Showing posts with label parker. Show all posts
Showing posts with label parker. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A few Richard Stark Books - The Dame, The Black Ice Score and The Sour Lemon Score

I've been plowing through more of the Parker and Allan Grofield novels by Richard Stark.  As much as I write here, I can't imagine how much time that guy must have spent in front of the typewriter.  Keep in mind, Richard Stark was just one pen name of Donald Westlake, who was usually out writing kind of wacky crime and mystery stories.  The three books I just finished, originally pulpy paperbacks, all came out between 1968 and 1969, and the next one I'm going to pick up also was released in 1969.



But in writing that much, it's interesting to see Stark second guess himself, realize maybe he went a little off formula and come back to correct himself, especially with Parker.  It makes me wonder if he'd gone back and re-read the first Parker novels and seen how far afield The Black Ice Score truly was from The Hunter and The Man with the Getaway Face (still a great book title), and that, maybe The Black Ice Score felt a little, almost, cozy for Parker.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

No Post Thursday - what I've been doing (class, books, end of the yearly cycle)

This evening I went to the gym, watched an episode of Mad Men Season 5, did some pre-ordering of comics, and got pretty far along with the first unit of the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) I've started through Canvas.

When I get through the first week, I'll post some personal and professional observations as someone who (a) has read comics for a long, long time - including a good chunk of the assigned reading, (b) who actually does care about gender representations in media - but maybe not in a particularly prescribed way, and (c) who worked in distance education for a decade before moving on to digital libraries.  As bonus featurea (d) I already went through five years of undergraduate education in narrative media studies, and (d) I sort of have my opinions regarding scholarly writing when it comes to social criticism, so...  it's turning out to be an interesting experience already.

It's going to be a long post, and only, likely, I will care about it, so...  look for THAT.

Speaking of gender in comics and pop-culture, yesterdays post on why it's okay for Power Girl to have a "boob window" got a fair number of hits.  By that, I mean, we were around 95 last I checked, which is, like, HUGE for this site.  I never know what's going to get traffic.  I fully expected upwards of 18 clicks.

I am making a commitment to just admit I am going to just read all the Richard Stark novels and nothing else that is not a comic until I finish the Parker and Grofield series.  And then I have, literally, ten books to get through.


  • I'm about a quarter way through the Larry Tye Superman book Nathan gave me, so that might get read while I work through the Stark novels.
  • Dark City Dames by Eddie Muller - a book with bios of a handful of noir sirens, including sections on Audrey Totter and Marie Windsor
  • Altered Carbon - as recommended by Steven
  • the next three Barsoom novels starting with Thuvia, Maid of Mars
  • Doc Savage, Man of Bronze - personally recommended by no less than Chris Roberson
  • The Big Screen  - a non-fiction book on the history of cinema
  • The Killer Inside Me and After Dark, My Sweet, that I've been putting off for, literally, almost twenty years
  • the new Glenn Wheldon Superman book  
  • a Dashiell Hammett collection


As I said on the Facebooks today, I need more time to read.

So, no recommendations for a bit.  My plate is full.

Jamie's birthday is passed, and mine is next Friday, so if you're around and want a cocktail, email me.  We may be doing something about drinks on the 13th.

We have a yearly cycle that starts at Halloween and ends with my birthday.  Really, from Halloween, it's something every few weeks, including Valentine's Day, then March - the months of birthdays, etc...  And, of course, Easter and Mother's Day take us into May.  At this point I'm used to it, but it does seem like it compresses time into the various observances.  Summer has become my holiday from holidays, except for July 4th, which includes explosions and hamburgers and is thus becoming one of my favorite holidays.

My folks are headed back to Kenya for missionary work/ putting eyeglasses on Kenyans.  Always proud of them in their volunteer efforts.

Mad Men Season 6 starts Sunday night, so, leave a brother alone while he does his thing.


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Signal Reads: The Green Eagle Score (a Parker Novel)

This is what I like about a Parker novel.  On Saturday I had a rainy day, and while I'd started the book at the doctor's office on Tuesday (I'm fine.  Just getting the annual inspection.), I read all but those first 23 pages today.



Like other Parker novels, it's difficult to imagine the heist pulled off in the modern era of paranoid security, electric systems everywhere, etc...  But people don't really change all that much, and so the stories still work very, very well.

Since The Jugger - but really, starting with The Score, Stark wisely began fanning out his narrative attention a bit more on the other characters in the books.  Probably the closest I'd point to in something you'd be immediately familiar is some of the feel of the "let's check in with our villain" of the Ocean's 11 franchise.  The characters don't have to be right next to Parker throughout the novel - the narrative eye wanders and gives us some background on some of these characters, some of whom then proceed to die just a few pages later and without much attention paid to their fate.

