I'm taking a brief break from my break to pass along the sad news that Donald Westlake, master of the comic crime novel, died of a heart attack on New Year's Eve. He was 75, and productive until the end. His next novel, Get Real, will be published in April July (update courtesy of crime-fiction writer and reviewer Sarah Weinman, who has posted an excellent appreciation of Westlake on her blog, Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind).
Among writerly types, there are the tortured artistes, the painstaking craftsmen, and, all too rarely, the writers who seem to be having the time of their lives. Donald Westlake was in that third category. He made it look easy. He made it look like fun.
During his 50-year career, Westlake—using a variety of pen names—wrote more than 100 novels and five screenplays. Among the latter was his crackling screenplay for The Grifters, adapted from a Jim Thompson novel. His pseudonyms included Richard Stark, Tucker Coe, Samuel Holt, and Edwin West. According to the New York Times obituary, Westlake "used different names in part to combat skepticism over his rapid rate of writing books, sometimes as many as four a year."
He wrote seven days a week, always using a manual typewriter. According to the Times obit, he kept four or five typewriters "and cannibalized their parts when any one broke, as the typewriter model was no longer manufactured."
I discovered Westlake years ago when I picked up Trust Me On This, his gleefully dark 1989 comedy set at a Florida tabloid newspaper with a strong resemblance to the National Enquirer. Since then I've read many (but by no means all) of his other books. I wrote about Westlake's splendid fictitious car names in this June 2007 post.
Westlake's publisher, Grand Central Publishing, is circulating other online tributes via a Twitter stream; they include posts at Bookgasm, Cheaper Ironies, Secret Dead Blog, and Lesa's Book Critiques.