The Year of Parker
June 30, 2009 10:59 AM   Subscribe

He is a man with one name. He is a thief and a killer, and the protagonist of 24 hard boiled novels written by prolific author Donald Westlake (previously) under the pseudonym Richard Stark. He is Parker, and he is enjoying a resurgence in popularity.

His first adventures, long out of print, are being reissued by the University of Chicago Press. While the first three, The Hunter, The Man with the Getaway Face and The Outfit, were published without forwards, the second batch of books featured a forward by John Banville, which originally appeared in Slate. (This article was also referenced in the Westlake obit post, but is included here for the sake of completeness). The third set of reprints, coming in August, will have a forward by noted writer and critic Luc Sante. It will presumably come from his 1985 essay “The Gentrification of Crime,” for the New York Review of Books, which is not available online in its entirety. You can read an excerpt, however (scroll down to the Westlake heading).

Not only are the Parker books being reprinted, but the first novel, The Hunter, which served as the basis for the movies Point Blank and Payback, has been adapted as a graphic novel by Darwyn Cooke. Initial reviews are positive. Cooke has said he has plans to give the graphic novel treatment to the first four Parker novels.

While the aforementioned Point Blank and Payback are the most well known film versions of Parker novels, there are many more. The first was Made in U.S.A. directed by Godard. It was a loose adaptation of The Jugger where Parker was played by actress Anna Karina. Due to the fact that Godard never bothered to acquire the rights to the book, the film did not receive an American release until this year.

For those who can’t get enough, the definitive site for all things Stark is The Violent World of Parker, which has an exhaustive list of novels and adaptations.

Additional Links:

An interview with Darwyn Cooke and Ed Brubaker

An interview with Donald Westlake
posted by dortmunder (39 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite

 
Whoa. There are 24 Parker books? I had no idea. That's great. Summer reading list now filled.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 11:09 AM on June 30, 2009


He doesn't always drink beer, but when he does, he prefers Dos Equis.
posted by HumuloneRanger at 11:14 AM on June 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Whoa. There are 24 Parker books? I had no idea. That's great. Summer reading list now filled.

There are also four novels Westlake wrote as Stark featuring Grofield, a thief who steals to finance his love of the theater. They are: The Damsel, The Dame, The Blackbird, and Lemons Never Lie. The last one is in print.
posted by dortmunder at 11:22 AM on June 30, 2009


I guess this can't be a self-link, since Westlake's dead.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 11:24 AM on June 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


I had no idea about Payback. The film had an oddness of tone about that makes a little more sense now seeing how much it went through in development.
posted by cortex at 11:26 AM on June 30, 2009


Parker seems to be the protagonist of 20 books, with an additional 4 focusing on Alan Grofield, Parker's sometimes partner in crime. "These usually pick up just after Grofield and Parker have finished a job; they're a bit lighter, a bit more Westlake than the other Starks. Perhaps because Grofield doesn't see himself as a professional thief. He sees himself as an actor, who criminal exploits allow him to turn down roles he's not too fussy about." (source)

Welcome to MeFi, you certifiable criminal mastermind. Horace Rumpole, are you so sure? It could be a bit of work, faking your death. But I imagine the choice of destinations was no accident. But why take the name of one of your characters? At least swap some characters out or mix things up.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:36 AM on June 30, 2009


The director's cut of Payback is well worth your attention if you found the originally released version to be a little schizophrenic in style and editing.
posted by artaxerxes at 11:37 AM on June 30, 2009


dortmunder, I love that you did this post.

