Donald Westlake, R.I.P.


My favorite comic mystery writer is gone, but not forgotten. Thank Ra there’s one more Dortmunder novel coming out in July: Get Real.

Below is the text of an interview I did with Don Westlake for DingBat Magazine a few years ago.

BAT: For starters, here’s a question you probably won’t answer. What year was John Dortmunder born and when is his birthday?

WESTLAKE: John was born 44 years before the publication date of each book. Makes it easy to remember.

BAT: We love Dortmunder just the way he is, but if he hadn’t fallen into a life of crime what profession would he have chosen?

WESTLAKE: I doubt John would have chosen a profession. He might have run a grocery store in a changing neighborhood where nothing really works out, or run the construction office for a large inept builder corporation constantly being ripped off by the employees. “Hey, where you goin with that plywood?” “It’s mine, I brought it with me this mornin.”
“Oh, okay.”

BAT: What’s the last book Dortmunder read?

WESTLAKE: John is neither a reader nor a moviegoer, nor, except for the local news (for its surrealist value) a TV watcher. He has trouble enough with real life.

BAT: We know how Dortmunder feels about computers & technology. Then again, we can understand how he might be resistant to the word “cell” phone.” Do you share John’s queasiness?

WESTLAKE: John is more of a Luddite than I am, but our needs are slightly different. I was in conversation with another writer recently, and we both agreed that E-mail is wonderful because it’s even better than the fax for saying no.

BAT: Here’s another impossible question, but of all the Dortmunder novels which is your favorite?

WESTLAKE: That is an impossible question. I think I enjoyed WHY ME most while writing it because I’d just come back from living a year in London and getting with that group again was a picnic.

BAT: We never understood how Hollywood cast Robert Redford in the role of Dortmunder. We’ve always had a vague image of Walter Matthau in the role. If you were casting the part, who would you like to see play Dortmunder?

WESTLAKE: Over the years, producers have said to me, “Who do you see as Dortmunder?” and I always say, “Harry Dean Stanton,” and they always say, “He doesn’t sell tickets!” and I say, “That isn’t what you asked me.” Matthau would be good, though the makeup might be tricky now. If Harrison Ford ever decides to release his inner doofus again, he could do it.

BAT: Finally, we heard a rumor that you broke your own rule by writing two Dortmunder novels in a row. Is it possible you’ll break that rule again? (PLEASE!), i.e., when can we expect another Dortmunder novel?

WESTLAKE: I have no idea what Westlake is doing next. He’s standing aside while R Stark brings Parker back in a book now two-thirds done, called ASK THE PARROT. There have been delays, travel and this and that, and this past-the-guarantee eye, but we’re getting there.

BAT: Thanks, Don!



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