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Donald Westlake R.I.P.

Cameron Hughes has collected the thoughts of crime writers about the meaning of Donald Westlake’s death in the world of crime fiction. Kevin Burton Smith, Joseph Finder, Ken Bruen, Laura Lipppman, Colin Cotterill, Ali Karim, and Harlen Coben are some of the writers and critics who contributed. The Rap Sheet carries the tributes.


Also, I contributed my thoughts about Westlake writing as Richard Stark.

The character of professional criminal Parker was a shot fired by a precision marksman. It still echoes in the ear of many contemporary crime writers. Writing as Richard Stark, Westlake, novel by novel, showed us the rational, calculating, unsentimental Parker, the career criminal, the clear-eyed professional, anticipating the plays of other characters in the novels like a chess grand master. Parker planned his jobs like Special Forces operations, working with other freelance criminals to carry out an operation. In Parker, Westlake created a character who had survived because he understood the weakness of those around him and how ... [they] were held hostage by a combination of greed, arrogance, and fear. The emotional distance between Parker and others was as large as the vacuum of deep space. Even after plastic surgery, the world always hunted him, found him, and tried to destroy him.


He never gave up, he never gave in, and he lived by a personal code that demanded integrity among men and women who had long ago discarded integrity like a worn-out horse no longer fit to ride. Still, Parker never gave up.


In Parker we find clues to our own alienation and existential questioning of whether we can ever know or trust anyone. Donald Westlake and Richard Stark are seemingly gone. Dead. But as long as there are readers on the planet, no one will ever be able write R.I.P. after Parker’s name. In that way, Westlake/Stark will always be with us.

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