The short days of winter are made even shorter by thick heavy cloud layers and steadily falling snow. We drove through an elongated twilight and an early night, the headlights of oncoming cars splintering in the water drops on the windshield. The interior of the car became too hot and stuffy, but when I opened a window a crack the air that came in was gravelike: damp and cold, reaching immediately through flesh to bone.
I rolled up the window again. We were stopped for a while in the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, part of an endless double row of murmuring smoking cars waiting like cows at milking time for the gods to solve whatever problem had arisen out of sight ahead. But then the lines began to creep forward again, and we emerged from the tunnel, and there was no sign of whatever the problem had been. There never is.
— A Jade in Aries (1970), by Donald Westlake
Parker: The Hunter (by Richard Stark) with Illustrations by Darwyn Cooke
The waiter for lunch today was a thin fiftyish man with a mournful face and large ears, who reminded me of a Norman Rockwell painting. Fat people in Norman Rockwell paintings look as though they’ve always been fat and enjoy it, but thin people have extra rolls of flesh, as though they’ve just recently lost a great deal of weight. They also tend not to look happy about it. This waiter, in a gray business suit and conservative tie under a full-length white apron, with his lined mournful Norman Rockwell face, was a very comical figure until he came close enough to see his eyes. Deep-set and shadowed, they weren’t merely mournful, they were despairing. I met his look, and knew at once that he, like me, was impaled forever on one unchangeable instant in the past.
— Wax Apple (1970), by Donald Westlake
"Why is it that tragic life stories so often seem to have a thread of comedy, almost of farce, running through them?"
Some beautiful illustrations by Darwyn Cooke for Parker prose versions.
Robert Schulz (American, 1928-1978). The Big Boodle, paperback cover, 1955.
“The Rare Coin Score”
Read 24.7.05 - 26.7.05
When event happened, Parker reacted.
So, I’ve read 21 of the 24 Parker books, written by Donald E. Westlake (under the pseudonym Richard Stark), over the past… Maybe a year or two. This is probably my favorite series of books that I’ve read, and I can’t get over how great the writing is. Some of the books are better than others, with Butcher’s Moon probably being the best, but they’re all worth a read.
Parker is such a great character and an interesting protagonist, mostly because he’s out and out not a good person. He’s a professional thief who he lives outside the law. He comes up with the great plans that, if everyone did exactly what they’re supposed to, it’d go off without a hitch. In fact, sometimes, they do go off without a hitch before someone comes in and makes a mess of it all. Anytime a plan goes wrong, it’s always outside his control, like… Someone brought in an Amateur. Someone on the job is doing the job for personal reasons. Someone got too greedy. Someone was sloppy and let someone else know about the job. An amateur got suspicious and learned about the job, and wants a cut. Either way, it’s usually Parker who has to clean up the mess and cut away any loose ends so he doesn’t get caught.
I cannot tell you how much I love these books. The novels are great, and have this hardboiled feeling to it and, occasionally, hilarious. Not because something that was supposed to be serious missed the mark, but just that you’d be hit by this dark irony (Like the ending to The Seventh). That’s not the reason I’m making this post. I came across another post that lists ten sentences (each) reused by the authors of The Hunger Games, Twilight, and Harry Potter. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, but it kind of makes me realize why I don’t like a lot of books like that. It’s not exclusive to the world of young adult novelists though, I notice that A Song of Ice and Fire tends to be repetitive at times (though it’s kind of helpful because there are so many fucking characters in that, that I’m glad to get a brief reminder of who is who). I started thinking about what would come up if you did the same for, say, Harlan Ellison, Douglas Adams, Fritz Lieber, Stephen King, etc. Eventually it struck me to think about Westlake and Parker. While, I don’t think Parker does that too much, beyond descriptions of Parker being annoyed or angry with the shit he has to put up with, but those are usually varying, and maybe a couple of times when Parker is described…
[B]ig and shaggy, with flat square shoulders… His hands, swinging curve-fingered at his sides, looked like they were molded of brown clay by a sculptor who thought big and liked veins. […] His face was a chipped chunk of concrete, with eyes of flawed onyx. His mouth was a quick stroke, bloodless.
… But what I really thought of right away was how the books start. Not all of the books, but the first few (and then later ones) start off with “When event happened, Parker reacted.” It was a really neat stylistic choice that ranged from a very active opening to a something maybe a little mundane. It’s a really neat gimmick, and I decided to look through my Parker books to see which ones start off that way. The list is probably incomplete though, since I have to read the last three books in the series.