It's an interesting narrative trick as you definitely get a complete picture of the story, but you also know that Stark's narrative in invested in the story and isn't going to get sentimental about  a character just because we spent two or three pages with that person, learning their inner thoughts.

The Green Eagle Score is about the payroll heist of an Air Force base in upstate New York.  Parker leaves Claire, whom he picked up in the last book, The Rare Coin Score, in Puerto Rico, to chase down a haul put in front of him by an old comrade whose ex-wife is shacked up with a clerk in the finance office on the base.

The book takes a telegraphed but no-less fascinating left turn into the usual complications of a Parker heist, but it's so wildly different from the complications of The Seventh or even The Handle, that it doesn't feel like old hat, even in the 10th Parker novel.

Good, fun read.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Adapting "Parker" for the big screen and changing the rules

"Civilized people need to follow rules.  These are mine:
I don't steal from people who can't afford it and I don't hurt people who don't deserve it.  Most importantly, you say you'll do something and you don't, I'll make sure you regret it."

I'm not an expert on Richard Stark's character Parker, but I have read several of the books in the Parker crime-novel series.  They're short, easy to read, good airplane stuff.  I'm not even sure there's an arc to Parker's character development until around the seventh book.  That's, as we say, a feature, not a bug.

I really like Parker novels in part not because I relate to Parker as a master-thief, but because I think in some ways I relate to Parker as someone who spends a lot of time planning things out, enough so to improvise if things go poorly, but I also become fairly irritated when people's quirks and personalities get in the way of the plan when - darn it - we all knew the plan.

However, I am just slightly less inclined than Parker to actually straight up blow up my co-workers if I feel they messed up a project.

There's a movie coming out based on one of the later books in the Parker series. Hollywood being the clever folks they are have named the movie Parker, and are not starting at the beginning of the series. You've likely seen ads with Jason Statham and (yes, people are still hiring her) Jennifer Lopez.

I find it fascinating that J-Lo actually has fans in 2013

The quote above is from the Parker trailer.  If the trailer looks like a standard, inexpensive Jason Statham action movie, I am guessing you are not far off.  The critics at Rottentomatoes certainly seem to feel that way.

The quote of Parker's rules - the thing that gets you to know the character and makes you interested in the character - is not from the books and, really, if casting Jason Statham wasn't a weird enough choice, this little good-guy-thief code has nothing to do with Parker's rules or the purpose of those rules in the series of books.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Signal Reads: The Rare Coin Score (1967)

This is the 9th Parker novel, and while I enjoyed the 8th novel, The Handle, it didn't feel as strong as prior efforts.  With a dozen more Parker books to go, I was a bit nervous that at some point, possibly due to the prolific nature of dimestore writing, if Stark had found his pattern and was sticking to it.  While The Seventh had its moments, I was definitely feeling a pattern (and I loved the ending of The Seventh).

This book breaks the mold a bit as its the first book in a while to deal not just with Parker's internal working as an operator, but The Rare Coin Score (1967) introduces Claire, who I understand is Parker's romantic partner in future books - and thus a bit of character development we haven't seen before.  That said:  Romance being a relative term in the Parker novels.



As a collector myself, the idea of someone taking advantage of a "Con", to pull a heist of rare and valuable items all in one place, definitely resonated.  Not to mention that the insider, Billy, is an excellent stand-in for some of the collector population of man-boys that find a home in a collector community but can't help but want to exploit what he sees around him.  Of course, once he's dealing with pros, he's terribly out of his league.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Signal Reads: The Damsel (1967) by Richard Stark

At the conclusion of the Parker novel The Handle, Parker and Alan Grofield have landed in Mexico City with Grofield licking his wounds and Parker leaving him there so he can get on with it.

Richard Stark (aka: Donald Westlake) spun off Grofield into his own sub-set from the Parker novels with The Damsel (1967), giving Parker's occasional co-worker with the head full of flights of fancy room to pursue his own adventures.



