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Prolific US writer Westlake dies

Donald E Westlake
Donald E Westlake, pictured in 2001, had a career spanning half a century

Prolific mystery writer Donald E Westlake has died of a suspected heart attack while on holiday in Mexico.

His wife, Abigail Westlake, told The New York Times he had collapsed while heading to a New Year's Eve dinner.

The 75-year-old wrote more than 100 books under a variety of pseudonyms. Several were turned into hit films, including Point Blank and Payback.

Westlake's script for con artist movie The Grifters resulted in an Oscar nod for best adapted screenplay in 1991.

He also received three Edgar awards from the Mystery Writers of America, which named him a "Grand Master" in 1993.

The author began by writing serious crime fiction including The Mercenaries, Killing Time and 361.

But he also penned several comedic crime novels, such as The Fugitive Pigeon and The Hot Rock, and even science fiction in Anarchaos.

Pen names

He often wrote under an alias - in part because his employers were afraid of flooding the market.

"Publishers don't like to publish more than one book a year by the same author, and I was writing faster than that," he told The Times in 2007. Friends said Westlake could write up to four novels a year.

His pen names included Tucker Coe, Curt Clark, Samuel Holt and Edwin West.

The most enduring pseudonym, however, was Richard Stark, whose bleak novels all featured violent professional criminal Parker.

One of those novels, The Hunter, became film noir Point Blank, with Dirty Dozen star Lee Marvin as the dispassionate anti-hero.

The Parker novels were in stark contrast to the books Westlake authored in his own name - many of which featured another, altogether more hapless, career criminal, John Dortmunder.

'Beautiful library'

Even his agent was impressed by the volume of work Westlake produced in his 50-year career.

"We were in his library, this beautiful library surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of titles," Laurence Kirshbaum told The New York Times, "and I realised that every single book was written by Donald Westlake: English-language and foreign-language editions."

The author continued to write until his death - always on one of his four or five manual typewriters. His latest novel, Get Real, is due for publication in April.

Born Donald Edwin Westlake in Brooklyn in 1933, the writer set many of his books in and around the New York districts where he grew up - including Yonkers and Albany.

He attended several colleges in New York but did not graduate from any of them.

He is survived by his wife, four sons from his previous marriages to Nedra Henderson and Sandra Kalb, three stepchildren and four grandchildren.

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