Tough Guy Lit: Donald Westlake, the Author With Many Names

Donald Westlake (aka Richard Stark)

Donald Westlake (aka Richard Stark)

By Sean Tuohy

For nearly 40 years, Donald Westlake thrilled us with daring heists, mob bosses, and his anti-hero Parker. But he never let himself get any of the credit. The majority of it went to Richard Stark, one of Westlake’s hardboiled alter egos.

His most famous creation was the tough-as-nails and smart-as-a-whip robber named Parker. The man could steal anything from anyone but do it with the kind of charm and wit that would leave Robin Hood taking notes.

One of Stark’s most well known novels is The Hunter, the first book in the long running Parker series. We meet Parker as he and his wife pull of a heist with would- be gangster Mal. Parker is doubled-crossed by Mal and his wife and left for dead. He returns to the city with revenge in his eyes. Parker takes on the Outfit, a nationwide crime group, to get his money back and kill the man who wronged him.

The Hunter was turned in to the experimental 1970s film “Point Blank” with Lee Marvin in the title role. It was again remade in the late 1990s with Mel Gibson playing Parker in “Payback.”

As I said, Westlake’s alter ego became more famous than he did. People around the world fell in love with Parker and Mr. Stark. In his novel The Dark Half, Stephen King named the central villain George Stark in honor of the author (the two were friends).

The world learned that Westlake was the real Richard Stark in the 1990s. Westlake passed away in 2008, but the storytelling he left behind features double-crossing dames, machine gun-toting gangsters, and stacks of cash ready to be robbed.

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