The books here are those Westlake published under his own name. I have separate posts for books published under the pseudonyms “Richard Stark” and “Tucker Coe.”

There are multiple categories of novels written by Westlake under his own name. Comic crime capers involving John Dortmunder, non-Dortmunder comic crime capers, stories which I will call “non-crime” even though many of them do involve some kind of crime, and crime adventures.

Author Rating: A+

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Westlake’s Dortmunder is a small-time burglar for whom life presents a series of opportunities which rarely work out. The Dortmunder stories are wonderfully complex comic crime capers that will keep you laughing and gasping and turning the page.

The Hot Rock (read 7/07)

Westlake’s first crime caper starring John Dortmunder. Originally conceived as a Parker novel (see Richard Stark), the plot involves stealing the same object — an emerald — over and over and over. Wonderful hard-boiled style.

Don’t Ask (read 9/11/07)

Similar to The Hot Rock in being an “international” heist but a little more sophisticated. The ending is timed perfectly.

Good Behavior (read 11/15/07)

Dortmunder and his crew have to rescue a num from the tower where her father is keeping her prisoner, pull off a heist of multiple jewelers at once, fight off unexpected armed mercenaries. It’s a good thing the Silent Sisters of Saint Filumena are there to help!

What’s the Worst That Could Happen? (read 11/19/07)

Dortmunder’s ring is boosted by a corporate baron, Max Fairbanks, who busts him robbing his Long Island mansion and Dortmunder has to get it back. This delightful romp goes from Long Island to Manhattan to Washington DC. Fairbanks lives to regret his humiliation of John Dortmunder, the ring is recovered. A rare success story involving Dortmunder.

Bad News (read 11/21/08)

Andy Kelp gets a gig digging up a body and reburying it in an occupied plot in a NY cemetery and asks his friend Dortmunder to assist with the reburying and disposal of the plot’s occupant. The group who hired Kelp are trying to pull a fast one and have “Little Feather” declared the last remaining member of a NY Indian tribe to claim a one-third share in a reservation casino. Things work out — sort of.

Why Me? (read 3/25/08)

In The Hot Rock, Dortmunder couldn’t get hold of a valuable jewel no matter how ingenious the plan. In Why Me?, Dortmunder has to figure out how to get rid of a similarly valuable jewel.

While burgling a small jewelry store, Dortmunder accidentally steals a valuable ruby and sapphire ring that had been stolen before it could be returned to Turkey. There is a shake down of every known criminal in New York as a result of the ring’s original theft and Dortmunder has not only the NYPD and the FBI after him but every known criminal in New York is mad at him too. Dortmunder has to evade the police, the Feds, some terrorists and the entire criminal element of New York while figuring out how to get rid of the ring.

Watch Your Back! (read 4/14/08)

Only Westlake can repeat a premise like robbing a Manhattan penthouse multiple times and keep each one fresh and breezy as a spring morning. While Dortmunder and his gang are organizing and executing a heist, the son of a New Jersey mob boss is screwing with OJ’s Bar and Grill, the gang’s favorite meeting place. The gang lose the battle (the loot) but win the war (the loot-laden mobsters are picked up by police).

Drowned Hopes (read 6/8/08)

An old pal of Dortmunder’s comes to him with a request to help him recover $700,000 hidden decades earlier after a bank heist. The problem is the location where the money was hidden is now underwater in an upper New York state reservoir.

Published in 1990.

What’s So Funny? (read 9/12/08)

Dortmunder and the gang are pressed into hijacking a solid gold chess set. Unfortunately, just as they’re about to get paid the chess set is stolen and once again the hard-luck gang is out of luck.

Jimmy The Kid (read 12/20/08)

Using one of Westlake’s Parker novels as a template for their plan, Dortmunder and the gang go into kidnapping for ransom with hilarious results.

Bank Shot (read 2/09)

Dortmunder and crew don’t just rob the bank, they steal the whole bank.

