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The Outfit is pages, which is actually somewhat long by the standards of the early Parker novels. There are 24 Parker titles in all, and most of the early ones are tight little symphonies of spare and rigid prose, split into four distinct movements; they somehow manage to adhere to a rough formula and still blow your hair back every time. Their tone is brutal and unsentimental, and their themes are Nietzschean to the extreme: People act, without adverbial accompaniment, and the whys and wherefores are utterly beside the point. The protagonist is a career criminal, a sociopathic utilitarian who despises small talk.

Parker (Stark novels character)

He is concerned entirely with the successful execution of crimes and with his own self-preservation amid this process. It is, I think, a beautiful series about a professional at work in an ugly and seamy world, and it is all credited to an author named Richard Stark, who wrote nearly books under this and many other pseudonyms, as well as his given name, which was Donald E. I bring up Westlake now because this Friday, a filmic version of a Parker novel called Flashfire will be released to theaters.

It is not the first iteration of Parker on celluloid, and it will not be the last, though it is the first to bear the actual name of the character, since the producers have secured options on several of the books. And I imagine that anything involving Jason Statham will not force a thorough literary reassessment of the oeuvre of Donald Westlake, even though, at this point, I think he clearly deserves it.


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He was astoundingly prolific and eminently readable; he had a loyal fan base and respect among his peers but never made a New York Times best-seller list; and he is known by many not for Parker, but for his comic novels, the most popular of which featured a curmudgeonly literary cousin of Parker named Dortmunder. And the more I work my way through his catalogue, the more I think he deserves to be canonized for inspiring a genre all his own, for pioneering an ironic and unsentimental and countercultural Westlakeian sensibility that permeates the culture more than Donald Westlake himself could ever have realized.

Quentin Tarantino has cited the Parker novels — particularly, I imagine, their jump cuts and shifts in perspective — as an inspiration for Reservoir Dogs. The highbrow Irish novelist John Banville — who moonlights in the noir genre — declared Westlake one of the great novelists of the 20th century; sci-fi legend Harlan Ellison considered Westlake a hero. A young crime writer named Duane Swierczynski actually named his son Parker. He attended multiple colleges but never graduated, and at 21 he joined the Air Force.

When he got out two and a half years later, he moved with his first wife of three to New York City to work for a literary agent named Scott Meredith. This was the tail end of the pulp era, and there were glossy magazines and paperback publishers in search of copy, and Westlake and author Lawrence Block who also worked for Meredith both volunteered to write whatever they could.

It was a great space in which to learn by doing. A whole generation of them learned by doing: Among them were Block and Westlake and Evan Hunter, who wrote his crime novels under the pen name Ed McBain. They were prodigious and hungry, and they emerged just as the idea of the pulp magazine was beginning to fade; they were the ones who followed Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain and Jim Thompson, and they aspired to advance the genre in new directions.

Paperback Editions

In , he wrote his first novel under his own name, The Mercenaries. He was young and voracious, and he produced so much that he required multiple pen names to keep up with his output: In alone, he published nine books under three different names. This was the catalyst, and this became the opening scene of the first Parker novel, The Hunter. In his first draft of The Hunter , Westlake landed Parker in prison at the end, because, in the early s, that seemed the natural denouement for such a remorseless persona; his paperback editor at Pocket Books, Bucklin Moon, found it compelling enough that he asked Westlake if he could devise a way to more easily position Parker for a follow-up.

Westlake obliged. The Hunter was published in , and the following year, Westlake published three more Parker books. In the sequel, The Man With the Getaway Face , Parker visits a plastic surgeon who alters his appearance, and then he robs an armored car; in The Outfit , Parker schemes against the mafia; in The Mourner , Parker attempts to abscond with a 15th-century statue and slugs an asthmatic hoodlum in the process; in The Score , Parker and a band of professionals manage to rob an entire small town over the course of an evening.

More than anything, Westlake once said, these are books about a man at work. Parker is strangely puritanical, in that he does not permit himself to even think about sex until a job is complete.

Parker and his catalogue of partners carry their twisted Protestant work ethic from job to job: It is fascinating how much of the text focuses on the process of criminality, on scenes of men sitting around a table in front of blueprints, on the notion of preparing for the worst and then accepting that things might go off in unexpected directions regardless of how much you plan for them. There are double-crosses and betrayals and outright failures, and the world is indifferent to all of this suffering, but Parker soldiers onward. And I imagine all of this has at least a little to do with the way the author felt when he sat down at his typewriter every morning.

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The Hunter was published in , the same year Bob Dylan released his first album; as the series delves deeper into the decade, Parker crosses paths with hippies and weirdos, and while he stands entirely apart from politics, the books still feel like a statement of mood. It is not surprising, then, that Westlake often got fan letters from prisoners about the Parker books.

