum Guy

    I haven’t a word more to say

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 2:25 a.m. CST

    by The Dum Guy

    other than to say next to King, this is (well maybe Lovecraft) the only author I own more books written by.

    Although, I haven’t read them all, so there is more to read…

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 2:53 a.m. CST

    RIP

    by Xiphos_2

    Man I just reread the Hunter for like the tenth time about a month ago. Westlake was quite the writer. Thank you sir, for the many fine hours I spent immerssed in your worlds.

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 2:57 a.m. CST

    R.I.P, good sir…

    by FilmCritic3000

    He was and always will be a classic, a legend for all time.

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 3:43 a.m. CST

    Top work Vern

    by palimpsest

    I’ll have to go and re-read some Westlake now…

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 4:19 a.m. CST

    Godspeed

    by Bloo

    You were a great writer weather it be in novels or screenplays. You influenced countless people, Godspeed

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 5 a.m. CST

    Vern isn’t supposed to bring bad news…

    by Alonzo Mosely

    I loved me some Parker, and it is amazing, or perhaps it isn’t, that we never got a faithful adaptation…

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 5:25 a.m. CST

    Great Obit Vern

    by IAmMrMonkey!

    I’m ashamed that I wasn’t aware of this great man’s work; I wasn’t even aware that Point Blank was based on one of his novels but you’ve got my interest in reading the Parker books now. RIP Donald Westlike

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 6:06 a.m. CST

    Tedious new wave fucking around w/ (U.S.) iconography

    by PTSDPete

    And THAT’S Goddard for you, fellas ! Especially during his quasi-Marxist, pseudo-‘ Anti American ‘ times, of basically salivating over blond U.S. girls and getting real angry at Flash Gordon comics ( or something ). And that supposedly ‘ Maoist ‘ ‘ La Chinoise ‘, MAAAAAAAN. Tom Clancy is a real bigger – and more relevant – U.S. policy critic than HIM, back there. Or ever. </p> I do respect him as a filmmaker, of course : admire his mastery of technique, like some of his films ( albeit most of them tending to dissolve into this ‘ lovey dovey ‘ schtick ), approve his view and use of film as continuing argumentation ( hence, ‘ the film essay ‘ ), hated his pomposity. Most especially the seemingly base-level impetus behind it, w/c looks to me as him vainly trying to resolve his horniness with girls, and a sort of loud, irascible, amorphic sense of ‘ politics ‘ you won’t think he’d actually dignify in the streets. Just a random series of frustrations he’s simply indulging in . We know that the thought of an American empire sucks, but please don’t get toke up on it as some indulgence you can afford ! Like his crusade, it all ends up aimless, in bordering on NOTHING. He dourly scoffs at America’s everything, yet has been living off its iconoclasms for YEARS. </p> ( And his whole ‘ tirade ‘ with Spielberg. Completely and utterly ridiculous. Dang, isn’t the guy not Jew enough for ya ?( Not to sound Anti-Semitic, but not to be exactly pro-Israeli-Imperial-Neofascist-Agression War Machine, either ). The fact he seems to be less sympathetic to Oscar Schindler’s ‘ wife ‘ in Argentina, as he argued , and more to the ACTUAL HOLOCAUST VICTIMS’ DESCENDANTS he’s been helping with his Hollywood carreer blatantly speaks otherwise ! )</p></p> That’s why it’s Jean Pierre Melville that I feel is the best among all of them Nouevelle Vague. He’s the only one who actually buckles down and focuses on MAKING GREAT FILMS, more than merely talking about them; honing his arguments truly fine. He should have been the one to do those ‘ Parker ‘ novels like you described.

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 6:28 a.m. CST

    They are re-releasing all of the Parker Novels

    by aint_it_cruel?

    http://www.donaldwestlake.com/wks_bkex5.html. But only three a year. Affordable copies of Sour Lemon, Plunder and Butchers should be available in 2011-2012…

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 7:20 a.m. CST

    Lemons Never Lie was good, too

    by Cruel_Kingdom

    I’ve found that anything written by Westlake/Stark is worth a read. I love crime novels, and Westlake was one of the kings of the genre. The only book I couldn’t get through was Ask the Parrot. Not sure why I couldn’t make it through, but it just never caught my interest. I kind of think Westlake/Stark was one of those guys, like just about every writer you can think of, whose work got a little more watered-down the older he got. But those early 60s and 70s novels are always fantastic. I’ve read The Hunter a couple of times, and I love that the best. The writer may die, but his work will live on… RIP, Donald Westlake/Richard Stark.

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 7:23 a.m. CST

    MilfLover

    by Cruel_Kingdom

    I don’t necessarily think you can say Miller stole that plastic surgery bit from Westlake. That’s kind of an old staple of the genre. Ever see Dark Passage? It’s this great old movie where Humphrey Bogart is on the lam and he gets plastic surgery and spends half the movie with a bandage over his face. Definitely worth a watch, my friend.

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 7:57 a.m. CST

    Never read his stuff

    by Charlie_Allnut

    Sound right up my alley though. I actually liked the theatrical version of Payback more then the Directors cut… Lee Marvin may have been the toughest, most badass man to grace the silver screen.

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 8:05 a.m. CST

    Dont forget Dortmunder

    by m_prevette

    Everyone loves his brutal pulpy crime stuff…but I’ll always love Westlake for the Dortmunder books…great tight plotting and freakin’ hilarious…

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 8:05 a.m. CST

    Serious Bummer– R.I.P. Richard Stark

    by Laserhead

    At least U of Chicago press is re-releasing all of the Parker novels, three a season, with cool new covers and introductions by John Banville. Damn. Part of me just thought that Westlake would go on forever…

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 8:07 a.m. CST

    milf lover

    by Laserhead

    Frank Miller stole just about every single plot trope and line of dialogue in the Sin City series. The plot of ‘A Dame to Kill For’ is one of the most recycled of all time.

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 8:47 a.m. CST

    Wow, sad news.

    by johnnyangelheart

    I just finished reading the latest Stark book, Dirty Money, a few weeks ago and now there will be no more. Mel should make some more Stark movies. He has that crazy energy that isn’t really right for the character Parker, but is a lot of fun on film anyway. I agree that Lee Marvin had the quiet cool to be the perfect Parker but he too alas is gone.

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 9:11 a.m. CST

    Bummer

    by toxicbuddha

    I am with you on the Stark Parker novels Vern. I love those books and that character.

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 9:21 a.m. CST

    RIP Westlake. Here is a link Vern

    by CarmillaVonDoom

    Abebooks is usually the place to go to find rarer stuff. Not sure what your budget is, but it appears that there are some *cheaper* but not cheap copies out there.

    http://tinyurl.com/7m6shx

    You’re welcome! ☺

    Westlake will be missed!

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 9:23 a.m. CST

    Also, there is always the library!

    by CarmillaVonDoom

    Unless you are some type of germ-phobic. Support your local library!

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 9:27 a.m. CST

    I’ve read several of hs books (by Westlake and Stark)

    by YackBacker

    He had a great sense of humor- very dark and playful, like Vern said. All you have to do is watch THE GRIFTERS and see what Westlake’s mind was capable of producing. I haven’t read a book by the man for several years, but his stories always stuck in my mind. His talent is available for anyone to enjoy in his volumes of books.
    Rest in peace, Mr…. all of you.

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 9:31 a.m. CST

    Dominic West should play Parker in a new film

    by YackBacker

    That guy may be British, but like Christian Bale, he don’t sound British when he wants.

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 10:07 a.m. CST

    YackBacker

    by Xiphos_2

    Good Call on Dominic West as Parker. I’ve been racking my brain trying to think of somebody to play Parker and you nailed it. I thought Gibson was good but he’s to old now I think and most every other actor is too soft. Lee Marvin was the best.

