Donald E. Westlake

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Donald E. Westlake
Donald Westlake.jpg
Born Donald Edwin Westlake
(1933-07-12)July 12, 1933
Brooklyn, New York
Died December 31, 2008(2008-12-31) (aged 75)
Pen name John B. Allan, Judson Jack Carmichael, Curt Clark, Timothy J. Culver, J. Morgan Cunningham, Richard Stark, Edwin West, among others
Occupation novelist
Nationality United States
Genre crime fiction
Notable works The Hunter The Grifters The Stepfather
One of Westlake's earliest novels, reissued by Hard Case Crime

Donald Edwin Westlake (July 12, 1933 – December 31, 2008) was an American writer, with over a hundred novels and non-fiction books to his credit. He specialized in crime fiction, especially comic capers, with an occasional foray into science fiction or other genres. He was a three-time Edgar Award winner, one of only three writers (the others are Joe Gores and William L. DeAndrea) to win Edgars in three different categories (1968, Best Novel, God Save the Mark; 1990, Best Short Story, "Too Many Crooks"; 1991, Best Motion Picture Screenplay, The Grifters). In 1993, the Mystery Writers of America named Westlake a Grand Master, the highest honor bestowed by the society.

Personal life

Westlake was born in Brooklyn, New York, but raised in Albany, New York.

Westlake wrote constantly in his teens, and after 200 rejections, his first short story sale was in 1954. Sporadic short story sales followed over the next few years, while Westlake attended Champlain College of Plattsburgh, New York (now defunct)[1] and Harpur College in Binghamton, New York. He also spent two years in the United States Air Force.

Westlake moved to New York City in 1959, initially to work for a literary agency while writing on the side. By 1960, he was writing full-time. His first novel under his own name, The Mercenaries, was published in 1960; over the next 48 years, Westlake published a variety of novels and short stories under his own name and a number of pseudonyms.

He was married three times, the final time to Abigail Westlake (also known as Abby Adams Westlake and Abby Adams), a writer of nonfiction (her two published books are An Uncommon Scold and The Gardener's Gripe Book). The couple moved out of New York City to Ancram in upstate New York in 1990. Abby Westlake is a well-regarded gardener, and the Westlake garden has frequently been opened for public viewing in the summer.

Westlake died of a heart attack on December 31, 2008 while on the way to a New Year's Eve dinner, while he and his wife were on vacation in Mexico.[2]


In addition to writing consistently under his own name, Westlake published under several pseudonyms.[3] In the order they debuted:

