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Donald Westlake may be dead, but he keeps on publishing

July 20, 2009 | 12:58 pm

Donaldwestlake

News circulated widely among fans this weekend that Donald Westlake, who died Dec. 31, 2008, will publish a new book in 2010. "Memory," which follows a man whose memory has been destroyed as he tries to rebuild his life, was written in the early 1960s but didn't find a publisher then; Hard Case Crime thinks it will catch on now. Publisher Charles Ardai said in an e-mail:

It's a dark existential novel, and a long one, and I think these were the reasons his then literary agent at the time advised him to shelve it and concentrate instead on the more commercial sorts of crime fiction he was becoming known for. But it's a shame, because the book's really excellent -- a perfect example of noir fiction pushed to its limits -- and it deserved to have been published during his lifetime.

Thing is, Westlake's reputation has done nothing but build since his death. Today our Calendar section features a big piece -- even longer online, with illustrations -- on "The Hunter," the first of Westlake's novels to get graphic novel treatment (by artist Darwyn Cooke). Geoff Boucher writes:

The Cooke adaptation is already being hailed as a masterpiece by key tastemakers in the comics world, and next week it will meet the public in a major way as Cooke and [editor Scott] Dunbier take it to Comic-Con International in San Diego, the massive pop-culture expo that is a sort of Cannes for capes or a Sundance for sci-fi. Cooke will be on two panels, one of them a Thursday program titled “A Darker Shade of Ink: Crime and Noir in Comics.” That might conjure up memories of the infamously lurid EC Comics of the 1950s, but hard-boiled crime is heating up in the word-balloon medium.

Superheroes still dominate comics, but “The Hunter” is part of a surge in noir-minded projects that owe far more to the bloodied pulp of Westlake, James M. Cain and Jim Thompson than they do the cosmic melodramas of Jack Kirby and Stan Lee.

And in our Sunday books pages, Robert Crais reviewed the last novel Westlake completed before he died, "Get Real," in which his thieving protagonist agrees to let his gang be filmed -- in burglarizing action -- for a reality TV show.

Before Janet Evanovich brought us Stephanie Plum, Don Westlake was the Grand Master of Criminal Laughs with his hilarious novels about professional thief John Dortmunder. "Get Real" is the 14th Dortmunder novel and proves again that Westlake is the King of Clever....

Donald Westlake will not leave you hanging, my friends. Part of the great fun of these novels is watching Dortmunder (and Westlake) outsmart the people who think they're smarter than he is -- including readers like me. So, trust me, Dortmunder comes up with exactly the play to make this outrageous concept believable.

Westlake -- under various pseudonyms -- published about 80 books while he was alive. I wouldn't be surprised if these projects are not the last we hear of him.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Donald Westlake in 2001. Credit: Louis Lanzano / For The Times

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