The African Connection

If you've ever heard me talk about mysteries, then you know one of my all-time heroes is the late, great Donald E. Westlake. This week, I felt a special connection with him.

I met Westlake a couple of times before his death in 2008, but they were brief encounters at book events in New York, and I mostly acted like a drooling fanboy. For the past couple of decades, I've tracked down most of his 100-plus books, and reveled in every one. I especially like the hard-boiled tales about the professional thief Parker that Westlake wrote under the pseudonym Richard Stark. I thought I'd read every one of them.

Which brings us to this week. At the library, I found an old large-print edition of an unfamiliar Stark novel, and I was excited to read one I'd somehow missed. It's called "The Black Ice Score," and it's from 1965. In the story, Parker helps some guys from a new African nation called Dhaba steal diamonds that their evil president has smuggled to the U.S. It's a typical Parker story, with lots of violence and a couple of nice twists. One group of bad guys is sent after the diamonds by a General Goma back in Dhaba. We never see Goma, but reference is made to him several times.

When I saw "General Goma" in print, it stopped me in my tracks. I wrote a thriller called "Cutthroat" that first came out in 2007 from Bleak House Books, and the story includes a General Goma. In "Cutthroat," hero Solomon Gage learns that his employers are conspiring with Goma to overthrow the government of the African nation of Niger.

How did Westlake and I both end up with a General Goma? I remember thinking up the name when I was writing "Cutthroat" and settling on it because it sounded African. But had I really read it before in "The Black Ice Score" years ago, then forgotten I'd ever read that story? Was it strictly a coincidence? Was there any chance that Westlake saw "Cutthroat" before he died, and thought my Goma was some sort of homage? Did we have some sort of freaky ESP connection?

If I thought I could channel Westlake, I'd be the happiest writer around. Do yourself a favor and read his books. And read "Cutthroat" while you're at it. Say hi to General Goma for me.

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