Friday, May 30, 2008

I hereby officially declare June to be Donald Westlake Month

Ten years and one month ago I read my first novel by Donald Westlake, Castle In The Air. It was a convoluted, intelligent, humorous, intricate, stupifying tale of various groups attempting to steal an entire castle. While not revolutionary it was a very enjoyable and entertaining read so I immediately followed up with Smoke, a burgler turned invisible man premise. The summer went by and I dabbled with other authors, returning again in the fall to read God Save The Mark, a book written by Westlake in the late sixties. Hmmm... this guy is pretty good so I tried Adios, Scheherazade from the same period and found a favorite author.

Adios, Scheherazade is a semi-autobiographical first person story of a guy who is way past his deadline in writing his next smut book, causing him to be on the run from his editor, his angry wife (writing pulp is lucrative and they've gotten used to the money but he simply can't bring himself to do it anymore) and his brother in laws. Along the way he compulsively writes wherever he can, the most memorable being in a department store at their typewriter display where he tries to start a "smut" chapter that hilariously breaks down. And for book about "smut" you can be assured that Adios, Scheherazade is 100% smut free!

Since that time I've read a total of FIFTY Westlake books, both under his own name and under many of his pseudonymns: Richard Stark, Samuel Holt, Tucker Coe... I'm sure there are others. At last count I still have sixty-one novels left to read. Yes, the man has written over 110 novels. And they are amazingly consistent! Only one of the fifty I've read was mediocre. All the rest were very good to excellent. Put THAT in your pipe and smoke it, Stephen "retread" King!

Do yourself a favor and pick up a Westlake book at your nearest library. There are a number of novels about Dortmunder, a likable, non-violent thief whose ingenious plans always go wrong. Or if you're feeling darker go for anything written under the name Richard Stark - they're hardboiled crime novels that almost read themselves. Anything (other than Sacred Monster) with the Westlake name on it is sure to enrich your summer reading!

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