"Parker doesn't get angry. Parker reaches for his gun" has got to be the best advice ever for genre novelists.
posted by infinitewindow at 11:38 AM on June 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


wow, this post needs to be fleshed out a lot more. what the fuck, dude. put some work into it next time.
posted by shmegegge at 11:41 AM on June 30, 2009


Parker seems to be the protagonist of 20 books, with an additional 4 focusing on Alan Grofield, Parker's sometimes partner in crime. "These usually pick up just after Grofield and Parker have finished a job; they're a bit lighter, a bit more Westlake than the other Starks. Perhaps because Grofield doesn't see himself as a professional thief. He sees himself as an actor, who criminal exploits allow him to turn down roles he's not too fussy about." (source)


You're right about this. I got mixed up counting things. The Stark books are split between twenty Parkers and four Grofields, for a grand total of 24. I've been reading this site for many, many years. I finally decide to join and make a post, and I screw it up. Typical.
posted by dortmunder at 11:45 AM on June 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Horace Rumpole, are you so sure?

Maybe I'm John Mortimer, and I'm trying to throw people off my trail.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 11:46 AM on June 30, 2009


You certainly are not Leo McKern.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 11:53 AM on June 30, 2009


Nice post. Thanks.

I've managed to get most of the Parker books through a smorgasbord of libraries, but there are still a few that I haven't read. I'm glad to see that I'll soon be able to!
posted by iwhitney at 12:02 PM on June 30, 2009


You know, I've never read these books, mostly because I love Point Blank with an unreasonable love, and I once saw Boorman introduce it. He described the novel as trash and said when he went to meet with Lee Marvin, Marvin said "this is the only way I'm making this movie" and threw the paperback out the window.

But you know, I'll try anything once.
posted by lumpenprole at 12:08 PM on June 30, 2009


I've only read one of the Grofields, but that particular book isn't nearly Dortmunder-level light n' wacky. (Don't think anyone ever seriously threatened Dortumunder's ever-lovin' companion May, for instance.) Lighter than Parker, sure, but Anton Chigurh's lighter than Parker.
posted by ormondsacker at 12:19 PM on June 30, 2009


Point Blank is one of the greatest movies ever. In the book The 100 Best Films to Rent You've Never Heard Of by David Meyer, Meyer describes Point Blank as the first movie in a genre nobody else ever made a second movie in, because nobody else had the vision and the balls of Boorman and Marvin. I'm inclined to agree. It's fantastic.

I had no idea it came from a "Parker" novel. I keep conflating "Parker" with "Spencer," too, so I mentally recast Robert Urich in Point Blank for a minute. Yeah, that doesn't work.

Anyway, MeFites: SEE POINT BLANK. IT IS AWESOME.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 12:23 PM on June 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


Awesome post!
posted by Divine_Wino at 12:24 PM on June 30, 2009


Wow. I was just going back and forth over email with CunningLinguist about what Westlake to read. I had never read the Dortmunder books, she had never read the Parker books. I read several of the Stark books ~10 years ago when they were last reissued (right before Payback came out), but they only reissued about four of them, and I had no idea there were so many. I worked at a bookstore and searched for other reissues, but never found them.

I'm very glad for this post.
posted by OmieWise at 12:29 PM on June 30, 2009


What Divine_Wino said!
posted by box at 12:49 PM on June 30, 2009


My first allegiance will always be to Dortmunder.

Too late, I realized the my mefi screen name should have been Honeybun Bazoom.
posted by CunningLinguist at 12:50 PM on June 30, 2009


Oh, hi OmieWise! Fancy meeting you in this thread.
posted by CunningLinguist at 12:51 PM on June 30, 2009


Wow. I was just going back and forth over email with CunningLinguist about what Westlake to read. I had never read the Dortmunder books, she had never read the Parker books. I read several of the Stark books ~10 years ago when they were last reissued (right before Payback came out), but they only reissued about four of them, and I had no idea there were so many. I worked at a bookstore and searched for other reissues, but never found them.

