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Obituary: Donald Westlake

Obituary by Jack Foley

PROLIFIC author Donald Westlake has died of heart failure at the age of 75.

The acclaimed writer, who was equally at home writing comic crime capers and violent crime noirs, penned more than 100 novels many of which were turned successfully into films.

His best known works include Point Blank, which was adapted into a 1972 film starring Lee Marvin, as welll as The Hot Rock, The Outfit and Bank Shot.

His best-known character, however, was hard-boiled criminal Parker, who featured in 20 novels published between 1962 and 1974 – although these were written under the pen name Richard Stark.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, on July 12, 1933, Westlake attended Champlain College, followed by Harpur College in Binghamton, New York, where he became interested in writing.

However, upon leaving education he spent two years in the US Air Force, an experience that would inform many of his characters.

His first novel, The Mercenaries, was published in 1960 at a time when authors were actively encouraged to use pseudonyms. Westlake used 11 during the course of his career, as it was favourable not to be seen to publish too many books in one year under the same name.

He was renowned for writing all his novels on a manual typewriter and never planned his plots – but regularly showcased a fluency and accuracy that left his editors amazed.

He also wrote seven days a week, citing the work ethic of violinist Yehudi Menuhin as a major influence.

Westlake was one of only two thriller writers to win the prestigious Edgar Award in three different categories. In 1968, he was laurelled for the best novel, God Save The Mark; in 1990, he won the award for best short story for Too Many Crooks, and in 1991, he took the prize for the best motion picture screenplay for The Grifters – a film starring John Cusack.

He was also made a Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America, the highest honour the organisation can bestow, and he continued to write until his death, with his final novel, Get Real, due to be published in April 2009.

Westlake is survived by his wife, Abigail, four sons from previous marriages and three step-children.

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