January 2009

Anne Waldron reading a book, 1912

Anne Waldron reading a book, 1912

Donald E. Westlake wrote under his own name as well as a variety of pseudonyms, one being Richard Stark. As Richard Stark, Westlake wrote a large number of hard crime stories about a professional criminal named Parker:

You’ve heard of the hero and the anti-hero…how about the non-hero? That’s how Parker, the main character in a series of novels by Richard Stark (AKA Donald E. Westlake) has been described. Parker is a thief, but he’s no charming cat burglar who playfully eludes the silly authorities. He’s a ruthless thug who does whatever it takes to get what he wants (usually money), and he doesn’t care about a living soul other than himself. Some of the things he does will be repellent (I hope) to readers.

So why read the stuff? Because Stark is an excellent writer and the Parker books are exciting and thought-provoking. Like all great crime fiction, the Parker novels give readers not just the story of a crime, but also a detailed look at the inner workings of a fascinating and original character.

Whether you are already a fan of Westlake or just like good crime fiction, go pay a visit to The Violent World of Parker.

The newly revamped site offers:

Blog: Musings on Parker, Stark, and Westlake, with occasional forays into other crime fiction. The latest news can be found here, along with whatever else I find interesting.

The Parker Novels: A list of the novels in order of publication, with links to a page for each novel. The page for each novel contains links to other goodies, such as cover galleries, detailed synopses, and introductions to out-of-print editions.

The “Parker” Movies: Movies based the Parker novels. There is a page for each movie, which includes a trailer if available, and a link to a gallery of pictures related to the film, including posters and stills.

The Grofield Novels: Spun off from the Parker series, these detail the adventures of Alan Grofield, the actor and thief first seen in The Score. The pages for each novel contain links to other goodies, such as cover galleries and detailed synopses.

Not Quite Parker (Print and Screen): References, pastiches, homages, ripoffs, inspirations, and remarkable similarities.

Extras: Great stuff that wouldn’t fit anywhere else. Small now but growing.

R.I.P.: Obituaries for and tributes to the great Donald E. Westlake (AKA Richard Stark). We miss you.


Ask The Parrot is the second Richard Stark novel I read, the eighteenth or nineteenth by Westlake.

I am delighted to learn that James Wolcott of Vanity Fair wrote a review of Ask The Parrot when it was published back in 2006.

One of the things I really enjoy about the Parker novels is the way they pick up where the previous one left off, because when you finish one you’re left saying, “Wow, did he recover the loot?” It is in the Stark novels that Dashiell Hammett‘s influence on Westlake is most apparent.

“Ask the Parrot,” is the sequel to the ominously titled “Nobody Runs Forever” (2004), a cliffhanger that left Parker fleeing police tracker dogs after an armored-car holdup went blooey. What Parker and his crew hadn’t calibrated was how the war on terror had shaved the margin of error. They reckoned they had exit time to spare after the heist. Instead, “law enforcement in recent years had come to expect an attack from somewhere outside the United States, that could hit anywhere at any time and strike any kind of target, and they’d geared up for it.” Worse, the integration of law-enforcement data collecting meant that once your alias and mug shot were tapped into the system, no set of stolen license plates or fake ID was foolproof. Hiding became harder, every move easier to trace. At the beginning of “Ask the Parrot,” Parker legs it up a hill not far from a small town called Pooley, only to find himself staring into the barrel of a hunting rifle pointed by Tom Lindahl, a loner with a grudge, a plan and a parrot that doesn’t have much to say for itself. Lindahl’s scheme involves the robbery of a local racetrack that’s done him grievous wrong, and that’s all we’re going to say about the plot, which has the usual high quotient of mishaps, reversals, double crosses, fatal surprises and automotive information. “Parker saw the gray Volkswagen Jetta start out of Pooley after Tom Lindahl’s Ford S.U.V., and fell in line behind it, in the Infiniti he’d taken from Brian Hopwood’s gas station.”

Donald Westlake, master of the comic crime caper and so much more, has left this mortal coil at the age of 75 after an apparent heart attack while vacationing in Mexico.

Condolences to his family and friends and all those who have come to love this wonderful author.

Sarah Weinman has a long list of excellent links to all things Westlake.

How come WordPress doesn’t have funeral bunting?

Go read this:

Here (possibly for the first time?) is an annotated critical list of the 88 canonical Westlake novels and short-story collections, occasionally amplified by his own comments from our correspondence.