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 10:14 a.m. CST

    When I was a kid

    by ButtfuckZydeco

    I had about 10 of the Parkers, in skinny little 2-titles-1-book paperbacks, with both books starting at one cover and meeting in the middle (they were upside down to each other).

    Good stuff. Slayground was always my favorite.

    The Burglar Who… series is also pretty good, though cutesy.

    RIP

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 10:50 a.m. CST

    He also wrote Supertrain

    by WIBoomer1

    He never talked about that…wonder why…!

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 11:09 a.m. CST

    Nackles

    by JimCurry

    Anyone ever read his horror-ish short story NACKLES, about the anit-Santa Claus? Creepy stuff…

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 11:36 a.m. CST

    R.I.P

    by Jim Bolo

    Bad, bad news. I was lucky enough to meet him a few years back when he came to London to introduce a screening of Point Blank at the NFT and to talk about his work afterwards. Still got the autographed ticket stub. There were some great anecdotes, some quality thoughts and observations. I remember coming away from it thinking how how articulate the guy seemed. I wish I could remember more about the night, apart from Westlake saying Jack Palance was his first choice for Point Blank, and wished he’d chosen a different name for Parker as it was always a pain in the ass writing scenes about him driving that didn’t end with ‘Parker parks his car’.

    Of his more recent books, I finished Road To Ruin and Watch Your Back a couple of months ago. The Dortmunder books are a lot more light-hearted than the Parkers. Both made me laugh by the time I got to the final page. Farewell, Mr Westlake, you are missed already.

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 11:43 a.m. CST

    I found a Sour Lemon Score

    by Vern

    at a price that wasn’t too bad. Thanks for the help with that. Those other two will have to wait though. Also I got a nice email that convinced me I have to read all the Dortmunders. Anybody know any details about Westlake’s alleged work on Tomorrow Never Dies?

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 12:03 p.m. CST

    Westlake and Dortmunder will be missed.

    by danofan59

    Discovered Westlake in the seventh grade some decades back, beginning with The Hot Rock. Never got around to reading any of the Stark or Coe novels, though I did read one of the Holt books.

    I think the best Westlake adaptation, in terms of capturing the flavor of his writing, is the TV-movie “A Slight Case of Murder,” starring William H. Macy.

    It’s a shame that WB had “Help, I Am Being Held Prisoner” in development at one time, but never followed through. Would have made a great vehicle for Gene Wilder or, later, Robin Williams. Would also make a fun TV series.

    My favorite of the non-humorous ones of Westlake’s is “Killing Time,” which has been favorably compared to Hammett’s “Red Harvest” (and with good reason).

    Stephen King has also been a longtime Westlake fan, and incorporated references to Westlake’s books in his own novels before eventually writing “The Dark Half” as an homage to the Westlake/Stark relationship.

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 12:05 p.m. CST

    Oh, and for a real treat…

    by danofan59

    Visit Westlake’s web site. Hopefully it still contains the “Starship Hopeful” stories that were originally published in Playboy. Funny stuff, and again would make a good series.

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 12:31 p.m. CST

    Vern – check out Full Contact

    by Wyr

    Full Contact, starring Chow Yun-Fat. It’s an unofficial Hong Kong remake of Point Blank, directed by Ringo Lam.

    Very dark, violent and gritty. Excellent action scenes (fairly realistic ones as far as Hong Kong films go). Basic plot is the same, though there are changes to character motivation and the fates of certain characters.

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 12:50 p.m. CST

    Darwyn Cooke is adapting the Parker novels as comics

    by Laserhead

    Darwyne Cooke (The New Frontier) is going to be adapting the Parker books as comics for IDW, I think. First one comes out late this year.

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 2:02 p.m. CST

    Point Blank was on my Amazon list for years

    by Stormwatcher

    Before I got the email alert that it was available for pre-order. It took like 5 years. Man I love that movie, great DVD commentary, watch it with the Limey. I will read these books now based on Vern’s recommendation as I am total Vern lover. Dude knows the pulse of near middle age guys.

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 4:16 p.m. CST

    Westlake and Tomorrow Never Dies

    by JimCurry

    Supposedly Westlake wrote the original treatment for the flick, but it was never used. None of his ideas remain in the final product.

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 4:39 p.m. CST

    More Sad News That’s Not So Cool

    by darquelyte

    Jett Travolta, the 16 year old son of John Travolta and Kelly Preston died after apparently having a seizure and hitting his head in the bathtub of their vacation home in the Bahamas. My thoughts go out to his family. Tragic, horrible loss.

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 4:43 p.m. CST

    thanks

    by Vern

    I will check out FULL CONTACT, thanks for the tip Wyr. And Jim, thanks for the TOMORROW NEVER DIES info. Was it ever reported what his version was about?

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 5:24 p.m. CST

    darquelyte

    by Grammaton Cleric Binks

    I read that too. Apparently he’s had a history of seizures. It is quite sad anytime a father outlives his son.

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 5:37 p.m. CST

    Don’t bash Supertrain!

    by Stuntcock Mike

    Full Contact is totally insane. Insanly good.

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 6:19 p.m. CST

    Last Swing of the Sythe Takes Another Good One.

    by DatoMan413

    Man, 2008 sure was brutal. I didn’t know he was behind a lot of good stuff. Thoughts and prayers as always.

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 9:20 p.m. CST

    Parker’s

    by mxyzptlk

    I was able to find all of them with the assistance of my local library. I did end up purchasing a couple of the Grofield’s at affordable prices through used online book stores.

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 10:55 p.m. CST

    “Smoke” (If you’re into invisible men)

    by Somerichs

    Only book I’ve read from him thus far, and I can’t say i remember every detail as it’s been a good 10 or so years since I read it, but I do remember enjoying it at the time. It’s about a career thief who breaks into a lab where two docs are doing research for the tobacco industry, and then proceed to force him to take a drug that makes him invisible. Hilarity ensues…for reals…

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 10:59 p.m. CST

    Travolta has some very weird, weird requirements

    by Stormwatcher

    He was supposed to stay at a hotel I managed years ago and I had to have all the windows blacked out to the point that you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face, that was the instructions, then we were to remove all sheets from all the rooms, all scents, all products, all mirrors, all items that could be thrown, hurled, used to stab, bludgeon, impale ect… it was all in the instrutions. I was terrified of what this kid was going to be like, there was so many instructions and I have dealt with many, many, many celebrities and rich to do types this one scared the hell outta me. Not surprised it ended badly. All that Scientology stuff about not medicating.

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 11 p.m. CST

    Plunder Squad and Butcher’s Moon

    by Teapot Jones

    I turned on to the Parker novels two years ago, and also got stuck around Sour Lemon. This Christmas, my father (who has also become a big fan) gave me two 3-ring binders with Plunder and Butcher’s in them, which he got from library copies. Unethical, yes, but even as amazing as these books are, who wants to pay over $500 for them (and I thought the $300 it was going for a couple months ago was insane).

    Anyway, look forward to Slayground since you’re going in order, Vern. Probably my second-fav of the series after The Score.

    Also, a long-time fan of your work. Great to here you’re a Stark fan as well.

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 11:33 p.m. CST

    Vern, I’ve looked…

    by JimCurry

    Really can’t seem to find any info on what his treatment was about, but damn wouldn’t that be a cool little read… His Bond would prob resemble Craig more than Brosnan.

  • Jan. 3, 2009, 1:16 a.m. CST

    Damn, a Melville directed Parker might have been something

    by Guy Who Got A Headache And Accidentally Saves The World

    Or maybe it would have just been Point Blank with Alain Delon instead of Lee Marvin, who knows. I do know that’s a hell of a christmas present though, Teapot Jones.

  • Jan. 3, 2009, 12:41 p.m. CST

    Read his novel _Humans_

    by pablo2004

    It’s a terrific relgio/scifi story about the end of the world. I don’t understand how it hasn’t been optioned yet.

