John Dortmunder  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

John Archibald Dortmunder is a fictional character created by Donald E. Westlake. He first appeared in the novel The Hot Rock, published in 1970. Westlake originally intended The Hot Rock to feature his character Parker and to publish it under his Richard Stark pseudonym. However, the plot involves a precious gem that is stolen, lost, stolen again, lost again, etc., which seemed too comic a situation for a hard-boiled creation like Parker. Westlake therefore rewrote the novel with a more bumbling and likable cast of characters.

A neon sign reportedly reading "Dortmunder Actien Bier" gave Westlake the name for the book's new protagonist. Dortmunder has occasionally used the alias "John Diddums", a name he dislikes but uses involuntarily in circumstances that preclude using his real name.

Dortmunder is similar to Parker in several ways. He is a career criminal and a "planner," creating schemes for burglaries and assigning responsibilities to his team. He is tall and has a disreputable face. He shares a home with a long-term girlfriend, in this case named May, a supermarket cashier; they live in Manhattan on East 19th Street. Unlike Parker, however, Dortmunder is a nonviolent character who devises schemes that are usually outlandish and over-the-top.

Very little is known of Dortmunder's childhood. It is mentioned in more than one book that he was raised in an orphanage in the fictional town of Dead Indian, Illinois, run by the Bleeding Heart Sisters of Eternal Misery.

All-purpose crook Andy Kelp is Dortmunder's best friend, though Dortmunder would be the first to deny this. Cheerful and optimistic where Dortmunder is dour and relentlessly pessimistic, Kelp is boundlessly enthusiastic and full of (sometimes questionable) ideas. Kelp also loves to adopt the newest gadgets, generally to Dortmunder's disgust. Because Kelp has brought Dortmunder many eventually unsuccessful jobs, Dortmunder has been known to call Kelp a jinx. Dortmunder has also taken exception to Kelp suggesting plans, being somewhat jealous of his position as "the planner".

Other members of Dortmunder's usual string include the carrot-topped driver Stan Murch; Murch's cab-driver mother, usually referred to as "Murch's Mom," though her first name is eventually revealed as Gladys; and Tchotchkes "Tiny" Bulcher, "man mountain" and thuggery specialist. Several other specialists appear less frequently. The group usually meets in the back room of the O.J. Bar and Grill on Amsterdam Avenue. When Dortmunder's schemes are successful, he usually sells the resulting booty to Arnie Albright, a fence. Albright, through his appearance and behavior, repulses every character he encounters, but compensates by offering better terms than his competitors.



  • The Hot Rock (1970)
  • Bank Shot (1972)
  • Jimmy the Kid (1974)
  • Nobody's Perfect (1977)
  • Why Me? (1983)
  • Good Behavior (1985)
  • Drowned Hopes (1990)
  • Don't Ask (1993)
  • What's the Worst That Could Happen? (1996)
  • Bad News (2001)
  • The Road to Ruin (2004)
  • Watch Your Back! (2005)
  • What's So Funny? (2007)
  • Get Real (2009)

Shorter Works

  • Thieves' Dozen (2004), a collection of ten Dortmunder short stories and one related story.
  • "Walking Around Money" (2005), a novella in the anthology Transgressions, edited by Ed McBain.



  • The IAV Dortmunder is shown to be the name of an Alliance Capital Cruiser on the television show Firefly. This is possibly a reference to the fact that the main cast consists of bumbling thieves and crooks, in the same vein as Dortmunder himself.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "John Dortmunder" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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