Parker

Created by Richard Stark
Pseudonym of  Donald Westlake
(1933-2008)

“I’m only the messenger!”
“Now you’re the message,” Parker told him, and shot him.
Parker explains the facts of life, in Butcher’s Moon

Definitely not a private eye.

Hell, sometimes he’s so cold and ruthless, he’s barely human.

Maybe a shark, or some other predator?

Richard Stark’s (actually Donald Westlake’s) PARKER is a hardened professional thief who appeared in a string of almost twenty excellent, extremely hard-boiled caper paperback originals in the sixties and seventies that immediately drew a cult following that only seemed to grow over the years. In fact, demand for Parker to return prompted Westlake to bring him back in the very well-received (and appropriately titled) Comeback in 1997. Seven more novels followed, the series continuing right up until Westlake’s death in 2009.

Aong with the Parker novels, Stark wrote four Alan Grofield books about Parker’s sometime 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, whose criminal exploits allow him to turn down roles he’s not too fussy about.

The Parker series is often cited as one of the absolute best hard-boiled series ever written, unapologetically brutal and unflinching. It’s also been the inspiration for several movies, although various directors have had some very different spins on his character, changing his name, his nationality, his race and even his gender on occasion. Rumour has it that when Westlake was asked why Parker was never called Parker in the movies, he replied that he didn’t want them to use the name, unless they were going to make a series from the books.

Under his real name, Westlake wrote the relatively light-hearted Dortmunder series, about a brilliant, but hilariously unlucky master criminal. The first Dortmunder caper, The Hot Rock (1970), also featured an appearance by Parker’s buddy, Alan Grofield. Under the Tucker Coe penname, Westlake has written a series about guilt-ridden private eye, Mitch Tobin.

Westlake’s always been rather playful when it comes to his books. In Jimmy The Kid, one of the Dortmunder books, his gang uses a Parker novel as a guideline for a caper–needless to say, it doesn’t go quite as planned. The chapters alternate between the Dortmunder story and the Parker novel, entitled Child Heist. And another Dortmunder book, Drowned Hopes shares a chapter with Joe Gores’ 1992 DKA novel 32 Cadillacs, with the gang stealing one of the Cadillacs of the title. The Donald Westlake novel. And this isn’t the first time Gores and Westlake have high-fived each other. About 20 years ago, Dead Skip (1972), the first DKA novel, shared a chapter with Plunder Squad (1972), a Parker novel. And The Blackbird (1969), a Grofield novel by Stark, shares a chapter with Slayground (1971), another Parker novel. Of course, these shared chapters are not exactly the same, but describe the same situations from different points of view (thanks to Jiro Kimura of The Gumshoe Site for the heads up on this one).

 

UNDER OATH

  • “Oiling the machinery is the author’s biting irony toward characters who talk the big talk about love and trust and loyalty but ditch their Christian values for a hot babe or a cool buck. In a world of warped values, an honest crook like Parker is a true treasure.”
    — Marilyn Stasio onComeback (New York Times Book Review)