Nobody’s Perfect (read 4/19/09)

First published in 1977, this misadventure begins when Dortmunder is railroaded into stealing a painting so the owner can collect the insurance but it gets lost. Unfortunately for Dortmunder, the painting winds up in Scotland, so this is now an international misadventure. Great stuff.

Thieves Dozen (read 4/21/10)

Twelve short stories featuring everybody’s favorite criminal — John Dortmunder. These are truly some of the most delightful short stories you’ll find anywhere. A must read.

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The following are non-Dortmunder comic crime capers

Trust Me On This (read 11/23/07)

A wonderful murder mystery romp set in the underworld of tabloid journalism. In his forward to this novel, Westlake disclaims the existence of an actual paper like the Weekly Galaxy and suggests that should such a paper actually exist it would involve people “even more lost to all considerations of truth, taste . . . or any shred of common humanity.”

Baby, Would I Lie? (read 8/11/07)

Westlake and his readers Trust Me On This so much, he takes us on a second trip with the folks from the Weekly Galaxy, this one set in Branson, Missouri. Hilarious, fast-paced satire involving country western stars and their fans.

The Busy Body (read 7/26/08)

A romp in the underworld. Aloysius Engel becomes righthand man to the local chief, Nick Rovito, and tasked with recovering a suit lined with uncut heroin in which Charle Brody was buried. But Charlie’s body is not in the grave and Engle has to find the suit.

Wonderful pacing, masterful use of language puts you right in the middle of it. Published in 1966.

Money For Nothing (read 2/11/08)

This one has spies. Josh Redmont received $1000 monthly for seven years. He didn’t know where the money was coming from but he wasn’t about to ask questions until one day he finds himself in the middle of — and the potential fall guy for — a political murder.

Great characters, great pacing, with Westlake’s first-class comic flare.

Help I’m Being Held Prisoner (read 8/24/07)

Harry Kunt (pronounced “Koont”), as a defense against a world in which his very name is a practical joke, is a lifetime practical joker, but when one of his better jokes misfires, he ends him up in a maximum security prison. He stumbles across a group of fellow prisoners who have worked out a way to continue life on the outside while serving their sentences and invite him to join them. Things would be great but someone is hiding messages in stuff leaving the prison which say “Help, I’m being held prisoner,” and the warden blames Kunt for the trouble this is causing him.

Put A Lid On It (read 10/21/07)

Sitting in jail in the Manhattan Correctional Center, denied parole and stoically awaiting sentencing, Meehan (a one-name kind of guy) is surprised with a chance to escape his fate with an offer from a clandestinely dispatched representative of the president’s reelection campaign. Meehan just has to steal an incriminating videotape from the upstate-New York estate of a wacko millionaire before time runs out.

God Save The Mark (read 9/10/08)

From a review at Amazon:

* mark n. An easy victim; a ready subject for the practices of a confidence man, thief, beggar, etc.; a sucker.-Dictionary of American Slang, Thomas Y. Crowell Co., 1960

That’s the long definition of a mark. But there’s a shorter one. It goes:

* mark n. Fred Fitch

What, you ask, is a Fred Fitch? Well, for one thing, Fred Fitch is the man with the most extensive collection of fake receipts, phony bills of sale, and counterfeit sweepstakes tickets in the Western Hemisphere, and possibly in the entire world. For another thing, Fred Fitch may be the only New York City resident in the twentieth century to buy a money machine. When Barnum said, “There’s one born every minute, and two to take him,” he didn’t know about Fred Fitch; when Fred Fitch was born, there were two million to take him.

Every itinerant grifter, hypester, bunk artist, short-conner, amuser, shearer, short-changer, green-goods worker, pennyweighter, ring dropper, and yentzer to hit New York City considers his trip incomplete until he’s also hit Fred Fitch. He’s sort of the con-man’s version of Go: Pass Fred Fitch, collect two hundred dollars, and move on.

