Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Westlake Shorter Fiction

In 1998, Donald Westlake (under the infamous name, Richard Stark) brought back his heister Parker after a 23-year (or so) absence. By then, I had read all the Parker novels (tracking some of the hard-to-find titles by interlibrary loan).

I never took to Westlake's comic heister Dortmunder in the same way, though I have read and enjoyed several of these books. For me, Dortmunder (and maybe humorous crime fiction more generally) works better in shorter form. The Dortmunder stories, Thieves' Dozen (11 stories!), are pretty great. Dortmunder also appears in a strong (and less slapsticky) novella, "Walking Around Money," in Transgressions (edited by Ed McBain).

Westlake also wrote a series of linked stories about a morose cop, Levine. This collection -- bittersweet, world-weary, bracing -- is really worth reading.

I'm still on my war literature campaign (just read The Thin Red Line -- thumbs up), but I took a break and read Enough, which Westlake called a "two-reeler" (and both "reels" loosely deal with the film industry). The book includes one short novel, A Travesty, and a novelette (?) called "Ordo," which was reprinted in The Mammoth Book of Pulp Fiction (edited by Maxim Jakubowski). A Travesty is a fun, humorous lark about a crime-solving, murderous film critic who is unfairly framed for a murder he commits (think about that?!). "Ordo" is pulpy in its way -- featuring a sailor protagonist and an underage wife (and later starlet) -- but it also has what I might call existential resonance. (And now I've just discovered a French film adaptation, 2004, after I wrote the word "existential." Hmm.) In other words, more Westlake worth reading.


George said...

You can never go wrong with Westlake! I enjoyed ENOUGH when it first published.

Todd Mason said...

ORDO the film is also fine. (I enjoyed the warning on IMDb from one disgusted young man (at least, we can hope he was a callow kid), who sighs that the film is OK, I suppose, if you want to see a, jeez, 30yo woman swimming in the nude.

Heaven forfend. I'm not sure there's ever been a time in my life, at least, when that notion would put me off, particularly when the woman in question was Marie-Josée Croze.

Doug Levin said...

Thanks for the comments, George and Todd. I've got to catch up on what Patti featured today (11/11/11). Worth noting that Westlake was a vet -- Air Force, I think. I guess Ordo is a serviceman too.

Todd Mason said...

As I recall, Ordo is a merchant seaman (mariner?). At least in the film.