  • Jan. 3, 2009, 2:07 p.m. CST

    Such a fucking shame

    by Spaz_Monkey

    Westlake’s Dortmunder books were among my favorites. He was the polar opposite of Parker, a perennial fuck-up, in and out of prison, no guarantees that his capers would even result in a payday. But just so damn much fun to read.

  • Jan. 3, 2009, 8:46 p.m. CST

    Dortmunder wasn’t a fuck-up

    by Waylaid-by-jackassery

    He just had the most horrible luck in the world. It’s proof of his cleverness that he always managed to get out out of whatever trouble his bad luck got him into. If you just know the hard-boiled Westlake, you’ll be surprised how funny he could be. Oh and Jimmy the Kid features a sort-of crossover between Dortmunder and Parker. RIP Donald Westlake.

  • Jan. 7, 2009, 1:23 p.m. CST

    Vern try…

    by dannyocean

    this link to the Thrilling Detective site… a great listing for Westlake, with a chronology of Dortmunder/Parker storylines, how they crossover, spin-offs, etc.

    http://www.thrillingdetective.com/trivia/westlake.html

This entry was posted on Friday, January 2nd, 2009 at 2:19 am and is filed under AICN, Vern Tells It Like It Is. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

123 Responses to “Vern eulogizes the great Donald E. Westlake”

  1. Hey guys, has anyone read the new comic book THE OUTFIT by Darwyn Cooke? It’s excellent – it’s actually based on The Outfit novel and not on Butcher’s Moon like the movie was.

    The artist also did THE HUNTER last year – it’s a faithful, if a bit pedestrian adaptation (he actually had Westlake’s feedback and approval), and promises to do The Score in 2012 and Slayground (which is my favorite Parker novel) after that.

  2. I think I´ve read one of Westlakes books. I own it, but can´t rememeber which one.i´ll get back on this one. But this THE OUTFIT comic book sounds cool,man

  3. Actually, the best Stark/Westlake book to start with is 1997’s Comeback.

    Yearly Parker novels are kinda sloppily written and don’t have real plots (The Outfit in particular is a string of disconnected robberies with a hit at the end), but Comeback is a masterpiece by an artist at the top of his game. Not only Parker is awesomely bad-ass in this book (and he isn’t always), his rival is an equally hardcore criminal – kinda like a T-1000 to Parker’s T-800. Their final duel takes about a third of the book! The audio version especially is terrific.

    Another great one is 1971’s Slayground – it’s sorta DIE HARD in an abandoned amusement park… but with Parker in place of John McClane. The movie doesn’t really do it justice – it’s a tight, relentless, claustrophobic action novel, the absolute best of Westlake’s earlier stuff.

    All other Parker novels are more or less forgettable and interchangeable (with the notable exception of 2002’s BREAKOUT were Parker actually goes to prison) but are all good reads while they last.

  4. Wait a minute, THE OUTFIT is based on “Butcher’s Moon”? It seemed like a loose adaptation of “The Outfit” to me – he gets everybody to do jobs on the Outfit to get them back, and it had Handy McKay in it even.

    I haven’t read “Butcher’s Moon” yet because I’ve been reading them in chronological order, and “Plunder Squad” and “Butcher’s Moon” have been ridiculously expensive for many years, so that’s where I’m stuck. Actually “Plunder Squad” is apparently finally reprinted, but the store I like to get these type of books from is for some reason still waiting on their order.

    For what it’s worth “The Outfit” is probly my favorite of the books up to that point. “Slayground” I didn’t like that much. It’s cool that Stark mixes it up a little but by turning it into a DIE HARD/FIRST BLOOD type story it abandons most of what I like about the Parker stories for an only okay version of that type of thriller. It would’ve made a good movie though if the movie had anything to do with the book.

  5. billydeethrilliams

    November 6th, 2010 at 4:00 pm

    I’m on The Jugger right now. Funny that Westlake considers that a failure, because it’s certainly better than Two For the Money by Max Allan Collins, a Parker rip-off I recently read. I have all the current reprint editions, so I’ll just patiently wait until… April 2011! Ah fuck. Hey Vern, do you have a favorite so far? I’m going with The Hunter. Yeah I know shocking.

  6. Vern- On your recommendation from THE KILLERS talkback, I’ve read THE HUNTER and THE OUTFIT and I really dug both, particularly THE OUTFIT. I guess my biggest complaint about the Outfit is that it does such a great job showing the sprawling criminal community that you kind of lose track of Parker and I don’t think the conclusion he builds to is neccesarily as good as the build up. Great writer and great book though.

  7. billydeethrilliams

    November 6th, 2010 at 4:10 pm

    Well in this article I somehow missed you proclaiming The Outfit as your favorite. Yep, damn good. Some people complain about it being disjointed due to the series of heists, but to me that only the payoff at the end seem that much sweeter.

  8. billydeethrilliams

    November 6th, 2010 at 4:12 pm

    “only *makes* the payoff at the end seem that much sweeter”.

  9. Vern – Yes, I think it was Butcher’s Moon where they cut off Grofield’s finger and sent it to Parker. Only the first half of the movie is (sorta) based on The Outfit.

    About the reading order… after Comeback, it’s really an another series (although Handy McKay does come back there’s thankfully no Grofield in it) with the 2000’s and the Internet and whatnot, so it’s okay to read them both parallel.

  10. billy – What annoys me about THE JUGGER to no end is that it’s a classic mistery story that wastes a perfectly good Parker. He’s no detective, that’s for sure.

  11. Oh, and if anyone wants “Plunder Squad” or “Butcher’s Moon” (or any other Stark novel except for “Comeback” and “Nobody Runs Forever”) in PDF please email me at roachboygrr @ hotmail com. Cheers.

  12. I had never heard of Westlake before he was mentioned in this article. A year and a half afterwards, I bought 361 (at a dollar store, of all places), started reading it to pass a bit of time, and couldn’t put the damn thing down. It has to be the most focused revenge novel I’ve ever read.

    I think what I liked most was its ability to dispense with some of the usual elements of a crime mystery (there’s no love interest at all and no hint that there should even be one, for instance) without stripping out the potential thematic enrichment that those elements could provide (there are some pretty good reasons for the lack of a love interest). It was also cool how it didn’t shy away from some uncomfortable racial politics and didn’t glitz anybody up too much.

    I’m not a huge fan of adaptations, but I think that it could have been a pretty damn good movie. It’d be interesting to see what that story looks like without the protagonist’s inner monologue.

  13. I came across this article because I watched THE STING last night and wondered if Vern had reviewed it (no). Then I searched for Robert Redford and this was one of the very few results. Vern – you need to review more classics.

    Anyway, I love Donald Westlake but what little I’ve read of the Parker series I did not enjoy as much and actually the reason I don’t like them as much is the exact reason that Vern loves them (Parker’s lack of humanity). I will have to go back and read them. I’ve had the Darwyn Cooke comic adaptations of the Hunter and the Outfit on my bookshelf for years and never actually gotten around to the Outfit yet.

    Vern – you asked for non-Parker recommendations and I can’t recommend the Dortmunder series enough. You mentioned the HOT ROCK and BANK SHOT which are two of the earliest in that series (they also made a terrible Martin Lawrence out of WHAT’S THE WORST THAT COULD HAPPEN which is a good book). I haven’t read those or seen the movies but you can pretty much pick up any Dortmunder book and enjoy it; there’s about 15 of ’em. It’s basically a guy that plans various heists with his criminal pals that usually go awry in a hilarious way. I would say they are the complete opposite of Parker.

    Some others you should check out which are not crime novels and are all very funny:
    Smoke – his take on the Invisible Man
    Humans – his take on Good Omens (angels, apocalypse, etc.)
    Baby Would I Lie
    Trust Me on This

    I haven’t read anything that he wrote under other pseudonyms. They seem pretty hard to find in any case.

  14. I think the Quarry series by Max Allan Collins should be required reading. The Quarry character is kind of Parker filtered through Philip Marlowe.

