Books by Donald E. Westlake

Donald E. Westlake was born in Brooklyn in 1933. After serving in the U.S. Air Force he began his writing career with The Mercenaries in 1960. He has written dozens of novels over the past thirty-five years, under his own name and a rainbow of pseudonyms.


DOUBLE FEATURE by Donald E. Westlake
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Feb. 4, 2020

"Neither story is anywhere near Westlake's best work, but they still make a terrific tragicomic pair."
Hard Case revives a pair of movie-related novellas originally published under the cryptic title Enough in 1977. Read full book review >
BROTHERS KEEPERS by Donald E. Westlake
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Feb. 5, 2019

"Not much in the way of felonies, and most of the other 15 monks are ciphers. But Westlake's sweetly consecrated hero, at once disconcertingly direct and utterly clueless, will bring you to your feet cheering for his impossible cause."
A tiny band of monks facing the loss of their monastery in midtown Manhattan fight back in this slight, humorous 1975 charmer. Read full book review >
HELP I AM BEING HELD PRISONER by Donald E. Westlake
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Feb. 13, 2018

"Instead of sharing the hero's fears, fans of Westlake's Dortmunder series, which got started around the same time with The Hot Rock (1970), will appreciate the author's consummate blending of comedy and suspense, often within the same sentence, and rejoice that more Westlakes are slated for resurrection."
Westlake, nine years dead but still enjoying a very productive season (Forever and a Death, 2017), returns in a bright reprint from 1974 that shows him working the field in which he remains unrivaled: the comic caper in which Murphy's law reigns supreme. Read full book review >
FOREVER AND A DEATH by Donald E. Westlake
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: June 13, 2017

"Not as tough as Westlake's Richard Stark stories about Parker, not as humorous as his tales of the hapless thief Dortmunder, but a posthumous bonus fans will cherish anyway."
Fans of the beloved Westlake (1933-2008) will rejoice in this unexpected treat: a novel based on a treatment for a 1997 James Bond movie that the Chinese government's displeasure prevented from going into production. Read full book review >
THE GETAWAY CAR by Donald E. Westlake
ESSAYS & ANTHOLOGIES
Released: Sept. 24, 2014

"Westlake kept a list of possible book titles, the last of which was Read Me. It would have been just the right one for this bright, witty book."
Assorted selections from a beloved crime writer. Read full book review >
GET REAL by Donald E. Westlake
MYSTERY THRILLER
Released: July 17, 2009

"Westlake, who died this past New Year's Eve, left 14 Dortmunder capers. This one is as beguiling as the rest (What's So Funny, 2007, etc.), with the bonus of exquisitely placed jibes at reality TV."
Dortmunder's last caper. Read full book review >
WHAT’S SO FUNNY? by Donald E. Westlake
MYSTERY THRILLER
Released: April 26, 2007

"More characters than at Agincourt, each with a wicked way with a punch line, and a plot twist that lands this firmly in Westlake's own screwball territory (Watch Your Back, 2005, etc.)."
The 13th workout for the funny bone featuring John Dortmunder, his inept crew and a massively over-attended burglary. Read full book review >
WATCH YOUR BACK! by Donald E. Westlake
MYSTERY THRILLER
Released: April 18, 2005

"A top-flight caper from Westlake, who can outconnive anyone in the writing business. "
Begin laughing right now. Read full book review >
THE ROAD TO RUIN by Donald E. Westlake
MYSTERY THRILLER
Released: April 21, 2004

"Not quite the funniest of Dortmunder's capers, but worthwhile if only to eavesdrop on the drinkers at the O.J. Bar & Grill as they resolve the issue of global warming."
Can you believe John Dortmunder (see below) and his wayward cronies (Bad News, 2001, etc.) actually doing an honest day's work and getting paid for it? Read full book review >
THIEVES’ DOZEN by Donald E. Westlake
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: April 21, 2004

"Irresistible. After reading about a certain card game herein, there's probably not a mystery reader alive who wouldn't beg to sit at Dortmunder's poker table. "
John Dortmunder, who's been stealing anything that isn't nailed down since 1970 (see above), is probably the reason this thieves' dozen includes only 11 short stories. And if we ever catch up with him and that other perp, Westlake, we're going to make them fork over the rest. Read full book review >
MONEY FOR NOTHING by Donald E. Westlake
MYSTERY THRILLER
Released: April 26, 2003