Let me also recommend Smoke (about a thief who turns invisible), and Humans (it's a supernatural comedy), in addition to the Dortmunder books if you're looking for humorous Westlake novels. Also, there's a book called Dancing Aztecs that he wrote in the 70's that's sort of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World-esque. Although, it's rather dated, and there's some ethnic humor that may seem a little broad in this day and age, it's still pretty good.
posted by dortmunder at 1:19 PM on June 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


I can't walk down a long hallway without thinking of Point Blank.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 1:25 PM on June 30, 2009


Baby, Would I Lie? was an entertaining Westlake comic courtroom mystery. I still sing the "turns into a pizza" song to myself sometimes.
posted by infinitewindow at 2:06 PM on June 30, 2009


I finally decide to join and make a post, and I screw it up. Typical.

Heh, since it's your first post, you have no pattern to continue, unless it is a personal pattern of minor failures in otherwise fantastic presentations, or the fact that most first-timers botch their posts in some way, as part of their excitement (or whatever you feel when posting for the first time).

In other words: small potatoes. I only caught it because I went a-googling, not from my own knowledge of the material.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:12 PM on June 30, 2009


My first allegiance will always be to Dortmunder.

Dortmunder is simply a Parker novel which went funny. Way Westlake told it, he kept trying to make it serious, but it wouldn't go. So, never one to waste material, he rearranged the characters and the rest is history.

Next and alas, final Dortmunder is out in just over two weeks.
posted by IndigoJones at 3:04 PM on June 30, 2009


I've been reading this site for many, many years. I finally decide to join and make a post, and I screw it up. Typical.

yeah, way to go. be perfect next time.
posted by shmegegge at 3:04 PM on June 30, 2009


I got an early copy of that last Dortmunder romp but have been saving it. Not sure what for. I just don't want it to end.
posted by CunningLinguist at 3:06 PM on June 30, 2009


Stark was also an inspiration for King's The Dark Half. For the parts where King, you know, wasn't busy autocannibalizing his life.
posted by adipocere at 3:19 PM on June 30, 2009


Baby, Would I Lie? was an entertaining Westlake comic courtroom mystery. I still sing the "turns into a pizza" song to myself sometimes.

Trust Me on This, the first novel to feature the characters from Baby, Would I Lie? was very good as well. It's a skewering of tabloid journalism, and really a lot of fun. I think BWIL was marketed poorly. The copy I have bills it as a romance, which it clearly isn't.
posted by dortmunder at 3:35 PM on June 30, 2009


Hm, dortmunder, strange that you didn't mention Child Heist, your favorite Parker book.
posted by nicwolff at 4:12 PM on June 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


^Chubbied for Jimmy the Kid.
(Starring Gary Coleman as Jimmy.)
posted by ormondsacker at 4:39 PM on June 30, 2009


(For those bewildered by the previous two comments.)
posted by IndigoJones at 5:01 PM on June 30, 2009


OmieWise, CunningLinguist (and Box- just tangentially),

Hey, some of my favorite Metafilter types, read them all my dears, even the less good ones are still great and quick reads. I'm shocked that the entire Westlake/Stark catalog hasn't been in print and I'll lay a large bet that publishers everywhere are kicking themselves that the U of Chicago Press beat them to it.
posted by Divine_Wino at 6:11 PM on June 30, 2009


Man, Payback is possibly my most favourite film. I am looking for lots of audiobooks and other alternatives right now, as this has reminded me to search for the source material after too long procrastinating...
posted by Brockles at 6:40 PM on June 30, 2009


Holy shit - there's a sequel to Trust Me On This?????? Yipeeeee! Off to ebay or abe.
posted by CunningLinguist at 8:21 PM on June 30, 2009


So who can pay me back my $45,000?
posted by parker at 12:26 AM on July 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


The Parker novels are my favorite series. And as such I must ask that whomever allowed Mel Gibson to phone in that awful performance and whomever engineered the voiceovers in Payback needs to be set up to burgle Parker's New Jersey home, so he/she can die a violent death with plenty of time to panic.
posted by drowsy at 9:38 AM on July 1, 2009


FWIW, John McNally reviews "The Hunter," "The Man with the Getaway Face," and "The Outfit" in the Summer issue of VQR. (For which I work.)
posted by waldo at 6:59 PM on July 6, 2009


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