  15. To clarify: Quarry is a hitman, not a thief. But plays inside a criminal world of professionals with rules si ilar to Parker. They are also darkly funny novels with some absurdist touches.

  16. I’ve given Collins a couple chances, but I gotta say I think he’s kind of a bad writer. Everything I’ve read of his feels superficial and phony. Fake pulp. Plus, his sentences lack snap, which is fatal in this genre. I think I have a couple of the Quarry books that Hard Case Crime put out so I’m willing to give one of them one last chance to change my mind, but he might end up on the pile with Robert Parker and Mickey Spillane: hard-boiled authors who are nowhere near as cool as they think they are.

    I did just read an old Westlake called PITY HIM AFTERWARD that I thought was a good mix of the more verbose Westlake sensibility and the unsentimental toughness of his Stark side. It had a disturbingly familiar villain and a unique mystery structure that couldn’t be replicated in any medium other than prose. It’s not at all comedic like the books Westlake is best known for. It’s closer to his screenplay for THE STEPFATHER. The man had so many different facets to his talent. I’ll read pretty much anything he wrote.

  17. I have become obsessed with the Hard Case Crime line. Thanks to them, I have discovered authors like Christa Faust and the Quarry series and there are just so many of them to choose from that I desperately want to read.

  18. Fuck yeah. I have a whole shelf dedicated to them myself. I’ll give anything they print a chance. The only bummer is when they introduce me to some old pulp novelist I love and then I can never find anything else by him. I particularly admired one called HOME IS THE SAILOR by Day Keene that’s in the Jim Thompson nightmare-noir vein. I also keep hoping they’ll do some Dan Marlowe reprints. I’ve always wanted to check him out and would appreciate some reasonably priced editions.

  19. Apparently they are gonna publish a Brian DePalma novel that he wrote for them. Yeah, right now I am throwing all my money at them, since even here in Sweden they are really cheap.

  20. No shit? That just became the only upcoming book release I’ll make it a point to buy the day of release. You seem more plugged into this than I am, so can you do me a favor and drop a heads up when it hits shelves?

    Speaking of my man BDP, anybody see DOMINO, his latest? Apparently it was one of those aborted international coproductions that fell apart somewhere along the line, but it’s got enough of that vintage De Palma flamboyance to overcome its kind of drab “DTV action thriller set in central Europe about spies or whatever” vibe and, honestly, I think the way it sort of vaults over big parts of plot they didn’t get a chance to film is an asset. I don’t want to oversell it but let me just say that the finale involves both De Palma’s usual obsession with voyeurism AND and a judiciously timed slow-mo kick to the nuts. The old man’s still got it.

  21. Are Snakes Necessary by Brian DePalma will be released March 17 2020

  22. I believe they also will release Double feature by Westlake this november.

  23. Regarding Collins and his prose. We are talking about a guy who has written everything from ROAD TO PERDITION to tie in novels to THE MUMMy and CSI. Let that sink in. He has written more books than there are sandpebbles on a moderate length beach.

    I have only read his Quarrels and the Ms Tree novels, which are all excellent. But I started to read his Nolan novels and they seem to carry some really substandrad prose. So he is a mixed bag of awful and fun pulp.

  24. Yeah, I’m pretty sure I haven’t read any of his upper tier stuff so that’s why I haven’t fully cut him off yet.

  25. Also, Majestyk. Hard Case Crime also takes submissions. So if you would send your finished novel to them and they would accept it and publish it, you’d most likely end up with a badass cover

  26. You know, I never considered that. I’d have to finish it first, though. I’ve been pumping out novella-length stories for the past few years and that has proven to be the perfect length for me. I’ve started finding most novels to be needlessly padded. I get to the halfway point and I start thinking “I could have done this in 75 pages.” But by this point I’ve got enough of them for a collection so maybe that’s an option. Can’t hurt to try, right?

  27. Well, the 200 pages or whatever the lengths of the books that Hard Crime publishes would be today considered novella length and mosty unpublishable by anyone else. They seem tobe thebest alternative for shorter fiction.

  28. I checked up on that Day Keene book you mentioned. It seemed to be in the same twistyturny noir vein of A TOUCH OF DEATH by Charles Williams which I loved.

  29. Good thinking. Also, I got a new one cooking in the ol’ brainpan that might be a bit longer than usual and also have the very pulpy title of KILL-DE-SAC so maybe that’ll be the one that’ll be my hard-boiled calling card.

  30. For non-Parker Westlake recommendations, I just finished one called 361, and I thought it was pretty good. Decent way to kill a couple afternoons

  31. “To kill a couple of afternoons” could be a slogan for Hard Case Crime. I just ordered some Westlakes they have published, including 361.

  32. I also enjoyed 361. I like early Westlake, before he’d fully separated his two authorial personae. It’s almost as tough as Stark but the prose gets to stretch its legs a little.

    Man, all this Hard Case talk has me excited to read one. I just have to finish this Chester Himes Coffin Ed and Grave Digger Jones novel I’m working on, which should be in the next few days. I got a Hard Case from the mid-eighties called STRAIGHT CUT that seems to be set in or around the Italian film industry so that might be the call while I still have ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD on the brain. Unless someone can make a compelling case for either THE FIRST QUARRY or THE LAST QUARRY, neither of which seem to be true to their titles. Some real FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER shit going on here.

  33. The Quarry titles you mention are not my favourites of the ones I have read. Especially not The First Quarry, which is a sort of origin story.
    Quarrys first hit.so it is sort of true tothe title. While The Last Quarry was never the last. My favourites of the ones I have read are the earlier stuff. Quarrys cut, which is a weird locked room mystery in a porn film set. And Quarrys Vote which has unfortunatelysom political resonance even today. I still have six Quarrys left. Three I have lying here, and the three last are on their way.

    I am reading Christa Fausts Choke Hold, the seco d Angel Dare nivel. The first one was excellent. About Angel dare, a former pornstar who is left for dead in thetrunk of a car. It takes the archetypical rape revenge story and makes it feel way more authe ntic thanks to Fausts female gaze prose and makes Dare oe of the more compelling literary characters I have encountered. This second one seems very good as well. I wishthere were more daring adventures with this former porn star asskicker.

  34. The Angel Dare books sound awesome, man. I’ll be on the lookout for those.

  35. Unfortunatly, there are only two Angel Dare inthe series at the moment. MONEY SHOT and CHOKEHOLD. It is a shame that when you find a series you fallin love with and you almost immediately run out of books, which never happened to me in the realm of crime fiction. But It seems like Faust is working on a third novel.

    Hard Case has also published quite a few crime comics. And one of them seems really interesting that Christa Faust has written. PEEPLAND, that takes place in the seedy New York in the 80’s, which seems like sort of auto biographical as she used to be a peepbooth worker in New York back in the day and the comic depicts that world.

  36. Oh, also- gotta give a shout-out to THE NAME OF THE GAME IS DEATH by Dan Marlowe (saw Mr. M mention him earlier), which was recommended to me in the only positive interaction I ever had on Twitter, when I saw Michael Kupperman talking about the Parker books and butted in. It’s mean as hell, and I got lucky and found it cheap at a local used place.

  37. Speaking of crime comics, if you guys haven’t read Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ stuff, you should do that right away. All the series they have done together are great, but you guys would definitely dig CRIMINAL the most followed by FADE OUT and KILL OR BE KILLED. My personal favourite is SLEEPER but it is a tiny bit superhero-ey so that might put you off.

  38. Thanks for the recommendations! If there is one I will get to first is probably PEEPLAND since i enjoyed Fausts singular voice in the Angel Dare novels.

    Read NORMANDY GOLD? I was looking at that as well.

