Monday, February 9, 2009

westlake/stark books

I've read four of these so far:

As Donald Westlake:
The Hot Rock (the first Dortmunder book)
The Hook

As Richard Stark:
The Damsel (a Grofield book)
Nobody Runs Forever (a Parker book)

Each of these is different in tone. The Hot Rock is the lightest, most comic. Not quite my kind of humor but amusing; Westlake is a skillful writer. I'm not surprised this book was made into a film, though I wouldn't have imagined Robert Redford in any of the roles. But that's Hollywood.

The Damsel
, which borrows a character (Grofield) from The Hot Rock, is more adventure/thriller, and the more compelling read for me. But still fairly light in tone. I could almost see Cary Grant playing the lead, though he was born too early for that, and has about a hundred times the charm quotient of Grofield (whose name isn't Grofield in this book, but I digress).

Nobody Runs Forever is one of Stark's Parker books. He's a cold-as-ice thief and killer. The story of their planned heist is not told from the victim's or the detective's point of view, but mainly from the criminals'. (This is true for all four of these books.) It reminds me in tone of an old Cagney or Bogart film. I'm not an expert on hard-boiled detectives a la Hammett or Chandler, but maybe Steve will give his opinion, since he's read lots of these. He rates Chandler at the top, I think.

The Hook was, for me, the most compelling and disturbing of the four by far. It's set not in the world of habitual or professional crooks but in a literary one. The main characters are novelists. More psychological than the other books. Not a pretty take on humanity.

Westlake is a masculine writer. Plot is king, and men (mostly) propel it forward. I know a book needs both, but I usually care more about characters than plot. Westlake's plots are so well done, though, that even I notice and enjoy them. The four books contain some women but I just don't find them as convincing as the men. That's not unusual and not a deal-breaker in this case.

Four books comprise a tiny sample of Westlake's output of over a hundred books. So I'll read some more, and try to read the earlier books first.