Richard Stark’s Parker – A Bad Man

A couple weeks ago, I shared my excitement about the upcoming new installment of Parker adaptations from Darwyn Cooke, but I didn’t explain why.

Well, the easy answer is Darwyn Cooke’s art and the efficiency of layout.  But it is the character of Parker, created by Donald Westlake under the pen name of Richard Stark, that is the most captivating.  I will frequently shake my head and mutter aloud with admiration to the Missus, “Parker is a baaaaaad man.”

Parker is a thief and a loner.  His mistrust of just about everybody is well-earned, and it’s difficult to fault Parker for the decisions he makes.  Many critics have accused Parker of being a sociopath, but it’s not true – there is no artifice with Parker or attempt to fool anyone.  He certainly maintains a dual identity as a professional necessity, but Parker doesn’t manipulate people.  He makes it clear what he needs from them, uses them, and when their utility is exhausted, he moves on.

Parker also holds to a strict moral code, but one that places his needs and safety above all others.  He won’t hurt somebody for no reason, but if the need dictates he will torture, deform, or murder them.  And Stark describes those acts as he would describe the process of how Parker ties his shoes.  There is nothing gruesome, just the task that needs to be done to complete the job.  One of my favorite examples involves a colleague that essentially serves as Parker’s agent, and probably the person closest to a friend Parker has.  When Parker gets word that his friend is scared and worried, he rushes across country to find him – not to help him, but to kill him so he can’t tell any of Parker’s secrets.

As I mentioned, the writing is sparse and tight, the plots simple, but the characters are complex.  Complex not as in elaborate or layered, but challenging.  There are no heroes in Richard Stark’s books, nobody who strikes a sympathetic tone.  They are crooks, betrayers, liars, thugs, and they are fascinating.

And the covers!  For those of us who relish book cover design, there are some gems.  While some of the original covers are terrific, I’m a huge fan of the Mysterious Press editions and the most recent University of Chicago Press editions.  Feast your eyes . . .


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