  • Richard Stark: Westlake's best-known continuing pseudonym was that of Richard Stark. Stark debuted in 1959, with a story in Mystery Digest.[4] Four other Stark short stories followed through 1961, including "The Curious Facts Preceding My Execution",[4] later the title story in Westlake's first short-story collection. Then, from 1962 to 1974, sixteen novels about the relentless and remorseless professional thief Parker and his accomplices (including larcenous actor Alan Grofield) appeared and were credited to Richard Stark. "Stark" was then inactive until 1997, when Westlake once again began writing and publishing Parker novels under Stark's name. The University of Chicago began republishing the Richard Stark novels in 2008.[5] When Stephen King wrote the novel The Dark Half in 1989, he named the central villain George Stark as an homage to Westlake.
  • Alan Marshall (or Alan Marsh): Westlake acknowledged writing as many as 28 paperback soft-porn titles from 1959–64 under these names; titles include All My Lovers, Man Hungry, All About Annette, Sally, Virgin's Summer, Call Me Sinner, Off Limits, and three featuring the character of Phil Crawford: Apprentice Virgin, All the Girls Were Willing, and Sin Prowl.[6] Westlake was not the only author to work under Marshall's name, claiming that: "The publishers would either pay more for the names they already knew or would only buy from (those) names…so it became common practice for several of us to loan our names to friends…. Before…the end of 1961…six other people, friends of mine, published books as Alan Marshall, with my permission but without the publishers' knowledge." Two novels published in 1960 were co-authored by Westlake and Lawrence Block (who used the pen-name "Sheldon Lord") and were credited to "Sheldon Lord and Alan Marshall": A Girl Called Honey, dedicated to Westlake and Block, and So Willing, dedicated to "Nedra and Loretta," who were (at that time) Westlake and Block's wives.[6]
  • James Blue: One-shot pseudonym, used as a third name circa 1959 when both Westlake and Stark already had stories in a magazine issue. In actuality, the name of Westlake's cat.[7]
  • Ben Christopher: One-shot pseudonym for a 1960 story in 77 Sunset Strip magazine, based on the characters from the TV show.[4]
  • John Dexter: A house pseudonym used by Nightstand Books for the work of numerous authors. The very first novel credited to John Dexter is a soft-core work by Westlake called No Longer A Virgin (1960)
  • Andrew Shaw: Pseudonym used by Westlake and Lawrence Block for their 1961 collaborative soft-core novel Sin Hellcat. Like John Dexter (above), "Andrew Shaw" was a house pseudonym used by a wide variety of authors.
  • Edwin West: Brother and Sister, Campus Doll, Young and Innocent, all 1961; Strange Affair, 1962; Campus Lovers, 1963,[3] one 1966 short story.[4]
  • John B. Allan: Elizabeth Taylor: A Fascinating Story of America's Most Talented Actress and the World's Most Beautiful Woman, 1961, biography.[3]
  • Don Holliday: Pseudonym used by Westlake for two collaborative soft-core novels (with various authors, including Hal Dresner and Lawrence Block) in 1963/64.[6]
  • Curt Clark: Debuted in 1964 with the short story "Nackles". Novel: Anarchaos, 1967, science fiction.[3]
  • Barbara Wilson: One co-authored novel with Laurence Janifer (The Pleasures We Know, 1964); Janifer also used this name for at least one solo novel with no involvement from Westlake.[3]
  • Tucker Coe: 5 mystery novels featuring the character of Mitch Tobin: Kinds of Love, Kinds of Death, 1966; Murder Among Children, 1967; Wax Apple and A Jade in Aries, both 1970; Don't Lie to Me, 1972.[3]
  • P.N. Castor: Pseudonym used for one 1966 short story co-authored with Dave Foley.[4]
  • Timothy J. Culver: Ex Officio, 1970, thriller.[3]
  • J. Morgan Cunningham: Comfort Station, 1971, humor. Cover features the blurb, "I wish I had written this book! – Donald E. Westlake."[3]
  • Samuel Holt: 4 mystery novels featuring the character of Sam Holt, 1986-1989: One of Us is Wrong and I Know a Trick Worth Two of That, both 1986; What I Tell You Three Times is False, 1987; The Fourth Dimension is Death, 1989.[3] Westlake used the Holt pseudonym as an experiment to see if he could succeed as an author under a new name; he was dismayed when his publisher revealed the true identity of "Holt" simultaneously with the release of the first book. Westlake subsequently delivered all four books he had contracted for as Holt, but abandoned plans to write at least two further books in the series.
  • Judson Jack Carmichael: The Scared Stiff, 2002, mystery; U.K. editions dropped the pseudonym.

Westlake sometimes made playful use of his pseudonyms in his work:

  • John Dortmunder and associates plan a kidnapping based on a mythical Richard Stark/Parker novel in Westlake's Jimmy The Kid. Stark himself makes an appearance in the novel.
  • Richard Stark's character of Parker has ID that gives his name as "John B. Allan".
  • In the film version of The Grifters (for which Westlake wrote the screenplay) a key scene takes place at the firm of Stark, Coe and Fellows. Westlake explains the in-joke in the film's DVD commentary track, noting that he wrote books as "Richard Stark, Tucker Coe and some other fellows."
  • In the Mitch Tobin novel A Jade in Aries, Tobin phones a friend who briefly mistakes Tobin for somebody named Don Stark.

Additionally, Westlake conducted a mock 'interview' with Richard Stark, Tucker Coe and Timothy J. Culver in an article for the non-fiction book Murder Ink: The Mystery Reader's Companion.

Writing style

Donald Westlake was known for the great ingenuity of his plots and the audacity of his gimmicks. His writing and dialogue are lively. His main characters are fully rounded, believable, and clever. Westlake's most famous characters include the hard-boiled criminal Parker (appearing in fiction under the Richard Stark pseudonym) and Parker's comic flip-side John Dortmunder. Mr. Westlake was quoted as saying that he originally intended what became The Hot Rock to be a straightforward Parker novel, but "It kept turning funny," and thus became the first John Dortmunder novel.