NOVELS

FILMS

  • POINT BLANK | Buy this DVD
    (1967, MGM)
    Based on the novel The Hunter by Richard Stark
    Directed by John Boorman
    Starring Lee Marvin as WALKER (Parker in the novel)
    Also starring Angie Dickinson, Keenan Wynn
  • MISE Á SAC
    (aka “Une Notte per 5 rapine,” “Pillaged” and “The Score”)
    (1967; France/Italy)
    Based on the novel The Score by Richard Stark
    Directed by Alan Cavalier
    Starring Michel Constantin, Daniel Ivernel, Irène Tunc, Franco Interlenghi, Philippe Moreau, Paul Le Person, Julien Verdier, Simone Landry
  • MADE IN THE U.S.A.
    (1967)
    (Unofficially) based on the novel The Jugger by Richard Stark
    Directed by Jean-Luc Godard
    Starring Anna Karina as a female Parker.
    Westlake apparently didn’t like the movie and Godard never paid for the movie rights, so the film is not supposed to be shown in the US. The film is also known for characters named David Goodis, Don Siegel and Richard Widmark. Damn, I wish I could see this.
  • THE SPLIT
    (1968, MGM)
    Based on the novel The Seventh by Richard Stark
    Directed by George Flemyng
    Starring Jim Brown as McCLAIN (Parker in the novel)
    Also starring Gene Hackman, Diahann Carroll, Warren Oates, Ernest Borgnine
  • THE OUTFIT | Buy this DVD
    (1973, MGM)
    Based on the novel by Richard Stark
    Directed by John Flynn
    Starring Robert Duvall as EARL MACKLIN (Parker in the novel)
    Also starring Joe Don Baker, Robert Ryan, Karen Black, Elisha Cook Jr.
  • SLAYGROUND | Buy this DVDBuy this video
    (1983, EMI)
    Based on the novel by Richard Stark
    Directed by Terry Bradford
    Starring Peter Coyote as STONE
    Also starring Mel Smith, Billie Whitelaw
    Other sources claim Coyote’s character is actually called Parker in this one, which would make it the first time Parker is actually called Parker in a film. Does anyone know?
  • PAYBACK | Buy this DVD Buy this Blu-ray Buy this video
    (1999, Paramount)
    Based on the novel The Hunter by Richard Stark
    Screenplay by Brian Helgeland and Terry Hayles
    Directed by Brian Helgeland
    Starring Mel Gibson as PORTER (Parker in the book)
    Also starring Maria Bello, Lucy Liu, Gregg Henry, Deborah Unger, David Paymer, Bill Duke, Jack Conley, William Devane, Kris Kristofferson, John Glover, James Coburn, Art Cohan
    I know convential wisdom says that Point Blank is the classic, what with Lee Marvin and all that slick, arty style, and any credit or respect Mel Gibson ever had has long since evaporated, but there’s something about this unapologetically gritty and nasty flick, starring a pre-fall from grace Mel, that really appeals to me. Even more astounding, though, were complaints from some long-time Parker fans that Gibson was “too nice” in the role — which was remedied by a subsequent re-released “director’s cut” on DVD. A terse, violent, nasty, bleak, scuzzy walk on the wild side. Filmed in Chicago.
  • PARKER | Buy this DVD Buy this Blu-ray Watch it now!
    (2013, Filmdistrict)
    118 minutes
    Based on the novel
    Flashfire by Richard Stark
    Screenplay by John J. McLaughlin
    Directed by
    Taylor Hackford
    Starring Jason Statham as PARKER
    Also starring Jennifer Lopez, Michael Chiklis, Bobby Cannavale, Wendell Pierce, Nick Nolte
    Everyone’s favourite ice-cold professional thief returns, in something like his eighth film adaptation, but the first under the name Richard Stark (Donald Westlake) gave him: Parker.
    The good news was that Jason Statham, who already looked like a stone-cold bastard, played the lead, and Michael Chiklis, Bobby Cannavale, Wendell Pierce, Nick Nolte and Jennifer Lopez — all pretty good in this kind of stuff–were along for the ride. But the possible franchise never materialized.

GRAPHIC NOVELS

 

  • THE HUNTER | Buy this book
    (2009, IDW)
    Written and illustrated by Darwyn Cooke
    Talk about highly anticipated! Eisner Award winning Darwyn Cooke (Batman, The Spirt, Catwoman) adapted and illustrated the Richard Stark novel that introduced Parker. Betrayed by his dame and double-crossed by his partner, the ice-cold pro has only one thought in mind – revenge. First in the series!
  • THE OUTFIT | Buy this book
    (2010, IDW)
    Written and illustrated by Darwyn Cooke
    He’s back! Cooke returned with his second adaptation. This time, Parker’s on the outs with the mob. Poor them.
  • RICHARD STARK’S PARKER: THE MARTINI EDITION | Buy this book
    (2011, IDW)
    Written and illustrated by Darwyn Cooke
    Contains Cooke’s first two adaptations of Richard Stark’s Parker novels, plus additional content, plus a brand-new story.
  • RICHARD STARK’S PARKER: THE SCORE | Buy this book
    (2012, IDW)
    Written and illustrated by Darwyn Cooke
    The third of Darwyn Cooke’s masterful adaptations of Richard Stark’s Parker novels is simply put, another triumph of graphic storytelling, style and wit.
  • RICHARD STARK’S PARKER: SLAYGROUND | Buy this bookKindle it!
    (2013, IDW)
    Written and illustrated by Darwyn Cooke
  • Richard Stark’s Parker: The Martini Edition Buy this book
    (2020, IDW)
    Written and illustrated by Darwyn Cooke
    Just in case you missed it the first go-round, the super-deluxe, oversized, slipcased hardcover edition is back, complete with over sixty pages of additional content, collecting the late, great Darwyn Cooke’s masterful, Eisner award-winning graphic novel adaptations of The Outfit and The Hunter
  • Richard Stark’s Parker: The Martini Edition–Last Call | Buy this book 
    (2020, IDW)
    Written and illustrated by Darwyn Cooke
    Even better, though, is that the long-awaited, equally lavish  second volume is finally out, collecting Cooke’s last two adaptations, The Score and Slayground, plus more than 100 pieces of never-before-seen Parker art by Cooke; a round table talk with Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, Bruce Timm, and Scott Dunbier on Parker and Cooke; and a brand-new 17-page Parker story by Brubaker and Phillips.

RELATED LINKS

  • The Violent World of Parker
    A bold and extensive site devoted to Richard Stark’s Parker novels. Tell them where you came from. There’s an accompanying blog.
  • “But I could be wrong.”
    The official Donald Westlake web site contains a semi-complete bibliography, a biography and, best of all, a Dortmunder short story from 1986. Enjoy!
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. Thanks to BSchin2188@aol.com for the tip.

One thought on “Parker

  1. I was introduced to Parker because of the graphic novels. I am an artist and the Darwyn Cooke illustrations have become a real influence on my work- so simple, and yet so complex!

    Like

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