Donald E. Westlake

Donald E. Westlake, the celebrated comic novelist who died on New Year's Eve, wrote more than 90 books during his 50-year career. Our regular reviewers loved him. Carolyn See called him "the funniest man in the world." And Michael Dirda noted that "Westlake knows precisely how to grab a reader." Somehow, amid all that novel-writing, Westlake also made time to review for Book World:

  • Thud!, by Terry Pratchett.
  • Busted Flush, by Brad Smith. "There's nothing wrong with cartoons. They can be very enjoyable, if they're done with wit and skill and grace, and Brad Smith brings all of these to his story of Dock Bass's new life as the restorer of the falling-down old farmhouse he's inherited from family he never knew existed. The motivations of a few local miscreants determined to wrest Dock's legacy away from him, as well as from the few allies he enlists from the local college, are not at all obscure. These boys are all fun, in fact, well-drawn caricatures with whom Dock can exchange fast-paced, amusing repartee. The other two primary elements in Busted Flush, other than Dock himself, are the Civil War, of which you've heard, and Amy Morris, of which you haven't, though you probably guessed. What does a midlife-crisis man on the run need most of all? A beautiful, self-supporting, independent, exotic woman to take him seriously."
  • Good Faith, by Jane Smiley. "I admire this novel in so many ways I hardly know where to start....This is truly a novel about real estate and its meanings, and about the speculations that grew up like mold from the unregulated S&Ls, but it is also a story about life in a small town, where everything is known and nothing is harmed and you trust your neighbor because he's your neighbor. The people are sharp, but not too sharp, and the novel happens to them while they're thinking about other things.... Jane Smiley is one of our most Dickensian novelists, by which I mean her imagination is prodigious, her observations exact, and the wealth of fascinating people inside her head a national treasure. In the past, she has observed her people at the racetrack, on the college campus, on the farm and in Greenland long long ago, among other places, and wherever she goes you'll want to go with her. This time, it's a small town in the mid-Atlantic states with a savings-and-loan in 1982, and you want to be there. Trust me on this. Check out the kitchen, take a look at the closets. Believe me, it's you."
Thanks for the insights. We'll miss you.

By Ron Charles |  January 3, 2009; 9:53 AM ET Ron Charles
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Please recommend a few of his books for a new reader. Thanks.

Posted by: Elaine10 | January 5, 2009 4:41 PM

From Michael Dirda: "I'd recommend 'God Save the Mark' (Edgar winner and very, very funny) or any of the Dortmunder books -- 'The Hot Rock' is the first, followed by a dozen others. These are about a gang whose crimes always go awry. Westlake's masterpiece, though, is 'The Ax.' It's about a desperate middle-aged middle manager who loses his job and is gradually losing the respect of his family and himself as a result. But no one will hire him. So he does what any gung-ho American would do: He kills the guy who has the job he wants, and then murders the other half dozen people who might conceivably be offered it instead of himself. It's a masterpiece of gallows humor."

Posted by: ronchar | January 6, 2009 3:58 PM

I would recommend any of his books, I tended to enjoy the Dortmunder series, for any number of reasons. Dortmunder would not quit, he accepted his fate with a sigh and a shrug of his shoulder, but quit never. I believe my favorite is "Jimmy the Kid", however if you would like a story about organized chaos try "Dancing Aztecs". To be frank try a little Parker then Dortmunder after all Parker refused to play John's role in "The Hot Rock.

Posted by: diru5 | January 6, 2009 8:06 PM

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