"Who can resist an assassination plot that hinges on costumes straight out of a Rudolf Friml operetta, a spy who loves Saks, an actor who delivers the best lines, and a cagey author twisting logic until it cries uncle?"
One of Westlake's many skills is to render the preposterous not only engaging but downright plausible. Josh Redmont, advertising executive on the Cloudbank toilet paper account, is waiting for the weekend ferry to take him to the family vacationing on Fire Island when a stranger sidles up to him and blurts, "You are now active." Oops. It's payback time for those monthly $1,000 checks Josh has been receiving for the past seven years from an untraceable concern called United States Agent. Only it's not the USA who wants him to be a spy, but foreign nationals determined to assassinate the premier of Kamastan when he acknowledges an Olympic award at Yankee Stadium. Josh's New York apartment will be used as a safe house to stash munitions, security-detail costumes, sharpshooters, and slinky Tina. But Josh is scheduled for elimination himself once the premier is history. While he wrestles with the sometimes conflicting orders of Levrin and Nimrin, he comes upon another naive sleeper agent now activated, off-off-Broadway actor Mitch Robbie. Using cunning, guile, stage props, and a facility for dialects, the two turn the tables on their handlers—though not before the genial chronicler of the Dortmunder gang (Bad News, 2001, etc.) morphs into his more savage alter ego Richard Stark (Breakout, 2002, etc.) long enough to litter a Port Washington enclave with corpses. Read full book review >
PUT A LID ON IT by Donald E. Westlake
MYSTERY THRILLER
Released: April 24, 2002

"Few smiles, fewer laughs. Westlake will have to rev up his sense of foul play, and of humor, to deliver the political version of Elmore Leonard's Get Shorty he's assuredly capable of."
Westlake, who usually tosses off punchlines with the zeal of a suicide bomber, misfires here. The set-up is promising enough: Francis Xavier Meehan, a career burglar up on federal charges for assaulting a truck incidentally carrying US mail (how was he to know?), is approached by Pat Jeffords, a politico who has decided, post-Watergate, to hire a real crook to redeem sensitive papers that could seriously jeopardize the president's reelection bid. Meehan agrees when he's offered a presidential pardon and spots a chance to make a bit on the side (the cache is secreted among the valuable antique firearm collection of rabid conservative Clendon Burnstone IV). Of course, since he's dealing with crafty pols like Jeffords and Bruce Benjamin, Meehan demands legal representation and soon draws in his court-appointed attorney, the feisty Elaine Goldfarb ("No details!" she shrills when Meehan starts to confide his illegal plans to her). In the meantime, Meehan assembles a gang—not quite as hapless as any of John Dortmunder's (Bad News, 2001, etc.)—cases Burnstone's estate, drives up and down the northeast corridor, and bumps into one situation after another that craves a payoff. But Meehan and the reader are both out of luck: His attempts lead to nothing but quiet fizzles, with barely a glimmer of a double-cross at the end. Read full book review >
BAD NEWS by Donald E. Westlake
MYSTERY THRILLER
Released: April 11, 2001

"Hilarious. The best workout your sense of humor will get this millennium."
When's the last time you read a book that made you laugh on every page? If there's a more wryly convoluted mind out there than Westlake's, it has yet to show itself, and it does make the five-year wait between John Dortmunder's lunatic capers (What's the Worst That Could Happen?, 1996, etc.) seem excruciatingly long. When a little solo heist for a measly thousand bucks' worth of cameras goes belly up, Dortmunder, just trying to make ends meet, joins Andy Kelp in switching coffins in the dead of night in a Queens cemetery for reasons Fitzroy Guilderpost and his co-conspirators Irwin Gabel and Little Feather Redcorn decline to elaborate on—until Dortmunder confiscates their guns and genially insists. The scam? To prove via DNA typing that Vegas showgirl Little Feather is the last surviving member of the Pottaknobbee tribe, hence entitled to a third of the proceeds of the Silver Chasm Gambling Casino, jointly run by the Oshkawas and the Kiotas. The two casino managers, blithely engaged in skimming millions from their fellow tribe members, dislike this idea so heartily that they counter it with a second grave robbery that's foiled by a tombstone switch engineered by Dortmunder but complicated by 24/7 cemetery surveillance, necessitating still another robbery, this one at a historic mansion on the Delaware Water Gap—which leads in turn to wildly funny court proceedings, a pair of nifty double-crosses, and, as in any felony involving Dortmunder, utter chaos, culminating in financial debacle for all.Read full book review >
THE HOOK by Donald E. Westlake
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: March 2, 2000

