The forgotten faces of Donald E. Westlake

Today’s BBAW assignment is in short to share a book that has been forgotten (a forgotten treasure, if you will) that you think deserves more exposure than it has received.

As usual, I’m going to break the rules slightly and highlight not a book, but an author whom I think sometimes is overlooked perhaps by the book blogging community and deserves more exposure than he has received there. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, or even if you’ve stopped it now and then, you probably are not going to be surprised by the author whom I’m going to mention. His name is Donald E. Westlake.

Donald westlake by Jean-Marie David

Image via Wikipedia

You can read his biography on Wikipedia by clicking the link with his name, which has some unverified sources, but I will tell you in my own words the little I know about the late Westlake and why I like him and his works.

The main reason I like Westlake is because he had many faces (of which I wrote when first introduced to him by — have I mentioned this before? 😉 — my brother-in-law Warren) or maybe I should say, he wore many hats. Yes, the hat he wore most was one of a crime novelist, but even in that genre he couldn’t be easily pigeonholed.

For example, just to name two of his most famous (or maybe I should notorious) characters, Parker (which he wrote under the pseudonym Richard Stark) and Dortmunder: they’re like the opposite sides of a coin. Dortmunder, a hapless burglar who never seems to have good luck, in a lot of ways is the comic foil to Parker, the hard-boiled criminal mastermind. If Dortmunder grimaces at you, you most likely will laugh, whereas if Parker sends a mean look your way, you’re probably his next target.

But Westlake was more than just a crime novelist as evidenced already in two of only 18 books I’ve read by him:  The Ax and Memory, the latter of which in my estimation even after only reading 18 of his books is his finest creation. In The Ax, he introduces us to the character of Burke Devore, a Burke Devore, a paper company manager, who through corporate down-sizing has lost his job and who will do anything to get that next job  — and I do mean anything. In Memory, a book that was published after his death in 2008 but written and rejected by publishers in the early 1960s, he introduces us to the character of Paul Cole, who has lost his memory and is trying to regain it. Here, I think he shows readers why he was, and is, such a great novelist, not just a great crime novelist, but a great novelist, period.

Where to start? Personally I recommend Memory, but with the understanding that his other novels are nothing like Memory, then I’d delve into Parker and Dortmunder. Both characters are brilliantly conceived and fleshed out to near  perfection, in my estimation, and are necessary reading not only for crime fiction fans, but for fans of great literary fiction.

So what author or book do you think is often forgotten by book bloggers or by the public in general? And why should we pay attention to him, her or it?

I would note that I wasn’t the only one who broke the rules slightly and talked about a “forgotten” author. Suey from It’s All About Books also did, with her post about Anya Seton, of whom, I’m not going to lie, I had never heard.

3 responses to “The forgotten faces of Donald E. Westlake

  1. I hadn’t heard of Westlake, so thanks for the spotlight! To be honest, most of what I read is contemporary, so I can’t think of any forgotten authors off the top of my head.

  2. I always appreciate reading about authors I’m not personally familiar with, and Westlake goes in this category! It’s great to find an author we enjoy so much and are so passionate about, we want to promote them however we can.

  3. I havent read anything written by this author. I am glad you did your post on him. I am looking forward to reading some of his novels.