Monday, September 1, 2014

Book Note: Donald E. Westlake, The Getaway Car (2014)

The reviews I have seen of The Getaway Car tend to overpraise it, as the reviewers’ (understandable) love of Westlake the Fiction Writer tends to cloud their perceptions of Westlake the Nonfiction Writer. As a fiction writer, Westlake was a genius, no doubt about it. As a nonfiction writer, Westlake was at least competent, but he never really tried to be more than that. As editor Levi Stahl notes, Westlake wrote so little nonfiction that Stahl, had he chosen, could have collected all of it in a volume. Instead, Stahl decided to pick and choose, and it’s a decidedly mixed bag (which suggests that Stahl was right not to simply collect all of it). Perhaps the most disappointing item is the roundtable discussion among Donald E. Westlake and his pseudonyms Tucker Coe, Timothy J. Culver, and Richard Stark—what seems like a brilliant idea in abstract quickly turns into a lame joke. As Stahl is quick to note in his introduction, this is really a collection for hardcore Westlake fans only. If you haven’t read much Westlake, don’t read The Getaway Car. First read at least the Parker novels, the Dortmunder novels, and The Ax. (And even if you’ve read all those, beware—spoilers abound!) Once you have immersed yourself in the Westlake canon, you will find The Getaway Car to be very, very interesting. Not great, but very, very interesting.


  1. Who would read a collection of nonfiction by any writer of fiction, unless they were a fan of that writer? This is kind of stating the obvious. If a writer is a genius, as you say Westlake is, then there is much to be learned from his nonfiction--particularly when it directly relates to his work in fiction, as most of this collection does.

    But there is also a great deal of information about Westlake as a person, including snippets from an unpublished autobiography.

    I agree that if you don't care about Donald Westlake, and you're not into mystery books, then it would be silly to read this. But lots of people care about Westlake, and lots of people care about the mystery genre, which Westlake writes about with a degree of insight that I've never seen elsewhere, even from major critics.

    Why read nonfiction at all, unless it's a subject you want to know more about? So I don't really get your critique--I mean, this blog post is nonfiction, right? You think anybody not interested in this book is going to read it? Westlake is a much better nonfiction writer than any of the people currently reviewing his nonfiction (and I include myself in that).

    And btw, that faux interview is hilarious.

  2. The obvious needs to be stated, I think, because of the way this book is packaged: The Getaway Car sounds like a novel, and the word "nonfiction" is hidden on that license plate like somebody doesn't want you to see it. So, yes, I do think it's possible that someone might pick up this book without catching on to its contents.