Not once do we learn what Parker does with his money, or what compels him to keep at this, or even if he enjoys his vocation. Not once does he ask himself why; it is simply all he knows, and it is beside the point. It is a job like any other blue-collar job, and most of the people he victimizes — mobsters and sniveling sycophants and the like — come across as lower on the moral totem pole than Parker himself.

He had no sense of height in this blackness, and it soon seemed to him it was taking too long to get down the pole. Leg down, hand down, leg down, hand down; surely he should have reached the ground by now. He was young and voracious, and he produced so much that he required multiple pen names to keep up with his output: In alone, he published nine books under three different names.

This was the catalyst, and this became the opening scene of the first Parker novel, The Hunter. In his first draft of The Hunter , Westlake landed Parker in prison at the end, because, in the early s, that seemed the natural denouement for such a remorseless persona; his paperback editor at Pocket Books, Bucklin Moon, found it compelling enough that he asked Westlake if he could devise a way to more easily position Parker for a follow-up.

Westlake obliged. The Hunter was published in , and the following year, Westlake published three more Parker books. In the sequel, The Man With the Getaway Face , Parker visits a plastic surgeon who alters his appearance, and then he robs an armored car; in The Outfit , Parker schemes against the mafia; in The Mourner , Parker attempts to abscond with a 15th-century statue and slugs an asthmatic hoodlum in the process; in The Score , Parker and a band of professionals manage to rob an entire small town over the course of an evening.

More than anything, Westlake once said, these are books about a man at work. Parker is strangely puritanical, in that he does not permit himself to even think about sex until a job is complete. Parker and his catalogue of partners carry their twisted Protestant work ethic from job to job: It is fascinating how much of the text focuses on the process of criminality, on scenes of men sitting around a table in front of blueprints, on the notion of preparing for the worst and then accepting that things might go off in unexpected directions regardless of how much you plan for them.

There are double-crosses and betrayals and outright failures, and the world is indifferent to all of this suffering, but Parker soldiers onward.

Richard Stark and Parker: Thick as Thieves - Criminal Element

And I imagine all of this has at least a little to do with the way the author felt when he sat down at his typewriter every morning. The Hunter was published in , the same year Bob Dylan released his first album; as the series delves deeper into the decade, Parker crosses paths with hippies and weirdos, and while he stands entirely apart from politics, the books still feel like a statement of mood. It is not surprising, then, that Westlake often got fan letters from prisoners about the Parker books. Not once do we learn what Parker does with his money, or what compels him to keep at this, or even if he enjoys his vocation.

Not once does he ask himself why; it is simply all he knows, and it is beside the point. It is a job like any other blue-collar job, and most of the people he victimizes — mobsters and sniveling sycophants and the like — come across as lower on the moral totem pole than Parker himself. He had no sense of height in this blackness, and it soon seemed to him it was taking too long to get down the pole.

Leg down, hand down, leg down, hand down; surely he should have reached the ground by now. A stupid panic tried to rise up in his chest, and he felt the idiotic urge to just jump out from the pole into the black, drop the rest of the distance, however long it was, get this damn thing over with. And still he kept inching and inching his way down the rough wood surface; and when his foot did finally thud against the ground, it came as a surprise.

It would take Westlake 23 years to conjure another Parker novel, and while the later titles are quite good, they inevitably felt like they were coming from a different place. In the late s, Westlake was working on a Parker novel in which his character would be forced to steal the same object over and over again.

The problem was that it kept coming out funny, and Parker was anything but funny. But Westlake? Westlake was quick-witted and jovial. Sometimes when he told stories, he broke into laughter before he could get to the punchline. He never veered too far into pure shtick; his humor was often so subtle that it crept up and blindsided you. He made the absurd seem naturalistic. I totally lost it.

A Stark World

In a short time, I started to notice I had plenty of room around me. And so, facing a crisis, Westlake rewrote that failing Parker novel with a new brand of antihero, a put-upon thief named Dortmunder.

In the early s, at a cocktail party thrown by author Ira Levin, he met Abby Adams, a writer and magazine editor; they married in and bought a townhouse on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village. Westlake wrote on the third floor, surrounded by shelves and shelves of his own books arranged in chronological order, a library of his career.

Late in his career, they bought a house in upstate New York, and Westlake wrote a dark novel called The Ax , about a paper company employee who fights off downsizing by becoming a serial killer. It was the only time Abby saw his mood turn dark throughout the process of writing a book. Once, Penzler says, Westlake excused himself from the Fire Island house, and within seconds you could hear the clacking of the typewriter.

Indie Comic Vault Darwyn Cooke's Richard Stark's Parker: The Hunter

Half an hour later, his work was done. Most of the time he did not need to warm himself up, to work his way into the task. He did not do a great deal of research, except when he needed to. His characters were usually drawn with such keen insight that they became eminently believable on the page.