What happens to Fred Fitch when his long-lost Uncle Matt dies and leaves Fred three hundred thousand dollars shouldn’t happen to the ball in a pinball machine. Fred Fitch with three hundred thousand dollars is like a mouse with a sack of catnip: He’s likely to attract the wrong kind of attention.

Add to this the fact that Uncle Matt was murdered, by person or persons unknown, and that someone now seems determined to murder Fred as well, mix in two daffily charming beauties of totally different types, and you have a perfect setup for the busiest fictional hero since the well-known one-armed paperhanger. As Fred Fitch careers across the New York City landscape-and sometimes skyline-in his meetings with cops, con men, beautiful girls, and (maybe) murderers, he takes on some of the loonier aspects of a Dante without a Virgil. Take one part comedy and one part suspense and shake well-mostly with laughter.

Somebody Owes Me Money (read 1/09)

Published in 1969, Westlake proves again that he is a writer for the ages. There is nothing dated about either the story or the writing. Chet Conway, a New York City cabbie, gets a tip on a horse, but when he goes to collect on the long-shot, he finds his bookie has been killed with a bullet, and too many people think Chet pulled the trigger. Chet just wants his money! Another delightful Westlake romp.

The Fugitive Pigeon (read 2/09)

Click the link to read my stand-alone review of this hilarious crime caper published in 1965.

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From here down is still a work in progress in terms of organizing.

Adios Scheherezade (a writer’s nervous breakdown)

The Ax (dark crime – midlife crisis gone wrong)

Up Your Banners (1960s)

Anarchaos (sci-fi)

The Hook (dark crime — another writer’s breakdown)

Killy is a story about union busting and has a similar flavor to Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest. (Read 5/09)

Kahawa (crime adventure)

Humans (adventure/mystery)

High Adventure (crime adventure)

361 (hard crime)

Sacred Monster (Hollywood crime)

Published in 1989, this is the least believable and most dated of Westlakes’ books. I would recommend this only to real fans of Westlake. He had a difficult relationship with Hollywood during various attempts to bring his novels to the big screen, and this seems more like demon exorcism than anything else. The central character is a Hollywood star with a dark past that finally catches up with him. More psychological than action.

A Likely Story (read 5/12/09)

First published in 1984, this is not a crime story, unless you consider philandering to be criminal activity. Thomas Diskant is a writer with a complicated personal life, including a wife from whom he is separated, a girlfriend with whom he lives and an editor with whom he begins an affair in order to get a book through publication in order to keep things afloat. The first third of the book felt stilted, dated and somewhat meandering, but by the time I got to the halfway point the story proved to have legs. It’s a story about coming to terms with life.

Two Much (read 6/12/09)

This book is really incredible. Two Much, published in 1975, is about man’s drive to come out on top. Art Dodge, owner of a very small greeting card company in New York City, is a funny guy who loves to fool around and will do or say just about anything to get a woman in bed. When he meets Liz Kerner and she tells him she has a twin, he unthinkingly pipes up, “I do too!” It turns out that Liz and Betty are not only good looking young women, they are very wealthy recent orphans.

Unable to tell Liz that he was lying about having a twin, Art is forced to produce “Bart” who begins dating Betty. The charade becomes more and more complicated as the relationships between Art and Liz, “Bart” and Betty progress.

What ultimately happens is shocking. This is Westlake at his best.

Two Much (read October 2009)

A collection of 18 short stories that Westlake selected as his best non-series short fiction written between 1958 and 1997. One gem after another.

The Comedy Is Finished (read 8/25/2017)

Westlake’s final lost novel (that we know of, after Memory, published in 2010), written in the late ’70s/early ’80s, according to the Publisher’s Note, was set aside and never submitted for publication “in part because Martin Scorsese had just released the movie The King of Comedy and Don thought some readers might find the movie’s premise and the book’s were too similar.” I’ve never seen the movie, so I can’t speak to that, but this novel is the best of Westlake. Set in 1977, it’s a story very much set in that time but speaks to the delusion that has captured many today – that our societal and political problems can be fixed through violence. Donald E. Westlake is a true gift.

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