"trenchant—and several of those failed Bryce plots sound suspiciously like the work of Robert Ludlum."
Since blockbuster novelist Bryce Proctorr is blocked and can't write a word, while midlist author Wayne Prentice can't find Read full book review >
THE AX by Donald E. Westlake
MYSTERY THRILLER
Released: June 20, 1997

A downsized line manager plots a murderous way to winnow the competition for his next job, in this unusually somber tale from the reigning king of crime comedy. Though he saw the co-workers dismissed along with him turn instantly from teammates to competitors, Burke Devore knew from the first that they weren't the cause of his misery; the real enemy was the bosses, the board of directors, the shareholders willing to do anything to squeeze every ounce of profit from the paper company that's laid him off. But there's nothing he can do about the enemy, he ruefully acknowledges after two years of anguish; the only way he can claw his way back to a job is to create a vacancy through homicide—having first identified and eliminated the half-dozen most likely fellow-managers he'll be competing with. So he prepares a list of the best-qualified people close enough to his Connecticut home to be realistic competitors; practices firing his ancient Luger; and sets out on a purposeful odyssey to eliminate them. Westlake, the unrivaled master of the formula caper comedy (What's the Worst That Could Happen?, 1996, etc.), rises effortlessly to the challenge of varying these executions, keeping up the tension—even though you know (or think you know) exactly what's going to happen every time—by interspersing them with vignettes of Devore's quietly ruined home life, as his wife, who's obviously taken up with another man, drags him to counseling and his teenaged son is picked up for burglary. What's missing is any sense of cumulative horror or revulsion as Devore, doggedly distancing himself from his targets by reviewing their resumÇs and thinking of them by their initials, methodically works to make his next job opportunity happen. Though this lack of affect—especially in the chilly epilogue—is presumably Westlake's point, it sadly limits the range and psychological penetration of this grim `90s update of The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. Read full book review >
WHAT'S THE WORST THAT COULD HAPPEN? by Donald E. Westlake
MYSTERY THRILLER
Released: Oct. 11, 1996

Acting on a tip that a billionaire's house on Long Island is empty, John Dortmunder and a professional colleague pay it a nocturnal call. But the billionaire, slick Max Fairbanks, is entertaining a Playboy centerfold in the basement, and he not only calls the police on Dortmunder, but, adding insult to injury, steals a trumpery ring from his handcuffed guest's finger. Furious at this flagrant injustice (as what self- respecting thief wouldn't be?), Dortmunder (Don't Ask, 1993, etc.) escapes from custody vowing revenge and makes it his business to track down Fairbanks and reclaim his property. Tracking his well-insulated quarry to the midtown Manhattan hotel he owns, and then to Washington's famed Watergate complex, Dortmunder, with an increasingly elaborate entourage in tow, succeeds in taking Fairbanks for bigger and bigger scores, arousing Fairbanks's growing suspicions, but always—in Westlake's characteristically droll conceit—just missing that worthless ring Fairbanks keeps on his own worthless finger. It's not till Fairbanks's junket takes him to his Las Vegas casino that he makes his stand against his obsessive pursuer, baiting a trap for his nemesis just as Dortmunder's arriving at McCarran Airport with a crack team of 20. ``You always come up with the funny ones, Dortmunder,'' says one of his accomplices. ``It's amusing to be around you.'' This lovely new Mission: Improbable from the galaxy's king of the comic crime caper will have you shouting a resounding Amen. Read full book review >
SMOKE by Donald E. Westlake
MYSTERY THRILLER
Released: Oct. 5, 1995

Don't confuse this with the recent Paul Auster/Wayne Wang movie; think instead of Ellison's The Invisible Man. Because that's what happens to petty thief Freddie Noon when he breaks into a research lab looking for something to steal: The two doctors who run the lab for the American Tobacco Research Institute use him as a guinea pig for the experiment that's already left their two cats translucent. The now-invisible Freddie escapes, but how long can he and his girl, Peg Briscoe, keep ahead of (1) the doctors, bent on monitoring their unwilling subject; (2) the nefarious Institute, determined to use Freddie by hook or crook to promote their theory that smoking won't hurt you; and (3) a crooked New York cop who can imagine some very lucrative, illegal, and dangerous things an invisible man could be forced to do? Westlake (Baby, Would I Lie?, 1994, etc.) proceeds from one elaborate set-piece to the next, showing (well, not exactly showing) Freddie in action in New York City's diamond district, slathered with makeup and prosthetics for a night on the town, and riding a bicycle naked en route to the rousing, predictable finale. Full of fun, but not as funnyor as spirited or well- constructedas Westlake's best. Only the anti-tobacco satire hits square on the mark. Read full book review >
BABY, WOULD I LIE? by Donald E. Westlake
MYSTERY THRILLER
Released: Sept. 1, 1994

