Donald E. Westlake
Born July 12, 1933(1933-07-12)Brooklyn, New York
Died December 31, 2008(2008-12-31) (aged 75)Mexico
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 U.S.
Genres crime fiction
Notable work(s) The Hunter


add to related

Donald E. Westlake

Edit Block
no caption

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 two writers (the other is Joe Gores) 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

Edit Block

Westlake was born in Brooklyn, New York, but raised upstate 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 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 rainbow 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.[citation needed] 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.


Edit Block

In addition to writing consistently under his own name, Westlake published under several pseudonyms. 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. Three other Stark short stories followed through 1961, including "The Curious Facts Preceding My Execution", 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 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.
  • 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. 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.
  • 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.
  • Ben Christopher: One-shot pseudonym for a 1960 story in 77 Sunset Strip magazine.
  • 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 collaborative soft-core work by Lawrence Block and 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, one 1966 short story.
  • John B. Allan: Elizabeth Taylor: A Fascinating Story of America's Most Talented Actress and the World's Most Beautiful Woman, 1961, biography.
  • Don Holliday: Pseudonym used by Westlake for two collaborative soft-core novels (with various authors, including Hal Dresner and Lawrence Block) in 1963/64.
  • Curt Clark: Debuted in 1964 with the short story "Nackles". Novel: Anarchaos, 1967, science fiction.
  • 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.
  • P.N. Castor: Pseudonym used for one 1966 short story co-authored with Dave Foley.
  • Timothy J. Culver: Ex Officio, 1970, thriller.
  • J. Morgan Cunningham: Comfort Station, 1971, humor. Cover features the blurb, "I wish I had written this book! – Donald E. Westlake."
  • 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.
  • 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:

  • "Richard Stark" is a minor character in Westlake's Jimmy The Kid.
  • Richard Stark's character of Parker has ID that gives his name as "John B. Allan".
  • The 'hero' of Westlake's novel Adios, Scheherezade is hack novelist Alan Marshall.
  • 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."

Additionally, Westlake conducted a mock 'interview' with Richard Stark, Tucker Coe and Timothy J. Culver in an article for the non-fiction book The Fine Art of Murder.

Writing style

Edit Block

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, the hard-luck criminal genius who began as Parker getting caught in a comic situation in the 1970 novel The Hot Rock.

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.

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.

Motion pictures

Edit Block

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 Petyer Coyote 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. 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.

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 1983 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 USA 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.

Westlake also wrote a treatment for the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies, which was adapted later by several screenwriters. How much of Westlake's story ended up in the screenplay is unknown; he does not receive either a story or screenplay credit for the finished film, suggesting that little if any of his original work was used .