Structurally, it feels a bit like a Parker novel, but tonally, The Damsel is a lot lighter on its feet and a bit wackier in scope.  While Stark narrates both books from a third-person perspective, the attitude of the protagonists infiltrates the worldview of the book.  Parker's methodical, systematic, almost obsessive-compulsive perspective is ditched for Grofield's devil-may-care approach, and talent for improvisation and theatricality giving the adventure more of... an adventurous air.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Signal Watch Reads: The Handle (a Parker novel)

The eighth in the line of Parker novels, The Handle places master thief Parker in several odd positions.  Most of the prior stories occurred above the Mason-Dixon line and detailed Parker working with a team of professionals.  This one has Parker working, for reasons of his own, alongside The Outfit, the bloated, corporatized mob from the first three or so Parker books.  The score settled between the two and pragmatism the word of the day, and The Outfit has hired Parker to crack a nut they can't solve.

Off the coast of Galveston, by forty miles, a casino has been built by a man with no affiliations with The Outfit.  Of course, that's bad business to have vice occurring so close to Outfit territory but with them getting nothing, so they'd like to see if Parker can rob the place blind and then shut it down.


Friday, August 10, 2012

We read more Parker: "The Seventh" and the graphic novel of "The Score"

The Seventh

The Seventh is, probably not-coincidentally, the seventh book in the Richard Stark (pen name of Donald Westlake) series of books about Parker, the tough guy master criminal who first appeared in The Hunter.

In this volume, following a particularly well-planned and executed heist that should have landed him a nice chunk of change (something sorely needed after the disastrous conclusion of The Jugger), Parker is hiding out and playing it cool when he comes back from a quick trip out for cigarettes and beer to find the girl he's been shacking up with stone cold dead in an apartment that's still locked and shows no signs of forced entry. And, of course, not just Parker's take (his seventh) is gone, but the whole take from the heist.

Stark never explains Parker, never spends time on much other than notes about characterization, and there's never a why.  All we see is Parker on the job, and it's not some writerly oversight.  Nobody gets insight into what makes Parker tic - be it his partners, the people he goes up against, or the reader.  We know he doesn't like small talk not just because the limited omniscience narrator tells us, but because Parker tells people rattling on at him to shut up, and he seems to appreciate the slain girl not just for her bedroom acrobatics, but for her agreement that they can sit in silence for hours if they've nothing to say.  But we never see a young Parker becoming Parker (at least by this seventh book).  Heck, we never even know his first name.

This book follows what happens not when a heist goes wrong, or a run in with the Outfit, but the unexpected occurring, and throwing Parker off his game.  We always get to see little pieces of Parker, and this book gives us an opportunity to see Parker wrestling a bit with making the smart move versus doing what he wants to do from a gut level once he's been shown up.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Signal Watch Reads: The Jugger by Richard Stark

I've never been a book series guy before, but I guess between the John Carter books and now finishing my sixth Parker novel, I'm a book series guy.

I'm totally in the bag for the Parker books by Richard Stark (aka:  Donald Westlake).


The Jugger (1965) picks up finding Parker in small town Nebraska to check on his contact and the closest thing to a friend he's got (not that he's sentimental about it), Joe Sheer.  Only to to find that the panicky letters he'd been getting from Sherer were on the money, and by the time he's arrived, Sheer has died rather suddenly.



But since his arrival, local law has been keeping an eye on Parker, and now a twerp from the criminal underground has shown up insisting Parker must be there for some reason other than to say adios to Joe Sheer.  And he's just smalltime and dumb enough to think he can play ball with Parker.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Noir City Special! Noir Watch: "The Killers" and "Point Blank"

On Saturday night, the Noir City festival scheduled two films from the 1960's, both starring Angie Dickinson and Lee Marvin.  Angie Dickinson appeared as a special guest and we all got to enjoy Eddie Muller's interview conducted on stage.  I am happy to say that Ms. Dickinson lived up to the hype.

This year's Noir City programming strayed into (gasp) some color-era films, which immediately raises eyebrows and draws some suspicion regarding whether its true noir, at least partly because the societal forces that drove the era most thought of as noir were now passing into the rearview mirror.  By the 1960's, we'd had World War II and Korea, and were headed for Vietnam, but the US was firing on all cylinders economically.  But the underlying questions of the corruption caused by wealth (or opportunity for wealth), and the irrational things a guy will do for the wrong girl seemed as universal as ever.

The Killers (1964) is, ostensibly, based upon the Ernest Hemingway short story of the same name, but is really based upon the 1946 film starring Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner.  Only the barest hints of the original short story remain, and the template of two intimidating thugs shaking down unprepared chumps wasn't exactly fresh by 1964.



