Friday 14 February 2014

Donald E. Westlake Non-Fiction Anthology The Getaway Car (University of Chicago Press, 2014): Table of Contents and More Details Revealed

NB: A version of this post also appears at The Violent World of Parker.

With Violent World of Parker proprietor Trent currently otherwise engaged – literally – it falls to me to provide an update on the Donald E. Westlake non-fiction anthology Trent and I blogged about back in April of last year. Edited by University of Chicago Press' Levi Stahl, and due for publication by UCP in September, the anthology has now gained both a title and a sub-title: The Getaway Car: A Donald Westlake Nonfiction Miscellany. The full table of contents is available to view on the UCP site, but Levi has kindly agreed for it to be reproduced on VWoP and Existential Ennui:


Foreword by Lawrence Block
Editor’s Introduction

1 My Second Life: Fragments from an Autobiography

2 Donald E. Westlake, a.k.a. . . .
Hearing Voices in My Head: Tucker Coe, Timothy J. Culver, Richard Stark and Donald E. Westlake
Living with a Mystery Writer, by Abby Adams
Writers on Writing: A Pseudonym Returns From an Alter-Ego Trip, With New Tales to Tell

3 So Tell Me about This Job We’re Gonna Pull: On Genre
The Hardboiled Dicks
Introduction to Murderous Schemes
Introduction to The Best American Mystery Stories, 2000
Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You

4 Ten Most Wanted: Ten Favorite Mystery Books
5 Returning to the Scene of the Crime: On His Own Work
Introduction to Levine
Tangled Webs for Sale: Best Offer
Introduction to Kahawa
Letter to Howard B. Gotlieb, Boston University Libraries

6 Lunch Break: May’s Famous Tuna Casserole

7 The Other Guys in the String: Peers, Favorites, and Influences
Lawrence Block: First Sighting
On Peter Rabe
Playing Politics with a Master of Dialogue: On George V. Higgins
On Rex Stout
Introduction to Jack Ritchie’s A New Leaf and Other Stories
Foreword to Thurber on Crime
Introduction to Charles Willeford’s The Way We Die Now
On Stephen Frears
John D. MacDonald: A Remembrance

8 Coffee Break: Letter to Ray Broekel

9 Anything You Say May Be Used against You: Interviews
An Inside Look at Donald Westlake, by Albert Nussbaum, 81332-132
The Worst Happens: From an Interview by Patrick McGilligan

10 Midnight Snack: Gustatory Notes from All Over

11 Side Jobs: Prison Breaks, Movie Mobsters, and Radio Comedy
Love Stuff, Cops-and-Robbers Style
Send In the Goons

12 Signed Confessions: Letters
To Judy ?
To Peter Gruber
To James Hale
To Stephen and Tabitha King
To Brian Garfield
To David Ramus
To Pam Vesey
To Gary Salt
To Henry Morrison
To Jon L. Breen

13 Jobs Never Pulled: Title Ideas
Crime Titles
Comic Crime Titles

14 Death Row (Or, The Happily Ever Afterlife): Letter to Ralph L. Woods

Name Index

I must say it all looks fascinating: I've read (and written about) Westlake essays like "Don't Call Us, We'll Call You", "Peter Rabe" and "Break-Out" before, but there are plenty more besides I haven't read; I'm especially keen to take a look at the autobiography fragments and the personal letters Levi (and his glamorous assistant Ethan Iverson) dug out of Westlake's files. I'm also intrigued to read Levi's introduction and Lawrence Block's foreword, a single sentence from the latter of which is previewed at the UCP site, along with a quote from Hard Case Crime's Charles Ardai and some more info about the book. Go take a gander.

Wednesday 12 February 2014

Westlake Score: Nobody's Perfect by Donald E. Westlake (Hodder, 1978); Dortmunder Daze

NB: This post also appears at The Violent World of Parker. Linked in this week's Friday's Forgotten Books.

This next Westlake Score is again a 1970s British Hodder & Stoughton first edition of a Donald E. Westlake crime caper, again bearing a Mark Wilkinson-designed dust jacket, which I've again added to the Existential Ennui British Thriller Book Cover Design of the 1970s and 1980s page, alongside Wilkinson's wrapper for A New York Dance.

Published by Hodder in 1978 – the year after the Evans first edition, which I blogged about briefly in 2010Nobody's Perfect is the fourth novel in Westlake's comedic crime series starring hard luck heister John Dortmunder and his inept crew, and, to my mind, thus far the least successful. In his two-part essay on thrillers the academic and critic John Fraser labels Westlake's capers "terminally unfunny" (Fraser has a lot more time for Westlake's pseudonymous Parker novels), and I must admit four books into the Dortmunder series I'm beginning to have some sympathy for his position. (Mind you, Fraser also called W. Somerset Maugham's sublime Ashenden, or, The British Agent "dreary", so his word certainly shouldn't be taken as gospel.) The only Dortmunder I've found really amusing so far is the second one, Bank Shot; the other three have barely raised a smile.

But while the debut Dortmunder, The Hot Rock, had novelty going for it (it is, after all, the first book in the series) and the third outing, Jimmy the Kid, was divertingly meta (especially for Parker fans it features a Parker novel-within-the-novel, Child Heist), Nobody's Perfect suffers from over-familiarity. Going in there's the expectation that Dortmunder and co.'s theft of a painting (to aid the owner's insurance scam) will somehow go wrong, and sure enough it does. Which would be fine if the laughs were forthcoming... only they're not, no matter how many comedy Scotsmen Westlake throws at the thing.

Ethan Iverson, in his peerless, indispensable overview of Westlake's oeuvre, "A Storyteller That Got the Details Right", reckons that as of the next book, Why Me?, "the franchise really starts to settle down", and "the team consistently act like experienced pros". I hope Ethan's right, because in the absence of any giggles, for me the Dortmunder books are going to have to stand or fall on those old stalwarts, character and story. And on the evidence of Nobody's Perfect, there's plenty of room for improvement on both counts.