BOOKS: NAUGHTY, BUT ALSO NICE

AS DONALD E. WESTLAKE OR RICHARD STARK, THIS CRIME NOVELIST GIVES THE BEST LINES TO THE BAD GUYS

Bad guys misbehave regularly in crime novels. That's what bad guys do. But for the most part their villainies--tying nice girls to railroad tracks, playing poker with an extra ace--are elaborate setups, abominations staged by the author to make the good guys look good in the last chapter. This, of course, is what good guys do; they look good. And the bad guys go to jail or perdition.

To one energetic writer, however, this has always seemed a woeful waste of criminal talent. For some three decades Donald E. Westlake has operated a kind of literary halfway house for the morally...

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