Wednesday 9 June 2010

Westlake Score #1: Levine

I should have a few Donald Westlake books turning up this week, all of them eBay scores, hence the title of this post. (See what I did there? 'Score'? Like 'heist'? And to think, you get this shit for free.) First to arrive is this:

A 1984 US hardback first edition of Levine, published by Mysterious Press. Copies of this one aren't readily available in the UK – I don't know if it was even published over here – and the most recent edition of it seems to have been 1987. Levine is actually a collection of six novellas, all centring on the eponymous cop. Four of them were written in the late '50s and early '60s for Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, one was written in 1965 for Mike Shayne's Mystery Magazine, and the final one was written especially for this collection, on the request of the publisher, Otto Penzler, as Westlake outlines in his introduction.

And in fact it's the introduction that's possibly the real draw here, as over thirteen pages Westlake details the creation of the novellas, explores his early years churning out short stories for all and sundry, and gives a few insights into his writing process. I read it last night and it's really interesting stuff. Here he is on novel series:

The repetition of characters makes a series, but if the characters in the original story are tied to a theme or a concern or a view of life that colors them and helps to create them, can they live in stories that are irrelevant to that extra element? I don't think so, and I think over the years there have been several series characters who have been less than they might have been because their later adventures never touched upon those thematic elements which had created their character in the first place.

Having now read the first Alan Grofield novel, The Damsel, I reckon you could make a case for that being the problem with the Grofield-starring Parker spin-off books. Anyway, there's lots more fascinating insights in the intro, including how Westlake stopped writing his early experiment with an emotionless character, 361, to write another book starring an emotionless character instead – The Hunter, written as Richard Stark; and how he suddenly found himself writing comedy caper novels, despite never having been, as he says, "the funniest kid in class. I was always, invariably, the funniest kid's best friend... I wasn't the guy with the quick line; I was the guy who loved the quick line."

So, what will be the next Westlake Score to turn up? You'll just have to wait and see...

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