Excellent 1970 jewel heist novel: The Hot Rock


39 Responses to “Excellent 1970 jewel heist novel: The Hot Rock”

  1. I’m also a fan of his novel “Bank Shot,”   which was made into a movie with George C. Scott.

  2. The movie of the Hot Rock, with Redford a Dortmunder and Zero Mostel as his lawyer, was wonderful.

    • dirtyarticle says:

      That was William Goldman too, adapting right smack in the middle of his Golden Age.

    • KNHaw says:

       I recall his tongue and cheek commentary in a short story collection that he was surprised when he saw the movie, since he’d never realized Dortmunder looked so much like Robert Redford.

    • Best caper film ever. With a soundtrack by Quincy Jones featuring Clark Terry, Gerry Mulligan, Grady Tate, and Ray Brown. Unstoppable. 

  3. Matthew Elmslie says:

    I’m a huge fan of Westlake’s comic-crime stuff. The Dortmunder series is great but there was other stuff too. In particular I recommend Dancing Aztecs, which is not only a funny and complex caper/treasure hunt, but also kind of a love letter to 1970s New York.

    For the Dortmunder novels, you mentioned the 14 novels and 11 short stories (which are available in the collection Thieves’ Dozen), but there’s also a novella, “Walking Around Money”, which was in Ed McBain’s Transgressions anthology.

    Those of you who plan on giving the Dortmunder books a try, and you really should, be aware that they get better as they go along. The Hot Rock and Bank Shot and Jimmy the Kid are quite good, but Nobody’s Perfect and Why Me are better, and the ones after that are even better. The first one I read was Don’t Ask, the eighth in the series, and I still think that might be the best one.

    I could talk about Westlake all day. He died just a few years ago, and every time I think about it, I wonder what we’re going to do without him.

    • I’m especially fond of /What’s the Worst That Could Happen?/

    • class_enemy says:

       When I want to introduce someone to Westlake, I give them “Too Many Crooks” in the Thieves’ Dozen collection.  For my money, one of the two funniest short stories ever written.

      (The other being “Uncle Fred Flits By” which I similarly use to introduce people to Wodehouse)

  4. Timothy Krause says:

    Westlake is amazing. If you like the heist-y aspects of the Dortmunder book, check out The Outfit, one of his Parker novels, in which Parker and gang heist an entire town. Great stuff, and a bit less violent and sadistic than most of the Parker stuff (not that violence and sadism are bad things in noir-crime fiction, but you know….).

  5. Jim Moskowitz says:

    And in today’s small-world news, I just learned that both he and Roger
    Ebert were contributors to the science fiction fanzine Xero:

  6. Help, I am being held prisoner was also a lot of fun.

  7. Steve Michel says:

    My favorite Dortmunder is Why Me, featuring a New York City cop named Mologna who is always correcting its pronunciation to Maloney.

  8. Gorgonzola says:

    Westlake also wrote a number of film scripts, and was nominated for an Oscar on the brilliantly noir “The Grifters.”

  9. Westlake is one of those rare writers who wrote tons of books and short stories, and in my opinion all of them were at least better than average.  The Richard Stark novels and the Dortmunder novels are all very good – I am a huge fan of ‘What’s the Worst That Could Happen?’ in particular (but don’t bother with the awful movie version).
    He also wrote some very interesting one-off novels like Kahawa, which is about mercenaries stealing the entire coffee crop of Uganda from a train during Idi Amin’s rule.  It’s more adult in nature, but a great read.
    The best thing about Westlake is that I am always discovering new books that he wrote, as he seemed to have written hundreds of books under as many as six or seven different names. 

    • KNHaw says:

       Kahawa is one of my favorite books of all times.  Not only a great caper novel but it also gave me lots of education on who Idi Amin was and why his rule dominated the news when I was a kid. 

  10. Amorette says:

    Yay Donald Westlake and YAY the movie version of “The Hot Rock.”  Yes, Westlake wrote a lot of stuff under a lot of names, which makes him a fascinating read.

  11. Lupus_Yonderboy says:

    I’m definitely a fan of Westlake/Stark, one piece of trivia that I always found interesting is the “accidental” nature of both of these series (the Parker novels and the Dortmunder novels) – originally “The Hunter” was supposed to be a one-off (if I’m remembering correctly, he slapped it together and never expected much from it) but the public liked it so much his publisher forced him to write as many more Parker books as he could.  Then “The Hot Rock” was originally supposed to be another of those Parker novels but it “kept coming out funny”, all the scenarios that Westlake came up with were too ridiculous for a Parker novel, so he created a new character to exploit the comedic potential and *that* one was a hit, too.  Not sure if that’s all correct but it’s the story as I remember it.

