Donald E. Westlake

"Richard Stark" redirects here. For the Florida politician, see Richard Stark (politician).
Donald E. Westlake
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 and 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 Binghamton University 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:

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

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); Mise à sac (based on The Score) with Michel Constantin as Parker (changed to Georges), also in 1967; 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 made it into the completed film, but in 1998 the author used the first treatment as the basis for a novel, Fall of the City. The existence of the novel (and its connection to the Bond treatments) was revealed in an article published in issue #32 of the magazine MI6 Confidential; the article also provides a detailed analysis of the two treatments.[9] Fall of the City will be published under the title Forever and a Death in June 2017 by Hard Case Crime.

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.
2017 Forever and a Death Donald E. Westlake Written in 1998, published posthumously.



Produced screenplays

Unpublished/unproduced works


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