The Getaway Car by Donald E. Westlake and edited by Levi Stahl (University of Chicago 2014) is a fascinating collection of Westlake’s non-fiction. It is a must for Westlake fans but anyone interested in writing will find it worthwhile.
It includes Westlake’s “The Hardboiled Dicks” first delivered in a May 1982 lecture at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC and later published in The Third Degree. I was at that lecture and it is hard to believe it was over 30 years ago. I remember thinking the lecture was toned down in a couple of spots prior to publication but I will need to find what I wrote for a fan publication at the time for any specifics. It remains a great analysis of the work of the private eye.
One short piece that fascinates me is “Light” an unpublished manuscript found in Westlake’s files and apparently written in 1997 or 1998. His 40th novel “The Ax” was a departure that got great reviews, sold surprisingly well, and caught his publisher’s attention. His return to the world of Parker after a hiatus of more than 20 years in “Comeback” also created a stir.
Suddenly, expectations were raised. He had another novel finished but it was no longer deemed suitable as a follow-up to “The Ax.” He told his agent “It’s a little late for me to have second novel problems, but that is what this is.”
I noticed that the Wall Street Journal has just published an appreciation of Westlake and a nice review of Stahl’s fine collection by William Kristol, editor of the National Review. I rarely agree with Mr. Kristol on anything but I share his enthusiasm for Westlake. I would not go quite as far as Krystol, who said Westlake was “the greatest modern American novelist.”
Here's also writer Barry Malzberg's comment to Richard Moore, published here with Mr. Malzberg's permission:
As I wrote Lawrence Block off-list a week or two ago, "I am being escorted however reluctantly to belief in Donald E. Westlake as the greatest 20th Century USA writer." A refugee for half a century now from the precincts of quality lit and its bias, I am perhaps unthrilled but also embraced by this inference. No writer alive or dead has given me more pleasure per capita than Donald Westlake. I wish he had not been such a nasty son of a bitch (at least to me) but as Murch's mother would point out, the best route does not usually parallel the most scenic route.
GET REAL shows a 75 year old writer going out at the top, his gifts not only undiminished but soaring. The two posth, the last novel, and the last published in Westlake's lifetime shows his gift not only intact but still growing. The posthumously published novels are sensational, in fact THE COMEDY IS FINISHED, dealing with the same essential national dilemma as AMERICAN PASTORAL outdoes Roth's great novel as social and literary document.