Most of Donald Westlake's novels are set in New York City. In each of the Dortmunder novels, there is typically a detailed foray somewhere through the city. He wrote just two non-fiction books: Under an English Heaven, regarding the unlikely 1967 Anguillan "revolution", and a biography of Elizabeth Taylor.[3]

Westlake was an occasional contributor to science fiction fanzines such as Xero, and used Xero as a venue for a harsh announcement that he was leaving the science fiction field.[8]

Motion pictures and television

Several of Westlake's novels have been made into motion pictures: 1967's Point Blank (based on The Hunter) with Lee Marvin as Parker (changed to Walker); 1968's The Split (from the book The Seventh) with Jim Brown as Parker (changed to McClain); The Hot Rock in 1972 with Robert Redford; Cops and Robbers in 1973; The Outfit with Robert Duvall as Parker (changed to Macklin), also in 1973; Bank Shot in 1974 with George C. Scott; The Busy Body (with an "all-star cast") in 1967; Slayground with Peter Coyote as Parker (changed to Stone) in 1983; Why Me? with Christopher Lambert, Christopher Lloyd, and J. T. Walsh in 1990; Payback in 1999, the second film made from The Hunter, with Mel Gibson as Parker (changed to Porter); What's the Worst That Could Happen? in 2001 with Martin Lawrence; Constantin Costa-Gavras adapted The Ax for the European screen in 2005, to great critical and public acclaim – entitled Le Couperet, the film takes place in France and Belgium rather than the novel's setting of New England; Parker in 2013, based on Flashfire, with Jason Statham as Parker.

In his introduction to one of the short stories in Thieves' Dozen, Westlake mentioned legal troubles with Hollywood over his continued use of the Dortmunder novel characters; the movie studios attempted to assert that he had sold the rights to the characters to them permanently as a result of the Redford film.

The novel Jimmy the Kid has been adapted three times: in Italy as Come ti rapisco il pupo in 1976; in the U.S. as Jimmy the Kid in 1982 starring Gary Coleman; and in Germany as Jimmy the Kid in 1998 starring Herbert Knaup.

The novel Two Much! has been adapted twice: in France as Le Jumeau (The Twin) in 1984; and in the U.S. as Two Much in 1995 starring Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith.

Jean-Luc Godard's Made in U.S.A. in 1966 was an extremely loose adaptation of The Jugger. Neither the film's producer nor Godard purchased the rights to the novel, so Westlake successfully sued to prevent the film's commercial distribution in the United States.

Westlake was himself a screenwriter. His script for the 1990 film The Grifters, adapted from the novel by Jim Thompson, was nominated for an Academy Award. (Westlake the screenwriter adapted Jim Thompson's work in a straightforward manner, but Westlake the humourist played on Thompson's name later that year in the Dortmunder novel Drowned Hopes by featuring a character named "Tom Jimson" who is a criminal psychopath.) Westlake also wrote the screenplay The Stepfather (from a story by Westlake, Brian Garfield and Carolyn Lefcourt), the film of which was sufficiently popular to receive two sequels and a remake, projects in which Westlake was not involved.

In 1987 Westlake wrote the teleplay Fatal Confession, a pilot for the TV series Father Dowling Mysteries based on the novels by Ralph McInerny. He also appeared in a small role (as the mystery writer Rich Vincent) in the third season episode, "The Hardboiled Mystery."

Westlake also wrote two story treatments for the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies in collaboration with Bond series writer-producer Michael G. Wilson. None of Westlake's ideas were used in the completed film, but in 1998 the author used the first treatment as the basis for a novel, Fall of the City, which has never been published.[9]

Westlake co-wrote the story for the pilot of the ill-fated 1979 TV series Supertrain with teleplay writer Earl W. Wallace; Westlake and Wallace shared "created by" credit.