Edit Block


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.
YearTitleAuthor CreditSeriesNotes
1960The MercenariesDonald E. WestlakeAlso published in the UK as The Smashers. Republished in 2009 under Westlake's preferred title, The Cutie.
1961Brother and SisterEdwin West
1961Campus DollEdwin West
1961Young and InnocentEdwin West
1961Killing TimeDonald E. Westlake
1962The HunterRichard StarkParkerLater published as Point Blank and Payback.
1962361Donald E. Westlake
1962Strange AffairEdwin West
1963KillyDonald E. Westlake
1963Campus LoversEdwin West
1963The Man With the Getaway FaceRichard StarkParkerAlso published in the UK as Steel Hit.
1963The OutfitRichard StarkParker
1963The MournerRichard StarkParker
1963The ScoreRichard StarkParkerAlso published in the UK as Killtown.
1964Pity Him AfterwardsDonald E. Westlake
1965The Fugitive PigeonDonald E. Westlake
1965The JuggerRichard StarkParker
1966The SeventhRichard StarkParkerLater published as The Split.
1966The Busy BodyDonald E. Westlake
1966The HandleRichard StarkParkerAlso published in the UK as Run Lethal.
1966The Spy In The OintmentDonald E. Westlake
1966Kinds of Love, Kinds of DeathTucker CoeMitchell Tobin
1967Murder Among ChildrenTucker CoeMitchell Tobin
1967The DamselRichard StarkGrofield
1967The Rare Coin ScoreRichard StarkParker
1967God Save The MarkDonald E. WestlakeEdgar Award winner for Best Novel
1967PhilipDonald E. Westlake
1967AnarchaosCurt Clark
1967The Green Eagle ScoreRichard StarkParker
1968Who Stole Sassi Manoon?Donald E. Westlake
1968The Black Ice ScoreRichard StarkParker
1969The Sour Lemon ScoreRichard StarkParker
1969Somebody Owes Me MoneyDonald E. Westlake
1969Up Your BannersDonald E. Westlake
1969The DameRichard StarkGrofield
1969The BlackbirdRichard StarkGrofield
1970The Hot RockDonald E. WestlakeDortmunder
1970Adios ScheherezadeDonald E. Westlake
1970Comfort StationJ. Morgan Cunningham
1970Wax AppleTucker CoeMitchell Tobin
1970A Jade in AriesTucker CoeMitchell Tobin
1970Ex OfficioTimothy J. CulverAlso published under the title Power Play.
1971Lemons Never LieRichard StarkGrofield
1971I Gave At The OfficeDonald E. Westlake
1971SlaygroundRichard StarkParker
1971Deadly EdgeRichard StarkParker
1972Bank ShotDonald E. WestlakeDortmunder
1972Cops And RobbersDonald E. Westlake
1972Don't Lie To MeTucker CoeMitchell Tobin
1972Plunder SquadRichard StarkParkerCrosses over with the 1972 Joe Gores novel Dead Skip
1973Gangway!Donald E. Westlake and Brian Garfield
1974Butcher's MoonRichard StarkParker
1974Help I Am Being Held PrisonerDonald E. Westlake
1974Jimmy the KidDonald E. WestlakeDortmunderIncludes chapters from an otherwise non-existent novel by Richard Stark entitled The Child Heist.
1975Two MuchDonald E. Westlake
1975Brothers KeepersDonald E. Westlake
1976Dancing AztecsDonald E. Westlake
1977Nobody's PerfectDonald E. WestlakeDortmunder
1980Castle In The AirDonald E. Westlake
1981KahawaDonald E. Westlake
1983Why Me?Donald E. WestlakeDortmunder
1984A Likely StoryDonald E. Westlake
1985High AdventureDonald E. Westlake
1985Good BehaviorDonald E. WestlakeDortmunder
1986One Of Us Is WrongSamuel HoltSam Holt
1986I Know A Trick Worth Two Of ThatSamuel HoltSam Holt
1987What I Tell You Three Times Is FalseSamuel HoltSam Holt
1988Trust Me On ThisDonald E. WestlakeSara Joslyn
1989Sacred MonsterDonald E. Westlake
1989The Fourth Dimension Is DeathSamuel HoltSam Holt
1990Drowned HopesDonald E. WestlakeDortmunderCrosses over with the 1992 Joe Gores novel 32 Cadillacs
1991The Perfect MurderJack Hitt with Lawrence Block, Sarah Caudwell, Tony Hillerman, Peter Lovesey, Donald E. WestlakeCollaborative novel, devised and edited by Hitt. Westlake contributes two chapters.
1992HumansDonald E. Westlake
1993Don't AskDonald E. WestlakeDortmunder
1994Baby, Would I Lie?Donald E. WestlakeSara Joslyn
1995SmokeDonald E. Westlake
1996What's The Worst That Could Happen?Donald E. WestlakeDortmunder
1997The AxDonald E. Westlake
1997ComebackRichard StarkParker
1998BackflashRichard StarkParker
2000The HookDonald E. WestlakePublished in the UK as Corkscrew
2000FlashfireRichard StarkParker
2001FirebreakRichard StarkParker
2001Bad NewsDonald E. WestlakeDortmunder
2002Put A Lid On ItDonald E. Westlake
2002BreakoutRichard StarkParker
2002The Scared StiffJudson Jack CarmichaelPublished in the UK as by Donald E. Westlake
2003Money For NothingDonald E. Westlake
2004The Road to RuinDonald E. WestlakeDortmunder
2004Nobody Runs ForeverRichard StarkParker
2005Watch Your Back!Donald E. WestlakeDortmunder
2006Ask the ParrotRichard StarkParker
2007What's So Funny?Donald E. WestlakeDortmunder
2008Dirty MoneyRichard StarkParker
2009Get RealDonald E. WestlakeDortmunder
2010MemoryDonald E. WestlakeWritten in the 1960s, 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.

  • Elizabeth Taylor: A Fascinating Story of America's Most Talented Actress and the World's Most Beautiful Woman (1962, as "John B. Allan")
  • Under an English Heaven (1972)

Produced Screenplays
  • Cops And Robbers (1973)
  • Hot Stuff (1979) co-written with Michael Kane
  • The Stepfather (1987)
  • Why Me? (1990) co-written with Leonard Maas, Jr.
  • The Grifters (1990)
  • Ripley Under Ground (2005) co-written with William Blake Herron

Some of the content on this page has been provided by the following page on

Up Next: Colin Dexter
autoplay: OFF