  39. HALLSY- Oh man, I love Brubaker and Phillips’ CRIMINAL. Great stuff. I love that you can read every collection individually and separately, but it still kind of builds up into this whole scummy, evil little universe. There’s the right mix of guys who are genuine bad guys and guys who you can kind of sympathize with, and I love the period flashback issues. I remember me and a friend of mine met Brubaker at a convention years ago and got him to sign some issues, and my buddy asked for a recommendation for an underrated crime movie. Without even a second’s hesitation he suggested THE SILENT PARTNER, which we rented that night, much to our delight. It’s a good one, too.

  40. CRIMINAL does look great, the few pages I tried on Google Play. Somehow I find comics come across better on digital pad devices than in paperback form as the artwork of full splash double pages does not suffer bindnings as bad.

  41. If you track down the individual issues of Criminal, they had a column at the end with guest writers recommending bad ass noir movies and books. I actually bought the silent partner on dvd based on that but never actually watched it (I moved to Ireland last year and most of my dvds and comics are still sitting in the Cayman Islands).

  42. The CRIMINAL comics are so, so good. I’ve revisited CRIMINAL: LAST OF THE INNOCENT a lot. “You can never trust a junkie.”

  43. CRIMINAL is great. I also liked Brubaker’s FATALE, which is a blend of noir and Lovecraftian horror. Not for pulp purists; it would probably infuriate Mr. Majestyk.

  44. I’m no pulp purist. Most pulp is garbage anyway so it’s not like there’s some noble legacy to uphold. But if you’re going to write in the pulp tradition, I insist you write it with conviction, not like some cutesy pastiche. I like the spirit of pulp, not all the warmed-over cliches. If all an author has is tough guys in hats slinging outdated slang, he can miss me with that shit.

    I’m pretty sure I read some if not all of FATALE, but like 99% of all the comics I read back when I read comics, it has faded entirely from memory. Brubaker is one of the few real writers in the field, though, so I’m sure the problem is just my lack of engagement with the medium, not the work itself.

    I actually first heard about Marlowe from an issue of CRIMINAL. I promptly forgot all details except “crime author named Marlowe,” and try googling those keywords and see where that gets you. I finally managed to remember his full name with the assistance of a helpful mystery bookstore owner just a few weeks ago.

  45. Hallsy: THE SILENT PARTNER is great, and the fact that you haven’t watched it yet is a blessing, because now you can save it for Christmas like it’s meant to be seen. If you can get it out of your secret stash in the Caymans, of course. (That’s some Elmore Leonard shit right there. Respect.)

  46. Maj: Don’t mean to mischaracterise you, I just figure you like your hard-boiled crime straight-up and undiluted by nerd shit. You aren’t alone in your assessment, a lot of people think it’s meandering and forgettable (esp. compared to CRIMINAL). But I liked it.

  47. I definitely remember preferring CRIMINAL. I like my noir street level, and I seem to recall FATALE dealt more with the “depravities of the idle rich” end of the noir spectrum, which certainly has its place but is less interesting to me. It tends to entail more scenes of people in suits talking, which are a pox on all the narrative arts in my opinion. I liked the concept of mixing Lovecraftian horror with noir though. I’m not against genre mashing if it’s done well. I’m not made of stone.

  48. THE FADE OUT is worth a look too, though it seems a bit forgotten these days. In my opinion it has a less unique premise than FATALE, but better execution. It sits very squarely in that James Ellroy “depravities of the studio system and ‘50s Los Angeles” kind of genre, depending on how you feel about that.

    A different recent Brubaker piece I really enjoyed was VELVET, which is basically a riff on James Bond where the gimmick is what if Moneypenny was secretly the best agent in the department. If you’re into ‘60s/‘70s type of Bond flicks or OUR MAN FLINT, it’s worth a look!

  49. Started reading BROTHERS KEEPERS by Westlake. More in his comedic mode which I highly enjoyed. And in yet another nice looking Hard Case release. You can start an art museum solely inhabited by their covers artwork.

  50. But I have become maybe too self aware when I read one of their books in public. I was reading SO NUDE, SO DEAD on the bus. It has that gorgeously lurid cover of a dead naked woman in bed. And I tried to read the book so the cover would not be visible. Pretty silly, I know.

  51. Eh, I don’t think it’s silly. Those covers *are* pretty, uh, evocative. It’s not exactly the same thing, but I felt similarly when I was reading a David Foster Wallace book (HUMBLEBRAG) a couple years ago. I was kinda embarrassed to be seen reading it on the bus in case anyone thought I was the kind of pretentious glasses-wearing white guy asshole who would read a David Foster Wallace book for fun, even though that’s clearly exactly what I was.

  52. That is nice to hear. Speaking of pure pulp, I have been reading THE BIG BOOK OF BLACK MASK MAGAZINE which features some of the great names and some of the lesser. I love these omnibuses of pute unadultered pulp with its contrived narratives. It is really pulp fiction at its barest and leanest

    There is a lot of fillers, but what stuck out was one story by the psueudonym Ramon Decolta featuring a filipino detective working out of Manila.This is a 1930’s pulp story featuring Jo Gar, a filipino detective,completely lacking the usual derogatory asian slang. Jo Gar is just doing God’s legwork in dealing out justice. I loved it.

  53. Ha! I read SO NUDE, SO DEAD on the subway HOPING somebody would notice it. A title like that really ought to start a conversation.

    Nothing. I tell you, nobody’s got any class anymore.

  54. I am prude as fuck and was hoping noone noticed. Great book, though.

  55. Guys I love living in a big city. I went over the used bookstore here after you guys made me want to read more crime stuff. Right inside the door they had a ton of Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane on sale. Then I went to the crime section and they had an entire separate shelf full of just Hard Case books that I never noticed before. I picked up both of those Angel Dare books. They had a bunch of Quarry ones which I will probably go back for. Also got a cheap Lawrence Block omnibus of Scudder books and the new James Ellroy that I didn’t even know was out yet. I couldn’t find any Dan Marlowe though.

    But those Hard Case covers…yeah, I would be a bit embarrassed even bringing some of those up to the counter!

  56. I hope you enjoy the Angel Dare books. I just finished Westlakes BROTHERS KEEPERS that Hard Case put out. It was…..not what I expected itto be. The back of the book promised a bunch of monks of an obscure order pulling off a caper to save their monastary from being torn down and replaced by office buildings. Instead of monk pulp, I got an instrospective rumination of life in modern time withWestlakes usualflair for wit and satirical humour. Not a lot is goingg on in the book frankly, but it is good to see Westlake flexing different kind of literary muscles, because this is not even crime fiction.

  57. Lawrence Block is one of those writers i have heard tremendous things about, but never read anything of. I have a couple of Hard Case releases coming my way ofhis. At the same time I paid one dollar for his first Matt Scudder novel, which I have started reading. I am still on the fence on that series. I liked the Liam Neeson film well enough, but that film felt a little flat in some aspects.

  58. Block’s greatness isn’t immediately apparent. I remember reading three or four of his books before I finally grasped what was great about them: I’d read something like 600 pages of his work and hadn’t “noticed” a single sentence, meaning there wasn’t a single piece of writing that made me think of it as a piece of writing, good or bad, which lets the reader become immersed in the story without constantly being reminded that it’s a story. It takes a lot of skill, taste, and humility for a writer to get out of his own way like that, and he does it with astonishing consistency given how prolific he is.

    Block’s Hard Case releases are all his very early stuff, I believe, which is good pulp but doesn’t really show off the invisible craftsmanship I’m talking about. I recommend WHEN THE SACRED GINMILL CLOSES from the Scudder series on that front. It’s the one where Block really starts to deal with Scudder’s alcoholism. The series had been a little generic up to that point but after that its themes and tone really came into focus. There’s something about the “one day at a time” philosophy of AA that really fits Scudders pragmatic yet melancholy take on detective work.

