Westlake Score: The Curious Facts Preceding My Execution

NB: A version of this post also appears on Existential Ennui.

Our next Westlake Score, which again came from the recent London Paperback & Pulp Bookfair, is that rarest of things in the Donald E. Westlake bibliography: a short story collection. It’s a 1973 first paperback printing of The Curious Facts Preceding My Execution (and Other Fictions), Westlake’s debut anthology, published in the US by Ballantine in 1973, with a cover photo by Roger Phillips. First published in hardback by Random House in 1968, the bulk of the stories herein originally appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine in the 1960s—the first full decade of Westlake’s professional writing carer—including the title story, a tale of a spousal murder that takes a turn for the farcical when, having successfully accomplished the deed, the exasperated husband narrator is beset by a seemingly endless procession of cold callers and door-to-door salesman.

Indeed, given that “The Curious Facts Preceding My Execution” (as in, the short) was actually written under Westlake’s Richard Stark alias, it’s interesting that it’s closer in tone to a more comedic Dortmunder outing than a poker-faced Parker joint. A shade or two darker, perhaps, but then many of the stories in this collection straddle the divide between Westlake’s hardboiled work and his capers. “You Put on Some Weight,” for example, has the feel, tonally, if not of a Parker, then of a Killing Time or 361. Structurally, though, it follows the same template as the Dortmunders or the standalone capers, as an ex-con protagonist is continually frustrated in his efforts to get back to the criminal life he enjoyed before incarceration.

Westlake had well over a hundred short stories published in his lifetime (see the bibliography on the Donald E. Westlake website), but there have only been half a dozen or so collections of his shorts, two of those being character-specific (Levine, and the Dortmunder-featuring Thieves’ Dozen). Although some of the stories in The Curious Facts Preceding My Execution later appeared in the 1999 Westlake anthology A Good Story and Other Stories, Curious Facts itself warranted just two editions: the original Random House one, and this paperback. There was no British edition, so it was nice to come across this copy, which was spotted in one of book dealer Jamie Sturgeon‘s boxes at the London Paperback & Pulp Bookfair by my friend from The Accidental Bookshop. Naturally I muscled—bulldozed might be more accurate—said friend aside and plonked down the two quid for it myself, but no such bullying tactics were required for the final Westlake Score from the fair—a scarce hardback edition of a Parker novel which Jamie brought along especially for me…