  12. E MM says:

    I’ve only read “The Bank Shot” (though I keep meaning to catch up with the rest).  You are in for a serious treat.  ‘Bank Shot’ has one of the most hilarious climaxes I’ve ever read!

  13. Russell Letson says:

    Westlake was one of the writers who supplied much of my leisure reading through grad school–I found him (as “Richard Stark”) via the Parker series, about the same time I discovered John D. MacDonald and Lawrence Block. Block’s career in particular parallels Westlake’s in variety, range, and length (though Block has the advantage of still being alive). And as much as I like Westlake’s series work, I have to second the recommendations of those non-series books, particularly Kahawa and Dancing Aztecs.

  14. chris jimson says:

    Look at this Afghanistan banana-stand, just look at it!


  15. Tod Westlake says:

    Thanks for highlighting this. We all miss the old man terribly, and it’s a real comfort to know that he’s still entertaining people.

    • Tod Westlake says:

      By the way, The Hot Rock started its life as a “Parker” novel. But he thought the premise was too absurd. Thus, Dortmunder was born.

    • Woody Smith says:

      Dear Tod: your father will be entertaining people for centuries to come.  No question.

      Are you a writer yourself, by any chance?

      • Tod Westlake says:

        Non-fiction. I mostly write articles for local papers and magazines in the Hudson Valley. Successfully writing fiction is a trick I’ve yet to pull off.

        • Woody Smith says:

          FWIW, there is some evidence that “writing style,” intangible as that may be, is actually heritable.  Good luck, sir.

    • PrettyBoyTim says:

      Hi Tod,  I don’t know how much control you have over such things, but it’d be great if the Parker novels could be made available as e-books in the UK. They’re available on the Kobo online store, but only for those in the US. They don’t appear to be available from any other e-book vendors.

  16. We (@openroadmedia) just brought back all of the Westlake Dortmunder series as ebooks. Getting great response from new and old readers alike.

  17. Charlie Derr says:

    I’m another rabid Westlake fan.  Unfortunately I didn’t get here fast enough to be the first person to mention all my favorites (you’ve all beat me to it) but Donald E. was just fabulous.  I even used dortmunder as my alias on IRC (and other places on-line) for many years. 

  18. Kreutzer says:

    I’m just gonna nerd this right here:


  19. Halloween_Jack says:

    Man, the reading list backlog just keeps getting longer! I’m also a fan of the Darwyn Cooke adaptations of the Parker novels. 

  20. Tim Pratt says:

    Almost everything Westlake wrote is well worth reading. The Dortmunder novel What’s the Worst that Could Happen? is near the top of my list of favorite novels, period.

  21. Joe Gordon says:

    The Hot Rock was also adapted into a very cool graphic novel, oozing 70s crime caper style, by the excellent British Indy comics publisher SelfMadeHero several years ago, made my annual Best Of the Year list on the Forbidden Planet Blog when it came out. On classic crime to comics adaptations it is also well worth seeking out the Manchette adaptations the great French comics creator Jacques Tardi has done – Fantagraphics have been translating them, with a new one due this summer.

  22. Mike Craft says:

    Welcome to Dortmunder! The Hot Rock is one of those formative novels, like The Hobbit and The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, that I read as a kid, buy a new copy every time I loan mine to someone, and consume every version I can.

    I don’t feel like there has ever been a successful movie version of a Dortmunder book, but I do cast it in my head every few years as actors age into and out of eligibility.

  23. PrettyBoyTim says:

    I recently read ‘Jimmy the Kid’ – another Dortmunder novel in which the gang uses the plot of a (fictional) Parker novel as a blueprint for a caper. It’s a great book anyway, but there’s added amusement to be had knowing that Richard Stark and Donald E Westlake were one and the same person.

    ‘ So Dortmunder took out the book. The title was Child Heist, and the author was somebody named Richard Stark. “Sounds like crap,” Dortmunder said. ‘

  24. Jonathan Golub says:

    I’ve been a big fan of Donald E. Westlake since I was a kid.  Thanks for posting this!  He was very prolific, and the Dortmunder novels were always my favorite.  I especially like the way he captures the essense of the Hudson Valley, my old stomping grounds.

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