Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Violent World of Parker - Richard Stark

Starting in the early sixties crime writer Donald Westlake, using the pen name Richard Stark, created the character of Parker. He's a cold, utterly ammoral thief who does whatever is needed to pull off his heists and deal with the people around him. If it includes murder or kidnapping, so be it. The books were written in a terse, taut style and are brutal and violent.

I finally read the first two (there are 16 original books from the sixties and seventies and a further seven from the past decade or so), "The Hunter" and "The Man With the Getaway Face" and was blown away. I'm on my way to read the third, "The Outfit" as soon as a I finish this. I've never really read anything quite like them before and am looking forward to reading the seven I've got.

These books are models of economy. They're short (about 150 pages each) and tight. The move swiftly and violently and no matter how bad Parker is, which is pretty awful, you want him to succeed. I'm not giving away any of the plots so you can be fully surprised when you open them for the first time. Truly amazing books.

Their biggest problem is that they are hard to come by. The early ones were reprinted but only the first six or so. They can be purchased through ABE or Amazon but they aren't cheap. I just got the third and sixth ones for 15 bucks apiece and am looking to spend even more for some of the later volumes. If you can find them in a used book store grab them when you can because they are absolutely worth it.

Note: "The Hunter" has been filmed twice in the past forty years. Firt as "Point Blank" by John Boorman starring Lee Marvin and the second time by Brian Helgeland with Mel Gibson as "Payback". Both movies have their decent points, particularly "Point Blank". It's a great sixties artifact merging new wave film/storytelling techniques with real hardboiled American style. Lee Marvin is great, though far too warm and fuzzy to really be Parker.
"Payback" stays closer to Stark's novel and is much more brutal and ammoral in tone. Gibson, though, apparently forced cuts to make his character less outright evil and more approachable. There are even moments of outright humor that just don't feel right. Still, they get the opening scene dead right from the book and it's striking.

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