The following table can be sorted to show Westlake's novels in chronological order,
or arranged alphabetically by title, or by author credit, or by series.
Year Title Author Credit Series Notes
1959 All My Lovers Alan Marshall
1959 Backstage Love Alan Marshall Phil Crawford Also published as Apprentice Virgin
1959 Man Hungry Alan Marshall
1959 Sally Alan Marshall
1960 All About Annette Alan Marshall
1960 All the Girls Were Willing Alan Marshall Phil Crawford Later printed as What Girls Will Do
1960 A Girl Called Honey Alan Marshall & Sheldon Lord A collaboration between Westlake and Lawrence Block
1960 The Mercenaries Donald E. Westlake Also published in the UK as The Smashers. Republished in 2009 under Westlake's preferred title, The Cutie.
1960 So Willing Alan Marshall & Sheldon Lord A collaboration between Westlake and Lawrence Block
1960 Virgin's Summer Alan Marshall
1960 The Wife Next Door Alan Marshall
1961 Call Me Sinner Alan Marshall
1961 Passion's Plaything Alan Marshall
1961 Off Limits Alan Marshall
1961 Brother and Sister Edwin West
1961 Campus Doll Edwin West
1961 Young and Innocent Edwin West
1961 Killing Time Donald E. Westlake
1962 The Hunter Richard Stark Parker Later published as Point Blank and Payback. First appearance of master thief Parker.
1962 361 Donald E. Westlake
1962 Strange Affair Edwin West
1963 Killy Donald E. Westlake
1963 Sin Prowl Alan Marshall Phil Crawford
1963 Campus Lovers Edwin West
1963 The Man With the Getaway Face Richard Stark Parker Also published in the UK as Steel Hit.
1963 The Outfit Richard Stark Parker
1963 The Mourner Richard Stark Parker
1963 The Score Richard Stark Parker Also published in the UK as Killtown.
1964 Pity Him Afterwards Donald E. Westlake
1965 The Fugitive Pigeon Donald E. Westlake
1965 The Jugger Richard Stark Parker
1966 The Seventh Richard Stark Parker Later published as The Split.
1966 The Busy Body Donald E. Westlake
1966 The Handle Richard Stark Parker Also published in the UK as Run Lethal.
1966 The Spy In The Ointment Donald E. Westlake
1966 Kinds of Love, Kinds of Death Tucker Coe Mitchell Tobin
1967 Murder Among Children Tucker Coe Mitchell Tobin
1967 The Damsel Richard Stark Grofield
1967 The Rare Coin Score Richard Stark Parker
1967 God Save The Mark Donald E. Westlake Edgar Award winner for Best Novel
1967 Philip Donald E. Westlake
1967 Anarchaos Curt Clark
1967 The Green Eagle Score Richard Stark Parker
1968 Who Stole Sassi Manoon? Donald E. Westlake
1968 The Black Ice Score Richard Stark Parker
1969 The Sour Lemon Score Richard Stark Parker
1969 Somebody Owes Me Money Donald E. Westlake
1969 Up Your Banners Donald E. Westlake
1969 The Dame Richard Stark Grofield
1969 The Blackbird Richard Stark Grofield
1970 The Hot Rock Donald E. Westlake Dortmunder Originally planned as a non-comic Parker novel; introduces John Dortmunder
1970 Adios Scheherezade Donald E. Westlake
1970 Wax Apple Tucker Coe Mitchell Tobin
1970 A Jade in Aries Tucker Coe Mitchell Tobin
1970 Ex Officio Timothy J. Culver Also published under the title Power Play.
1971 Lemons Never Lie Richard Stark Grofield
1971 I Gave At The Office Donald E. Westlake
1971 Deadly Edge Richard Stark Parker
1971 Slayground Richard Stark Parker
1972 Bank Shot Donald E. Westlake Dortmunder
1972 Cops And Robbers Donald E. Westlake
1972 Don't Lie To Me Tucker Coe Mitchell Tobin
1972 Plunder Squad Richard Stark Parker Crosses over with the 1972 Joe Gores novel Dead Skip
1973 Comfort Station J. Morgan Cunningham
1973 Gangway! Donald E. Westlake and Brian Garfield
1974 Butcher's Moon Richard Stark Parker
1974 Help I Am Being Held Prisoner Donald E. Westlake
1974 Jimmy the Kid Donald E. Westlake Dortmunder Includes chapters from an otherwise non-existent novel by Richard Stark entitled Child Heist.
1975 Two Much Donald E. Westlake
1975 Brothers Keepers Donald E. Westlake
1976 Dancing Aztecs Donald E. Westlake
1977 Nobody's Perfect Donald E. Westlake Dortmunder
1980 Castle In The Air Donald E. Westlake
1981 Kahawa Donald E. Westlake
1983 Why Me? Donald E. Westlake Dortmunder
1984 A Likely Story Donald E. Westlake
1985 High Adventure Donald E. Westlake
1985 Good Behavior Donald E. Westlake Dortmunder
1986 One Of Us Is Wrong Samuel Holt Sam Holt
1986 I Know A Trick Worth Two Of That Samuel Holt Sam Holt
1987 What I Tell You Three Times Is False Samuel Holt Sam Holt
1988 Trust Me On This Donald E. Westlake Sara Joslyn
1989 Sacred Monster Donald E. Westlake
1989 The Fourth Dimension Is Death Samuel Holt Sam Holt
1990 Drowned Hopes Donald E. Westlake Dortmunder Crosses over with the 1992 Joe Gores novel 32 Cadillacs
1991 The Perfect Murder Jack Hitt with Lawrence Block, Sarah Caudwell, Tony Hillerman, Peter Lovesey, Donald E. Westlake Collaborative novel, devised and edited by Hitt. Westlake contributes two chapters.
1992 Humans Donald E. Westlake
1993 Don't Ask Donald E. Westlake Dortmunder
1994 Baby, Would I Lie? Donald E. Westlake Sara Joslyn
1995 Smoke Donald E. Westlake
1996 What's The Worst That Could Happen? Donald E. Westlake Dortmunder
1997 The Ax Donald E. Westlake
1997 Comeback Richard Stark Parker
1998 Backflash Richard Stark Parker
2000 The Hook Donald E. Westlake Published in the UK as Corkscrew
2000 Flashfire Richard Stark Parker
2001 Firebreak Richard Stark Parker
2001 Bad News Donald E. Westlake Dortmunder
2002 Put A Lid On It Donald E. Westlake
2002 Breakout Richard Stark Parker
2002 The Scared Stiff Judson Jack Carmichael Published in the UK as by Donald E. Westlake
2003 Money For Nothing Donald E. Westlake
2004 The Road to Ruin Donald E. Westlake Dortmunder
2004 Nobody Runs Forever Richard Stark Parker
2005 Watch Your Back! Donald E. Westlake Dortmunder
2006 Ask the Parrot Richard Stark Parker
2007 What's So Funny? Donald E. Westlake Dortmunder
2008 Dirty Money Richard Stark Parker
2009 Get Real Donald E. Westlake Dortmunder
2010 Memory Donald E. Westlake Written in the 1960s, published posthumously.
2012 The Comedy Is Finished Donald E. Westlake Written in the early 1980s, published posthumously.