Sara Joslyn, the self-described girl reporter of Trust Me On This (1988), has left her job at landfill tabloid Weekly Galaxy for Trend, the Manhattan weekly ``For the Way We Live This Instant.'' Now she's in country-music capital Branston, Mo.—where hair is ``concrete-permed'' and if it ain't fried, it ain't food—to cover the trial of country veteran Ray Jones for the kidnapping, rape, and murder of Belle Hardwick. Only comic-mystery king Westlake could make this sordid case funny; he does so by using the mystery as a mere backdrop to a gorgeous daisy chain of chicanery. Sara's old colleagues at the Galaxy have infiltrated both the DA's office and the shadow jury Ray's high-powered defense team has assembled to test reactions to every courtroom development; Sara's editor and lover, Jack Ingersoll, slithers into town hell-bent to get evidence against those Galaxy frauds; an IRS agent nicknamed ``T P'' for reasons that can't be divulged in a G-rated review is out to squeeze every last drop out of Ray's past or future earnings; and Ray (who's arrested for a second murder on his way to a court appearance for the first) pauses just long enough to make T P an offer he can't refuse. A rollicking soft-news junket that ranks about average for Westlake's lighthearted mysteries, which is still better than anybody else currently working the field. Read full book review >
DON'T ASK by Donald E. Westlake
MYSTERY THRILLER
Released: April 1, 1993

The hapless Dortmunder and his gang (Drowned Hopes, 1990, etc.) are hired to burgle the emerging nation of Votskojek's US embassy, ensconced in a boat on the East River, to redeem a sacred relic—the thighbone of the cannibalized 13th-century saint Ferghana—and bring it to the emerging nation of Tsergovia's embassy, a lower Second Avenue storefront, thus insuring the latter's induction into the UN. Naturally, things quickly go awry: the bone is impounded by the DEA; a mad scientist inoculates Dortmunder; the Votskojek bigwigs stage an elaborate hoax at a Vermont chateau; and a subsidiary Dortmunder caper—to hijack a six-million-dollar art collection—goes belly-up when the cops tow away the van housing the paintings. A twist or two later, the Tsergovians are accepted into the UN—though clearly they'd be more comfortable in a Rudolf Friml operetta. Westlake's compilation of very funny slapstick vignettes—Ö la a series of Saturday Night Live sketches—can wear a bit thin as a novel, but they're a most effective antidepressant. Read full book review >
SACRED MONSTER by Donald E. Westlake
Released: May 15, 1989

A straight, short comic novel by Westlake, being neither mystery nor adventure but ending in doppelganger melodrama. Westlake. as in his chuckle-and-a-giggle High Adventure (1985), enjoys a druggy setting, and the sacred monster of his present work is a wacked-out Jack Nicholson, herein called Jack Pine. Westlake has taken one thin face of Nicholson (the one in black glasses at the Academy Awards), blown that sinister aspect into the full character, and shown the man behind the glasses to be a 1.5-volt, carbon-brained numbskull. The plot recaps Jack Pine's life and movie career as he lies by his pool, fractured on pills, needles and alcohol, and gives his story to a man he thinks is a reporter. Jack's story is simple: he has been led around by the nose and repeatedly cuckolded by his best friend, a guy he "ate sand with," Buddy Pal. Buddy Pal combines "Harry the Rat with Women" (Nicholson's role in Carnal Knowledge) with Warren Beatty's vapidly clever con man in the Nicholson-Beatty flick The Fortune. But Buddy Pal doesn't register strongly: he just functions. Buddy Pal gets Jack his first sex at 15 back in Grovers Corners. But Jack loses more than his virginity to back-seat Wendy: he loses his freedom to Buddy, who thereafter acts as his elder twin brother, and what belongs to Jack belongs to Buddy. Before the end, Buddy has robbed Jack of everything possible—his lighter, his money, his sweaters, his car, his wives, and lastly his identity. This could have been a classic original had Westlake the courage to do Nicholson straight instead of as a Rich Little/Peter Sellers impersonation. Jack Pine's blasted brain only diminishes, never enhances the sacred monster he lampoons, although Westlake does hit many Pine/Nicholson tones, gestures and gabblings just right, and has clearly done in-depth research on his VCR. And Jack Pine's Mom and Dad are hilariously shrink-wrapped American zombies. Read full book review >