Thursday, May 13, 2021

The Violent World of Parker and Me; Plus "Slayground" by Richard (Donald E. Westlake) Stark

Confession time. 

I've been an accomplice of Parker's for a long time. No not as close as Handy McKay or Alan Grofield but I've been around the proverbial block with him. I came to Parker via the 1998 movie "Payback" which I liked a lot more before I found out who Parker really was. I learned that through the library and battered and tattered hardcovers for the later books and much worse paperback copies from the Avon run. I got a few copies for myself back then too, but Parkers have always been hard to get second hand. Parker's a keeper. The tale of Parker, his inception, his trials, troubles, near death and resurrection have been well documented by better literary historians than I, so I won't write anything to pale in comparison. Go to Violent World of Parker and loose yourself if you're not in the know

Donald Westlake taught me a lot as himself and as Richard Stark. Some good shit as Tucker Coe too. He's a writer who seemingly could do it all. Light and fun. Hard and dark. Sad and mysterious. Whatever you need. A true professional.  He's probably best known for being the fictitious Richard Stark, but hell I'm sure Stark would have thought Westlake was the phoney. Westlake taught me a lot about writing. Try to be like Westlake, try to be clean, try to be clever, get out of the way and follow your characters around and most importantly there's no limits. If you want to be funny in one thing; be funny. If you want to be the hardest-boiled ever; do that. He was amazing talent. I read Dortmunder books in a sitting, devoured his stand-alone's and then of course the Parkers. I even like the Grofield's a lot more than most people. I remember reading "Bank Shot" and "Jimmy the Kid" back-to-back over a long Sunday, in re-bound library hardcovers in a chair while visiting my grandmother and trying to block out Lawrence Welk reruns on the TV. Westlake might have made a good crook. If you think up a good way to steal a whole bank, like in "Bank Shot," then you might have had the right stuff. And hey, he already had the alias thing down. 

Recommendations as Westlake: "Bank Shot," "Jimmy the Kid," "Dancing Aztecs," "Why Me?" and "Castle in the Air." 

Parker is about the blankest slate you can make a book series out of. You never know much about him, he doesn't talk much, he just moves like a shark through the narrative to accomplish his goals. The goals are usually robbing, killing or surviving. Or all three, at least they all pretty much always happen. He operates in a quasi-age-less world of professional and unprofessional crooks and big time syndicates or Outfits, if you will of the mob. He's qualified, tough and you certainly don't want to be on his bad side. He's got no friends, associates; yes and a few ladies. Most notably Claire who sticks it out with Parker over a bunch of books. She's mostly a non-character though, often more in the background. It's all you need, the Parker books are about quick moving narratives full of death, deceit and pitch perfect storytelling. Overall some the novels are a bit of a formula pieces while other may stray too far off the formula (I'm looking at you "The Jugger") but Stark/Westlake on a bad day is still better than most.

I eventually read all the original 16 novels before Stark reemerged in 1997 with "Comeback," another confession I'm not really into the 8 novels from '97 to 2008. I've tried, but they failed to connect with me. It may be the time-frame, it may be the slightly longer page count or something stupid like the lack of a mass market paperback. I dislike holding trade paperbacks. I don't know, they just sort of fell flat to me. Someday I'm sure my head will screw on straight and I'll realize that I've been an idiot all these years. At least then I'll have 8 new Parkers to enjoy.

Recommendations as Stark: "The Score," "The Sour Lemon Score," "The Outfit," "Lemons Never Lie" (Grofield) "Deadly Edge" and "Slayground" 

The movies are a mixed bag. Ranging from stone cold classics to complete messes (I'm looking at you "Parker") with a wide range of actors playing Parker (or the equivalent character) such as Lee Marvin, Robert Duvall, Jim Brown, Mel Gibson, Peter Coyote, Anna Karina and Jason Statham. "Point Blank" is the best movie of the bunch, but "The Outfit" is probably the best depiction of Parker as a character. Both versions "Payback" the theatrical and the director's cut have their pluses and minuses. "The Split" has one of the coolest cast ever assembled, but meanders too much. "Slayground" is an interesting hodge-podge of a movie, but Peter Coyote is miscast. I enjoy "Made in the USA," but it's not Parker at all and never tires to be. The Jason Statham led "Parker" is simply by-the-numbers affair that is quickly forgotten. The only one I haven't seen is the French "Mise a Sac" or "Pillaged" from 1967, which I desperately want too cause I love 60's French crime movies and it's based on "The Score" which is a dynamite novel. For a character that is relatively unknown to the public at large, the Parkers really inspire those who make movies. He's got a lot of adaptions (and ripoffs) for a series character in a non-series way. It's interesting to me that the blank nature of the character has an effect on filmmakers, its a good framework to build a picture on. It's a shame that there aren't more good Parker films. He's a wholly unique character, say if a film was announced tomorrow I wouldn't be surprised if Parker was played by Idis Elba or Mads Mikkelsen or Tom Hardy or Charlize Theron. They could all work. 

So, I felt the itch for a Parker. I don't generally like to re-read, there too many books in the world (and my library) for that. But I wanted a Parker. So, "Slayground" found it's way into my hands and I was off to the races. In my first reading of the series "Slayground" was a standout. It strayed from the standard Parker formula of planning and heisting, instead doing a "Die Hard" in a closed for the winter amusement park against a crew of mobsters and dirty cops. It's a crackerjack tale that builds and builds and leaves you wanting more. If you're new to Parker in might not be the best to start with since it's so far off of formula but there's a clear reason why its a fan-favorite: It kicks all kinds of ass. It's been a while since I've gone through the books and now that I've started I don't think I can stop. Which is fine, they will be almost new books to me, enough time has past that I only remember chunks and parts but not whole novels. 

I imagine I'll always be an accomplice of the professional thief Parker. His dark world somehow feels like home to me, I'll have to watch my back from the couch to the bathroom but home all the same never know who is closing in.

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