Thursday, January 01, 2009


Back in the early 1970s, I found a Donald E. Westlake novel -- "Bank Shot" -- on a paperback carousel at some random KOA site my grandparents took me to in their Winnebago. The plot (spoilers ahead, if you care) was about a hapless group of criminals who steal a bank temporarily relocated into a trailer by slowly lifting it up, putting it on wheels, and driving away with it... only to lose it in the final pages when it rolls down a Long Island hillside into the Atlantic Ocean.

That started an obsession with Donald E. Westlake that lasted through a teenager in the '70s avidly devouring his backlist to a middle-aged man in the '00s waiting for his next book. He never disappointed me. His novels -- especially those featuring John Dortmunder, the ill-fortuned ringleader of many of his books (including "Bank Shot") -- were something I always looked forward to. Donald E. Westlake could put more humor, suspense, and character development into a single paragraph than any living American writer.

When my first novel was published in 2002, it was no coincidence that the main character was named Andrew Westlake; in fact, I was planning to go to a Westlake book-signing he was doing in New York when I got the call telling me that I was going to be published... meaning I had to celebrate, and put off the idol-worship. And when my next novel is published in late March, it will be no coincidence that the protaganist is an ill-fortuned ringleader of a hapless group of criminals engaged in a ridiculous crime.

Donald E. Westlake died today.

I am personally devastated. No, I never met the man. If I had, I'd have probably been Stupid Inarticulate Fan Boy. But, yes, I wish I'd have had the opportunity through the years to tell him that, once upon a time at a KOA campground...

Godspeed, Donald E. Westlake. And thanks for the many fond memories I'll always have in the bookshelves.