  • The Curious Facts Preceding My Execution (1968)
  • Enough! ("A Travesty" & "Ordo") (1977)
  • Levine (1984)
  • Tomorrow's Crimes (1989), includes the novel Anarchaos
  • Horse Laugh and Other Stories (1991)
  • The Parker Omnibus, Volume 1 (1997), published in UK, containing The Man with the Getaway Face, The Outfit, and The Deadly Edge.
  • The Parker Omnibus, Volume 2 (1999), published in UK, containing The Split (alternate name for The Seventh), The Score, and The Handle.
  • A Good Story and Other Stories (1999)
  • Thieves' Dozen (2004), a collection of ten Dortmunder short stories and one related story.
  • Transgressions (2005), Ed McBain-edited collection of 10 novellas, including Westlake's Dortmunder novella "Walking Around Money"


  • Elizabeth Taylor: A Fascinating Story of America's Most Talented Actress and the World's Most Beautiful Woman (1961, as "John B. Allan")
  • Under an English Heaven (1972)
  • The Getaway Car: A Donald Westlake Nonfiction Miscellany (2014) ISBN 9780226121819

Produced screenplays


  2. New York Times Obituary Accessed January 1, 2009
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 3.9
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2
  8. Westlake, Donald. "Don't Call Us, We'll Call You" and responses by Frederik Pohl, Donald Wollheim, Harry Warner, Jr., Steve Stiles and others, reprinted in: Lupoff, Richard A., & Pat Lupoff. The Best of Xero. Tachyon Publications, 2004. pp. 120 et seq.
  9. Poggiali, Philip. "Fall of the City: Bond 18 and Westlake." MI6 Confidential 32 (2015): 22-26.

External links