We recently chatted with Charles Ardai, the editor at at publishing company Hard Case Crime, about their reprinting of two short novels by the late Donald Westlake.
Could you describe the two novels contained in Double Feature?
These are two very different works – one a comedy, one a tragedy – tied together by a single point of connection: they are both about the larger-than-life people in the movie business.
In the first (and longer) of the novellas, “A Travesty,” we meet a movie critic in New York City who whose girlfriend has met a violent end. One of his girlfriends, really; he also has a wife. So he has ample reason to want to conceal his involvement with the dead woman – from his wife, from the police, and from a private detective who comes calling. But the harder he tries, the deeper in trouble the critic finds himself, until finally an act of supremely poor judgment on his part results in a fate he doesn’t deserve…or maybe exactly the fate he deserves, if you think about it. “A Travesty” is hilarious, insanely clever, a perfect example of Westlake at his comic best.
The second novella, “Ordo,” shows us Westlake’s serious side. It’s the story of an ordinary Navy seaman who discovers that the girl he married years ago (the marriage got annulled when it turned out she was underage) has reinvented herself in Hollywood as a movie star, the biggest sex symbol since Marilyn Monroe. Unsure how she went from the ordinary girl he knew to this goddess loved by millions, the seaman takes leave and travels to Los Angeles, where he confronts her, and learns a lesson about how far people sometimes go to bury their past.
These two stories of the people on opposite sides of the silver screen showcase Westlake’s exceptional gifts – his comic genius and his ability to break your heart.
When were these published?
They were first published in 1977 under the cryptic title ENOUGH. For this first appearance in 40 years, we worked with Don’s widow, Abigail Westlake, to come up with a new title that better reflected what the stories have in common.
What is it about Westlake that readers like, in your opinion?
Different people like different things about him – some love the wild comedy of his Dortmunder novels, some the ruthless, cold-blooded Parker novels he wrote under the famous pen name “Richard Stark.” That’s one of the reasons DOUBLE FEATURE works so well at representing Westlake’s work: he was a study in contrasts. But all his work, light or dark, was marked by ingenuity and psychological penetration, both of which are lavishly on display here.
Are other collections of Westlake's shorter works coming?
We don’t have any currently planned, but the man did write some wonderful short works – so this might not be the last one.