Friday, January 02, 2009

A Good Ass-Whuppin’

After the death of somebody famous, such as author Donald E. Westlake, absolute nobodies pour out of the woodwork to recall their encounters--even if ever so brief--with the deceased. I cannot claim to have known Westlake, but I am a nobody who was once lucky enough to meet him. This happened way back in 1994, when I was attending my first Bouchercon World Mystery Convention. The event was held that year in Seattle, and the editor of Seattle Weekly thought it would be a brilliant idea to send me into that crowd of distinguished novelists with a tape recorder and ask them “the question that has intrigued readers for the past century and more: What would constitute the perfect crime?”

The answers I received were occasionally inventive, but always colorful. For instance, British author Peter Lovesey told me: “I’ve tried to work this out before, and I’ve resolved that one perfect crime would be a deadly jellyfish in a Jacuzzi. There are all these deadly jellyfish off the coast of Australia, and you wouldn’t be able to see one of them in whirling water, now would you? So a murderer would drop one of those things into the water and then contrive to be away at a party, say, when his victim decides to take a bath. He’d then collect the creature in a bucket before the police show up.” Meanwhile, Bill Brashler, a Chicagoan who (with his partner, Reinder Van Til) was then writing a series baseball mysteries under the pseudonym “Crabbe Evers,” said: “I’d kill one of those overweening clerks at the coffee shops in Seattle. I asked one of them this morning for an extra paper cup, and they wouldn’t give it to me. They should die a horrible death. Maybe from one poisonous coffee bean dropped into their morning grind.”

Stopping Westlake in one of the convention hotel hallways, I put the same question to him. He thought for a rather long moment, and then answered: “The perfect crime is a crime in which nobody gets punished--and no animals are harmed. [Laughs.] It’s always a good idea to hit a corporation. Mark Twain said that ‘the trouble with a corporation is that it has neither a head to think nor an ass to kick.’ So the perfect crime would be one in which you got to kick a corporation in the ass.”

No wonder readers found Westlake’s humor so appealing.

READ MORE:Donald Westlake (aka Richard Stark), 1933-2008,” by Duane Swierczynski (Secret Dead Blog); “Donald Westlake, R.I.P.,” by Dave White (Dave White’s Writing Block); “Donald Westlake, Part II,” by Peter Rozovsky (Detectives Beyond Borders); “Donald Westlake, R.I.P.,” by Michael Blowhard (2Blowhards); “Lest We Forget,” by Bill Crider (Bill Crider’s Pop Culture Magazine); “More Westlake,” by Nathan Cain (Independent Crime); “Donald Westlake,” by Lee Goldberg (A Writer’s Life); “Celebrating Westlake,” by Patrick Shawn Bagley (Bitter Water Blog); “Don Westlake, #2,” by Ed Gorman; “Donald Westlake,” by Kevin Burton Smith (The Thrilling Detective Blog); “Under Any Name, Donald Westlake Was a Grandmaster,” by Sarah Weinman (Los Angeles Times); “A Tribute to Donald Westlake,” by David Laurence Wilson (Bill Crider’s Pop Culture Magazine).


Anonymous said...


I am another small fish who had the honor and pleasure to once meet Donald Westlake. I had an opportunity to interview him in front of an audience of crime-fiction writers, editors, and fans at a conference in 2000. (The conference had the extra bonus of being held in the Bahamas in December -- no wonder it attracted so many luminaries.) When I was asked to do the interview, I felt like I'd won the lottery. It was not exactly hardship duty -- I'd pose a small, simple question and DW would be off and running, telling one hilarious anecdote and making one cogent point after another. To say he will be missed is a great understatement.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Count me as a nobody who never got to meet him either, but when I saw the news yesterday I was stunned. This is a tremendous loss for our community, coming on the heels of a year of many great losses.

My thoughts are with his family.