  59. I haven’t read any Lawrence Block other than the Bernie Rhodenbarr burglar series. I love those and have read them all so decided it was time to check out his other stuff – which I expect to be very different. The Bernie series is very light and very similar in tone to Westlake’s Dortmunder series. For the last two months, I have been bingeing (is that spelled right?) those two series with the occasional Tom Robbins or Kinky Friedman thrown in.

    I need to get THE BORDER by Don Winslow to finish that series but I am building up to it. That is a giant brick of a book but I would recommend that trilogy of books to all of you (start with POWER OF THE DOG and then THE CARTEL). Winslow’s other stuff ranges from OK to good but those books are great. Especially if you are waiting for the next NARCOS season to come out.

    I would think you guys would all be big James Ellroy fans right? His last couple of books have not really done it for me but his LA stuff was really great and AMERICAN TABLOID and COLD SIX THOUSAND blew my mind.

  60. Don Winslow is awesome. I finished the Cartel trilogy a month ago. I can whole heartedly recommend THE FORCE. It is just as good.

  61. Finished THE BORDER a few months back. There are some scenes of sheer cruelty that are hard to stomach. Also the “Next Gen” Cartel Leader are a shadow of the ones in THE CARTEL. Still i enjoyed it a great deal.

    You probably learn everything you want to know about the War on Drugs by reading Winslow’s Cartel Trilogy.

  62. The Undefeated Gaul

    September 12th, 2019 at 3:23 am

    Just ordered POWER OF THE DOG and THE CARTEL – thanks for the recommendations guys. I was looking for some new shit to get into and this sounds perfect.

  63. Those books are basically unputdownable. But they are really grimy and grisly because of the subject matter since it is as close to pure evil real lifegets. The way Winslow weaves an on the surface conventional cops and robbers thriller with historical fiction makes for a really engrossing read.

  64. The Undefeated Gaul

    September 12th, 2019 at 8:30 am

    I like grimy and grisly, so that shouldn’t be a problem! Looking forward to get into them.

  65. Oh, THE POWER OF THE DOG sounds like extremely my shit, gonna order that now.

    HALLSY- Ellroy’s early work is fantastic. L.A. CONFIDENTIAL is one of my absolute favorite novels of all time, I think it’s a masterpiece. THE BIG NOWHERE is almost as good, but I just have never quite been able to get into his later stuff like WHITE JAZZ or THE COLD SIX THOUSAND, the style didn’t work for me. I should give them another shot though, it’s been quite a few years since I last tried.

  66. Yeah, I read the first one was it THE COLD SIXTHOUSAND? I can’t remember. It definetly left me cold and uninterested to finish the rest of the series. Ellroy is a weird one for me. Some of his books I dig. But his telegram style prose annoys me a little.

  67. I love The Cold Six Thousand myself. But the masterpiece in that series is American Tabloid which is it’s prequel. Just hands down one of the greatest pieces of american fiction I’ve had the privilige of being exposed to. Bruce was actually gonna adapt it and play Pete Boundarant but I don’t know what happened there. I still haven’t completed Blood’s A Rover which is the sequel to The Cold Six Thousand. This thread reminded me to dust it off. I only have about a 3rd of it left but its been like 3 yrs trying to read it and then putting it off cause other books come along.

  68. I don’t see how anyone could read COLD SIX THOUSAND without reading AMERICAN TABLOID first. It’s not even a prequel – AT came out first and C6T is a direct continuation of the story which would not make a whole lot of sense without reading the first book. AT covers the 5 years leading up to JFK’s assassination and C6T covers the next 5 years leading up to RFK’s assassination. They mix real and fictional characters in crazy ways (think of the KKK and the mob training Cubans for the Bay of Pigs). Anyway, those are both great but I agree that AMERICAN TABLOID is his best book by far and probably my favourite book ever (though I haven’t read it in a number of years). I can see why the overstylized prose would not appeal to everyone but I think you get used to it and it makes it an even better read once you get on his wavelength. I found the writing style way more jarring in WHITE JAZZ but still like that one. I have BLOOD’S A ROVER and it’s nowhere near as good as the first two books in the trilogy. It was pretty boring tbh. And so was PERFIDIA which is the first book in a new separate trilogy so I am not holding out much hope for the second book that I just bought. Ellroy is a strange cat – if you read interviews or some of his non-fiction stuff he talks about his past doing stuff like getting high off asthma inhalers and breaking into people’s houses to sniff their underwear (actually Ed Brubaker has an autobiographical comic called A COMPLETE LOWLIFE where he writes about a somewhat similar past…the drugs anyway not the panty sniffing as far as I recall).

    I’ve never actually read L.A. CONFIDENTIAL. Probably his only book that I haven’t read. I have a weird hang-up where I usually can’t read a book if I’ve already seen the movie.

    Felix – I’m dreading the BORDER now. The bridge scene from the second book still haunts me.

    Shoot – I forgot about the FORCE. It’s really good but maybe not quite at the level of the cartel books. It’s really strange to read his other stuff now. I mean, I like THE WINTER OF FRANKIE MACHINE, THE DEATH AND LIFE OF BOBBY Z, etc. but they seem like a totally different writer. Like he just jots those out on weekends or something.

  69. Then it was American Tabloid I read first. I know I read the first one for sure, but I really struggled with it. I agree on Winslow, though. Stuff like Frankie Machine is astoundingly generic compared to the Cartel tril8gy and The Force.

  70. In the “weird coincidence” department, I just finished “American Tabloid” about six hours ago (I only noticed it was being discussed when I saw it in the “recently commented” out of the corner of my eye)

    I found it certainly entertaining. A big, unruly, far-fetched, overreaching version of “The Big Nowhere,” but hardly a masterpiece or anything.

    Although, I’m certainly glad he decided to drop the, um, ‘experimental’ prose of White Jazz. That book made me kind of crazy because there’s actually a really great novel in there somewhere, just buried underneath a borderline unreadable slew of sentence fragments.

  71. HALLSY – There are parts of THE BORDER that are more terrifying than that Bridge scene.

  72. That bridge scene was a lot of fun!

  73. Felix, are you talking about that particular trainride? Its the one part of the nook that really astounded me in more than one ways. The vivid depiction of it makes my favourite sequence in the entire trilogy. It is pretty rough, but Winslow manages to make it weirdly beautiful at parts as well.

  74. So I’m getting into THE POWER OF THE DOG now and so far it’s really good. Like a Tom Clancy book written by someone who actually has a soul.

  75. Ha! That is a pretty good description

  76. Majestyk mentioned Day Keene earlier, so I decided to check out his one short story contribution to the Black Mask omnibus I own. It is called SAUCE FOR THE GANDEE. A highly readable tight little bastard of a story that is really well written. It is the usual spouse plans a murder of his wife, but it has some darkly funny moments as he thinks he is a true mastermind and has a superiority complex. He think he is so clever, but everything he does he telegraphs so clearly,because he really thinks everybody but him is stupid. It has a nice twist as well. A very entertaining read.

  77. Finished Westlakes SOMEBODY OWES ME MONEY,which was a wonderful romp and Hard Cases cover one of my favourites

  78. Hard Case recently released in their comics line MS. TREE VOL. 1: ONE MEAN MOTHER, which was an absolutely wonderful read, and I am definetely buying the rest.

  79. The Undefeated Gaul

    September 30th, 2019 at 1:54 pm

    Took me longer than I wanted due to simple lack of time, but just finished THE POWER OF THE DOG. Thanks again for the recommendation, it’s the best thing I’ve read in quite a while. Kept thinking throughout it would make for an amazing HBO series as well, they should get on that (or does it come too close to those NARCOS shows? I never watched those). Can’t wait to get into THE CARTEL next.

  80. THE CARTEL depicts some of the most violent years so it is the most gruesome of the three by far. It does not start out all that great, but it eats itself into greatness with a detailed depiction of the world of journalism in Mexico.