Still, the movie works in all the ways it should as a competent heist movie.  As mentioned, the film stars Marvin as one of the pair of contract killers and Dickinson as the love interest of John Cassevetes as the film's protagonist.  In the world of seeing things you thought you'd never see, the first shot of Ronald Reagan* as Jack Browning (Reagan's final film role) paired with a pre-Mr. Roper Norman Fell as his thuggish companion drew an audible reaction from the audience at The Castro.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Point Blank vs. The Hunter

Because I think Darwyn Cooke is a good drawer, a while back I picked up his graphic novel adaptation of Richard Stark's (aka: Donald Westlake's) crime thriller The Hunter.


ironically, the cover image of the novel is stolen from a scene in the movie The Big Combo. Great movie, by the way.

I didn't know anything about The Hunter other than that people seemed pretty keen about Westlake's work, and I picked up on the fact that the Parker books seemed to have a cult following.

The first installment in the Parker series is a fairly slim pulp read, a form of book you don't see much anymore, but that used to be a fairly popular consumer product. A lot of books like this used to get published, and every once in a while something would work better than expected, and you could wind up with the next Doc Savage, The Shadow or other pulp favorite on your hands.

Anyway, long story short, I was blown away by Darwyn Cooke's adaptation, and convinced I'd need to read the actual book. Long story short, I did read the book, and it was just as good on a second read, even without the power of Cooke's illustrations.

It's also notable that Cooke stuck as close as possible to the actual novel as possible, meaning that the adaptation is certainly its own entity in a way, but it also had the approval of Westlake who had previously allowed the story of The Hunter to be sold and adapted at least twice before that I know of, but had required that Parker's name be changed in both instances.

You can read about the adaptation and see pages here.

I'd not seen either filmic adaptation, Mel Gibson's Payback or the Boorman directed, Lee Marvin starring Point Blank, and so decided to check out a Boorman movie before I broke my self-imposed Mel Gibson hiatus (excluding Mad Max films).

If you were going to cast Walker (as he's named in Point Blank), Marvin is as good a fit as you were likely to get in 1967. And, John Boorman as good a director. That's high praise, by the way.

I'm not clear on whether Westlake asked that Parker's name be changed before or after reading the script, but I'm sort of glad that Westlake did so. Parker can remain Parker, and Point Blank is not Parker's story from The Hunter. They changed just enough details, and the studio didn't know how to tell the story without adding in a girl and dialing down Parker's anti-social/ sociopathic character.


a scene from Darwyn Cooke's graphic novel adaptation of The Hunter. I think Dickinson's character was an expansion on this character.

That said, Point Blank is a great piece of that span of cinema that lasted from the mid-60's to almost 1980. For a bit there, they were actually following the "show, don't tell" school of thought when it came to storytelling. That whole concept was pretty much chucked by the time Arnie was a major star and you had to hear about how awesome "Dutch" or "John McLargehuge" from his colleagues before Arnie had so much as an entrance.


This movie is about a hand, a gun, Lee Marvin's head , a tiny Angie Dickinson and the Doppler Effect.

In some ways, Marvin's portrayal of Walker must have been a bit of a surprise to audiences used to a hero rather than following a protagonist. As in the actual two Parker books I've read (waiting on the third, btw), Parker is more of a protagonist rather than anybody's ideal of a "hero". He's just the perspective we're following the story through. So, when we see Walker beat the holy hell out of a couple of guys, shoot before asking and accidentally send a key character to his doom... its not with any sense of moral vindication, false or otherwise. That's just what's going to happen with Walker.

While I'm a huge fan of characters like Superman and think part of what makes Superman nifty is his conviction to a higher moral ideal, its just as fascinating to see a character just as fully realized who has a completely different steering mechanism in place, and not one made of false bravado or BS machismo.

Anyhow, I actually highly recommend Point Blank as a movie, and am choosing to think of it as a separate entity from its source material. As a stand alone movie, Point Blank is a good, gritty crime drama.


An emotional and primitive man? They kinda did take a different direction from The Hunter.

I'm so out of the loop, I feel a bit awkward talking about direction, but I do like how the film hangs together, so I suppose Boorman did a pretty darn good job. The tension is right, and while I felt the urgency of Walker's hunt was a bit different from Parker's, it's pretty strong stuff. And you have to love some of the opening exposition, and how that's put together.

Also, Angie Dickinson.

Dickinson could have been just eye-candy (and how!), but her part, which is mostly made up for the movie and seems loosely based on a minor character in the book, is an interesting addition, and Dickinson is given some interesting scenes. It's an odd departure as it dilutes Parker's reflections on Lynne from the book, and gives him a new point of interest, which is one of those places where you realize the filmmakers were just going to make their own movie.


Dickinson and Marvin worry about crime during the swinging sixties

Anyhow, recommended. Check it out.