“That’s what I want, an action hero with something wrong with him.” ~DEW
Excerpt from character profile by Kevin Burton Smith, The Thrilling Detective Web Site
Donald Westlake is the King of the Comic Caper Novel (any argument?) and JOHN ARCHIBALD DORTMUNDER, his prize creation, is the savvy professional thief whose plans always, for some strange reason, go spectacularly and hilariously awry. No, he’s not a PI, but one must cleanse one’s palette every now and then, mustn’t one?
The thing about Dortmunder is that he’s a genius, a certifiable criminal mastermind. He’s also the world’s unluckiest crook — no matter how careful his schemes, no matter how brilliant and elaborate and intricately plotted, right down to the (almost) last detail, something always goes wrong. No wonder Dorrtmunder, already a two-time loser, is plagued by worry. And it doesn’t help that his usual co-horts are, uh, more than a little eccentric. And not exactly the brightest Crayolas in the box.
Supposedly, the first novel in the series, The Hot Rock, began as another Parker novel (under the pen name of Richard Stark), with the idea of a thief having to steal the same thing over and over. Alas, it kept coming out funny, something one doesn’t associate with the hardboiled, grim, no-nonsense Parker novels, and so a star was born. Dortmunder and his crew have had a long career, appearing in novels, short stories and films.
Excerpt from “Dortmunder’s Farewell,” review for Get Real
Marilyn Stasio, New York Times Book Review, August 2009
After watching a bare-chested dentist trekking through the jungle by torchlight to shake a spear at a sunburned accountant in a loincloth, you might think television reality shows were beyond satire. But that would be underestimating the puckish wit of Donald E. Westlake, who died of a heart attack last New Year’s Eve but still leaves us laughing with his final novel, a rollicking crime caper that pulls the pants right off the reality TV industry.
“Get Real” brings back John Dortmunder, the mastermind of a gang of Runyonesque crooks who have now blundered their way through 14 novels, beginning in 1970 with “The Hot Rock.” Under his own name and various pseudonyms, Westlake wrote nearly a hundred novels, story collections and screenplays over a career of almost 50 years. But when people speak of his “beloved” characters, these are the rogues they’re talking about.
The Hot Rock
Excerpt from “It Takes A Thief To Outfox Another One,” movie review for What’s The Worst That Could Happen?
Elvis Mitchell, New York Times Book Review, June 2001
Those of us looking for the opportunity to compare a Martin Lawrence turn to a Robert Redford performance based on the same character — Donald E. Westlake’s determined bad guy John Dortmunder — still have a while to wait. In the new film adaptation of Mr. Westlake’s ”What’s the Worst That Could Happen?,” his skillful but hapless Dortmunder — portrayed by Mr. Redford in ”The Hot Rock” (1972) — is transformed into the latest of Mr. Lawrence’s bungling, bling-blinging protagonists in a movie career that veers from flawed master thieves (”Blue Streak”) to out-of-control cops (”Big Momma’s House”).
You get the feeling that the director, Sam Weisman, and the writer, Matthew Chapman, would love to get to luxuriate in Mr. Westlake’s atmosphere of sleazy pettiness, but they were probably charged with staying out of the way of the cast’s improvisations. Mr. Lawrence uses the picture to his own ends, which is too bad; he’d have made a great John Dortmunder. We can hope that at some point he’ll trust himself enough as an actor to surrender to the material. After all, what’s the worst that could happen?
What’s The Worst That Could Happen?