  81. FX optioned The Cartel trilogy earlier this year, so it might become a TV series yet.

    It is pretty similar to Narcos, yeah, they’re going to overlap, especially now that Narcos is doing Mexico stories. The Cartel is more expansive, though. Narcos doesn’t have anything like Pablo Mora’s story of a journalist in The Cartel, or Nico’s harrowing migrant story in The Border.

  82. The Undefeated Gaul

    October 3rd, 2019 at 12:03 am

    Glad to hear it might become a TV series. I don’t mind the overlap with NARCOS since I didn’t watch that show, and I’m also happy they already had Diego Luna on there as a drug lord, so there’s no risk of him being cast as Adan Barrera as well (I’m not a fan, pretty weak actor imho).

    I’m about 100 pages deep in THE CARTEL now, thanks for the warning about the start. Indeed, while it’s still good, it feels a bit repetitive with close call after close call of Barrera being almost caught but then still getting away (at one point this happens like three times across 20 pages). I haven’t gotten to the part about the journalists though, so that should be good. And I did some reading up on Los Zetas in real life, I can imagine things will be getting rough pretty soon in the book…

  83. I mean, I don’t think it’s fair to say that NARCOS is not as expansive as these books. I get what you’re saying, but the show has only had one season in Mexico and is probably not even a quarter of the way through the first book (they are basically telling the same story). I don’t know that NARCOS will follow the same type of stories in future but I do hope that NARCOS goes on for a really long time because it is pretty much the best fucking show on tv these days…I strongly recommend that you guys watch it if you haven’t already. The first 3 seasons cover the Colombian cartels and are much better than the Mexico season (which is still great). I haven’t watched the EL CHAPO series on Netflix yet. Will get to that some day.

    I am halfway through THE BORDER right now and it’s pretty great. Nico has just been introduced and he just jumped onto a train so I am dreading whatever is coming next based on the previous comments here.

  84. I mean, there’s no question that NARCOS is not as expansive. It just doesn’t cover as much. That’s not to say it’s bad, or even that it’s worse. It’s a very good show, I like it a lot.

  85. Yeah, fair enough. If they do make these books into a tv show I think it will be similar. If they really tried to follow the books it would be like a thousand episodes long. And it would be very unpleasant to watch – I’m kind of glad that NARCOS doesn’t dwell on the more atrocious bits.

  86. The train part is easily the best part of the book. I have yet to see such a vivid tale of a refugee. It is otherwise my least favouriteof the trilogy, but Jesus, that is some harrowing stuff. Good stuff, that is.

  87. Shoot – have you not seen SIN NOMBRE? It’s absolutely brutal. I mean, it’s a really good movie, but I would not recommend it unless you want to be depressed for like a year afterwards.

  88. Hard Case Crime releases a Halloween themed crime novel (of sorts) in October. BLOOD SUGAR by Daniel Kraus. HEere is a synopsis:

    “At the end of Yellow Street, in a ruined junkyard of a house, an angry outcast hatches a scheme to take revenge for all the wrongs he has suffered. With the help of three alienated neighborhood kids, he plans to hide razor blades, poison, drugs, and broken glass in Halloween candy and use the deadly treats to maim or kill dozens of innocent children. But as the clock ticks closer to sundown, will one of his helpers – an innocent himself, in his own streetwise way – carry out or defeat the plan?

    Told principally from the child’s point of view, in a voice as startling and unforgettable as A Clockwork Orange, Kraus’ novel is at once frightening and emotional, thought-provoking and laugh-out-loud funny. It’ll make you rethink your concepts of family and loyalty and justice – and will leave you anxiously double-checking the wrappers on your Halloween candy for the rest of your days.”

    I am really intrigued by this.

  89. That sounds great! I’m reading a Joe Lansdale right now (Edge of Dark Water) to ease into the Halloween spirit and that sounds like the perfect followup.

    Oh, by the way, I recently found an assortment of Dan Marlowe paperbacks at a used bookstore for a buck apiece. They’re his later ones when he apparently said fuck it and jumped on the James Bond bandwagon, but the one I just finished (Operation Flashpoint) showed enough lean, unsentimental meanness even in the campier context of a sexy espionage caper to make me know I need to read his early stuff.

  90. Looks like Hard Case are putting out another Cool and Lam by Erle Stanley Gardner. Cool. I have a couple of those and they are fun mysteries.

  91. I just finished reading JIMMY THE KID by Donald Westlake. It’s not the best in the Dortmunder series but it was pretty funny that the gang tries to pull a job by following one of Richard Stark’s Parker books called CHILD HEIST — which is not actually a real book but there are a few chapters from it included in this book anyway. Richard Stark himself even turns up as a character near the end of JIMMY THE KID. It’s very meta for a book written in the 70s. Worth a read anyway and definitely at the $2 price tag on Kindle.

  92. I am fifty pages into BLOOD SUGAR. And holy crap, this is some mad wack prose.

  93. As someone both fascinated and horrified by wack prose in the manner of a closeted homophobe, I’m afraid I must ask you to describe the wackness of the prose. Please be as precise as you can. Too many adverbs? Cutesy dialogue attribution? Overemphatic declarations? Strained metaphors? Unchewable dialogue? Knowing the prose is wack means I now will never buy this book, but I can’t live without knowing the details of its wackness.

  94. Ido not think I used thecorrect descriptive wordage in this case.in fact I might have given the book a tremendous disservice. But the way the characters speak is more through streetslang and speech than conventional prose dialogue , which has the effect of getting closer to the characters as the way they speak informs us alos of who they are and where they come from. The effect is mezmerizing and also deeply affective

    I did not mean it as some sort of gimmicky way,butmore the experience of reading it as it feels less written by priviledged people than someones experience. It takes a very special author to pull that off.

  95. In fact, why I said wack prose is beyond me in retrospect.

  96. Oh. Yeah, that’s totally different. “Wack” means “so embarrassingly bad you can dismiss it out of hand.” I’m not exactly sure what word would sum up what you’re describing but it sounds up my alley.

  97. I guess the dictionary I used is the one who is mad wack.

  98. Did you mean “wacky?” That just means “weird and/or crazy in a kinda silly way.”

  99. Once again, I must apologize for English, the Calvinball of languages.

  100. No, it is not wacky. Definitely not wacky. I could not come up with a singular descriptive word of it.

  101. Here is the first page of the book to get some better sense of the writing

    HardCaseCrime on Instagram: “Now it's BLOOD SUGAR's turn: here's the first page -- if you want to read more you can a) wait till Halloween or b) post something…”

    104 Likes, 10 Comments - HardCaseCrime (@hard_case_crime) on Instagram: “Now it's BLOOD SUGAR's turn: here's the first page -- if you want to read more you can a) wait till…”

  102. To be clear, There is a reason for words like “poopypants” and why there are invented cuss words. But I am not going into that.

  103. Ugh, that is painful to read. It’s almost as bad as Chuck Palahniuk’s PYGMY. Is the whole book like that?

  104. It’s written in vernacular is what I think you were trying to say. Mark Twain-style. And you’re right, when done well, this style of writing can seem both naturalistic and stylized and give a much better sense of character and milieu than standardized English. I tend to not like writing that sounds like writing as much as I like writing that sounds like talking, so I’m down with it.

    If you respond to this style of writing, might I recommend the works of Charlie Huston? He writes in multiple genres (mostly crime but also horror, sci-fi, and thriller) but always in a hard-boiled style that employs lots of speech rhythms and vernacular. He’s got a couple of series (one clearly partially autobiographical about an NYC bartender who gets sucked into the badass lifestyle, another about a criminal vampire underworld in New York–I recall one book focusing on a particularly vicious Hasidic vampire gang in Brooklyn) but the one closest to the style you’re describing would be THE SHOTGUN RULE, concerning violent teenage shenanigans in the early 80s.

  105. HALLSY: It does seem a little overdone but I think it could work in context. I tend to prefer my prose to be a little plainer but I’d be willing to give it a shot.

