Novelist Donald Westlake died New Year’s Eve, while on vacation in Mexico, and the world is a poorer place for his loss. He was seventy-five.
I have to admit that I cried when I heard the news; not because I knew the man. I didn’t. But I knew his works and loved them.
Westlake was one of my favorite authors. Reading his novels (they weren’t really mysteries, although that was the publishing pigeonhole they were placed in) made me laugh, made me say, “Oh, yeah!” and made me wish that I could write as well as he did.
My favorite Westlake book is the first I read. The Hot Rock. It is, I believe, a work of genius.
In in, Westlake introduces John Dortmunder, a true criminal mastermind and the unluckiest human being on the face of the planet. The “hot rock” in question is the Balabomo Emerald, a sacred African gem, and Dortmunder is commissioned to steal it. He does — five times. His efforts are as legendary as the emerald itself.
Westlake produced other marvelous tales (he wrote more than one hundred novels); some of them featuring Dortmunder and a lot more that didn’t. I read the others, as I found them, but sucked up the Dortmunder books as if I were a dried sponge on a damp kitchen counter.
John Dortmunder was made real to me through Westlake’s talent. Now the writer and his wonderful creation are gone. I miss them already.