  106. I have encountered this style before, but never really knew what it is called. I think Kraus manage to create fully fledged characters thrpugh this vernacular. Flawed, tragic yet filled with warmth and humor. Even though it is a dark subject matter it is morbidly funny. I hope tyerest of the book holds up.

    I have been on a HCC binge, so I find the style refreshing because it is not usually the sort of prose they publish.

  107. Honestly it reminds me a bit of a vastly-less Scottish version of TRAINSPOTTING from that page there. Not too bad.

    I will say though, it always bugs me a bit when writers use alternate punctuation to indicate when someone is speaking. Cormac McCarthy can just about get away with it by dint of being Cormac McFuckinCarthy, but anyone else should be very wary.

    (also, halfway through JIMMY THE KID now, as I just got an ereader and hooked it up to my local library, meaning I can get pretty much all the crime novels I want delivered for free directly to my face without even having to get out of bed- I love the conceit of it, even if CHILD HEIST would clearly be a lesser Parker book were it real)

  108. Yeah, full disclosure: Huston stole McCarthy’s method of using dashes to indicate dialogue instead of quotation marks. It’s a little showy but far from a dealbreaker.

  109. There was a series of books that I had to stop reading, for many reasons, but one of them was her use of language. She used words that it seemed she thought made everything more cool, but really was just annoying. Ex: she never, ever used “boots”, but instead would use “shit-kickers”. Okay, fine, use that word, if you want, to set the mood of what the characters are like, but you don’t have to *only* use that word. She also used brand names too much and often to poor effect. It not only dates things, but can paint a picture you weren’t intending because some stuff is subjective. Saying a character is wearing an Ed Hardy t-shirt because you think it makes him look cool is not subjective, though, it’s categorically wrong. It makes him look like a douche bag. Sorry, if any of you love Ed Hardy t-shirts, but it’s a harsh truth someone should’ve already told you.

  110. I don’t usually like those McCarthy-like flourishes, and I roll my eyes when I read something like the above that uses greater and less-than signs instead of quotation marks. But I did read and enjoy Huston’s Joe Pitt books and I thought the dashes worked there. It works with the extremely long stretches of noir-ish patter.

  111. Has anyone here read Westlakes” James Bond”-novel FOREVER AND A DEATH? Westlake was hired by the Bknd producers in the mid nineties to wrote BOND 18, but the stuff he came up with dealing with the Hongg kong handover deemed politically sensitive at the time so theyrejected it. Instead Westlake wrote a novel off it, but itwasñever published until Hard Case Crime got their hands on it.

    Its on my next to read.

  112. The Undefeated Gaul

    October 25th, 2019 at 4:25 am

    Well, I finally finished all three Cartel books and wanted to come back on here to say thanks again for the recommendation, they were absolutely fantastic. It kinda feels like I’ve just binge-watched eight seasons of a top quality HBO show, with a satisfying ending to boot.

    As discussed in this thread, that train sequence in THE BORDER is indeed just harrowing. I can stomach some dark shit but that got to me and I had some pretty bleak thoughts for a while afterwards. Although the scene that has stayed with me the most is a throwaway bit of intense cruelty described in a short paragraph, just a couple sentences, about what happens to an accountant who did something the cartels didn’t like. That stuff is hard to shake off, especially after going online and finding plenty of real life examples of this type of thing having happened. Winslow was not making this stuff up.

    Now I find myself with a strong urge to watch RAMBO: LAST BLOOD again. I still think the choice of villain is perfect – the atrocities committed by the Burmese bad guys in RAMBO IV are very much on par with what the cartels get up to. In fact, their worst deeds shown in LAST BLOOD seem incredibly tame compared with reality.

  113. You certainly learn everything you want to know about The War On Drugs from those books.

    The Border has the darkest stuff out of the three books. Poor Chuy.

  114. The Undefeated Gaul

    October 25th, 2019 at 4:34 am

    Poor Chuy indeed. Never had a chance.

  115. *Oops, put it in the wrong thread* When Don Winslow is .writing about something he deeply cares about he is goddamn unstoppable, but then there are the books that he cranked out that felt more like he was forced to write under gunthreat. But I hope he keeps the momentum up withe the string of fantastic books he put out lately

  116. The Undefeated Gaul

    October 25th, 2019 at 9:19 am

    In that case, which ones should I avoid? I’ll definitely be checking out more of his work.

  117. I made an unjust assumption of his work. THE WINTER OF FRANK&E MACHINE was so generic I imagined he wrote it out of some contractual obligation. To be fair, I have not read much else of his oeuvre, so I must say take my wordswith some salt.

  118. Ifinished Westlakes TH# COMEDY AS FINISHED a few days ago. It is another one, like BROTHERS KEEPER, where ypu feel like pigeonholeing Westlake as simplya crime writer is a big disservice to his writing here. Tragic, yet funny, and everything human inbetween.

  119. LEMONS NEVER LIE was a very good Parker spinoff book. Appropriately dark and plays almost like a greek tragedy with kharma and/or destiny as a powerful force at work. Grofields theatrical antics aredifferent here than from THE SCORE, to thepoint that he almost feels like a Parker clone, but not quite, and that is what becomes a significant part of the story.

  120. I started reading THE GETAWAY CAR,which is a collection of Westlakes non fiction.Which is not entirely true.There is a weird and hilarious ly meta roundtable discussion between Westlake and his pseudonyms and a very pompous moderator that ends with Richard Stark robs them. It is clearly written before COMEBACK was even adream as Stark responds to the others bafflementby saying: ” I haven’t been published since 1973, how do you think I make a living?”. There is also a very insightful essay about the development of hardboiled fiction. Far and beyond any academic writing I have encountered on the subject matter

  121. Gaul – I had that same reaction as I saw the latest RAMBO right after reading THE BORDER. Like, it made sense to me, that kind of shit could definitely happen in Mexico (as opposed to Arizona). So I did not see the choice of villain as being particularly political as much as others. Anyway, definitely read THE FORCE next. It’s closer to the Border series. I wouldn’t call his other stuff “generic” exactly. It’s nowhere near as good but still very enjoyable if slight crime stories. You just need to lower your expectations way down. I liked FRANKIE MACHINE and BOBBY Z and SAVAGES.

    Speaking of annoying literary styles, I just read Elmore Leonard’s DJIBOUTI and it had one of the weirdest structures ever. It sets up a story of a documentarian going to film Somali pirates and right when she meets them, it flashes ahead a couple of months and then tells the story through two people having a conversation. Like, “remember you said this and then we did that”. It was so annoying and unnecessary. The book was kinda OK anyway but the ending was very abrupt and strange. Just a weird book all around.

    I’m reading Donald Westlake’s GOOD BEHAVIOUR right now. Great stuff – all the Dortmunder books are great.

    Today I was at the used book store and came across Irvine Welsh’s THE BLADE ARTIST which apparently continues Begbie’s story so I guess I have to read that next. Also picked up a Jack Reacher book to see what all the fuss is about.

  122. The Undefeated Gaul

    November 15th, 2019 at 12:56 am

    HALLSY – thanks, THE FORCE goes on the list!

    And yeah, I feel like the choice of villain in LAST BLOOD may not have been received so badly had Stallone tied it into real life events a bit more like he did with the Burmese. Either put some stuff at the beginning about how many women have disappeared in Mexico over the years, what the cartels get up to etc. or do something like the mine field opening of RAMBO IV. Show what happens to a random innocent person and their family when they talk to a journalist about something the cartel didn’t like.

    What ended up in the film feels less like what we know about cartels and more like a standard gang of traffickers that could have had any nationality, which I guess is why it had people saying: why did it have to be Mexicans? Don’t these people get shit on enough by Trump etc. By keeping the villains so vague and generic, it seems like Stallone actually made the whole thing more offensive than it would have been if he had gone into detail more and tied the story very specifically into the stuff that actually goes on in Mexico.

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