Tuesday, April 05, 2011

If he likes Westlake, he's all right

My recent detours into poetry and Parker have not taken my mind off international crime fiction. In fact, they've led me to an Irish crime writer I had not tried before: Benjamin Black (John Banville).

This joint interview Black/Banville did with Parker's creator, Richard Stark (Donald Westlake) in 2007 dispelled any doubts I might have had about whether he takes crime writing seriously. For anyone who doubts that B/B appreciates fine crime writing, read what he had to say about Stark and Parker in Slate in 2006.
***
The Parker browsing also led me to this wonderful utterance from Westlake:
“I certainly hope Parker hasn’t mellowed. When one of the Kennedys was killed, a group of Hollywood actors formed an organization to swear never again to carry a gun in a film. Of course, these actors were mostly people like Don Knotts . When Lee Marvin was asked if he’d join that group, he said, `They’re trying to put me out of business.' "
That's from the same interview in which Westlake said: "For early influences we have to start, and almost end, with Hammett." Westlake was always one of the most insightful and intelligent of crime writers. It's worth reading the full interview for what else he says about his influences.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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194 Comments:

Blogger Dana King said...

I only wish the discussion was longer. I've heard a lot about Banville/Black since he branched into crime writing, but this is the first I've heard him speak. Not at all the slumming dilettante some would have you think.

April 05, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's it. He got some bad press, and it's good to discover that at least some of it may have been undeserved.

I had my own doubts him in 2008, when I attended the crime segment of the Sunday Irish Independent Book Festival in Dun Laoghaire -- two days of discussions and panels with almost all the luminaries of Irish crime writing. Banville attended the festival under the Benjamin Black name, but not the crime segment. Instead, he spoke at the separate main festival in Dublin. That seemed odd to me at the time, but in retrospect I'd guess that the organizers simply wanted the bigger name at the main event.

April 05, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

The Banville/Black controversy was also based on one of his public statements.

I rather like Banville as a stylist (the man can write some of the most thrilling and precise descriptions I've ever read), but I don't think much of his plots. The mysteries aren't all that different from the literary pieces.

Which proves that literary novels can comfortably fit under more marketable tags, while mysteries may aspire to literary awards.

April 05, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

So he's read a couple of Parker novels and he spends just as much time in that short piece talking about John Boorman's Point Blank. Thats pretty thin evidence that he takes the genre seriously. As an aside in the same piece he admits that he coulndt even be bothered to read one Maigret novel. And then theres all the evidence on the other side where he calls crime fiction contemptible and crime writing piss poor. I have the evidence of my own ears in the reading I attended where he talks about how he churns out a BB novel in six weeks but takes a year to write a Banville book because there's no point wasting too much time on a crime book.

April 05, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I.J., I'll admit that the man seems to court controversy. I'm especially interested in your suggestion that his mysteries are not all that different from his literary pieces. I'll keep that in mind as I read Banville wearing his Black hat.

April 05, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, that's probably his most controversial statement, that he writes 2,000 words a day as Black and 100 days as Banville, or whatever the precise figures were.

But he also wrote the introduction to at least one of the Parker novels in the current University of Chicago reissues. I haven't read that introduction, but I have to accept the possibility that it indicated he takes at least one crime writer seriously.

He's also not the only writer, crime or otherwise, who prefers Simenon's "hard" novels. All this adds up to is that I'll have to reserve judgment until I've read at least one of the Benjamin Black books.

April 05, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

To me his crime fiction reads a lot like his literary fiction - soulless, pretentious, bourgeois tittle tattle.

April 05, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It may read that way to me, too. Let's see what happens. If worst comes to worst, he'll turn out to be a soulless bourgeois who likes Richard Stark.

April 05, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Or maybe I'm completely wrong. The bookies in three continents can testify to the wrongness of my considered judgements.

April 05, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I think our man Declan Burke wound up finding him readable and likable after initial skepticism.

April 05, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I also think Banville's statement that

"I think we live in a very vio­lent time, OK? The vast major­ity of people have never seen any violence in their lives at all. They might drive their car
into their neighbor’s car and their neighbor might shout at them, but that’s about as near
as they get to violence. So there is this thing that we’re missing out on: “There’s all this violence, all this blood and horror and so on. It must be quite fun. But I don’t see any.”
So they get it from books. And I notice this trend of thrillers that are absolutely dripping
with blood, serial killers slicing people up."


is at least worth considering.

April 05, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Yikes, thats hardly an original piece of analysis is it? JG Ballard for one said the same thing thirty years earlier only with much more style, intelligence and insight. In fact it pains me to put Banville's name in the same paragraph with Ballard.

And I dont know what gated retirement community he lives in in his leafy Dublin suburb but I see violence everywhere I go. Blood in the streets is it? A mere two hour drive from Banville's comfortable living room there was a very bloody civil war going for thirty years which he managed to studiously avoid in his fiction.

April 05, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

No one said the man's a genius, just that he's at least thinking about this kind of writing that he's chosen to do. I also don't know how accurate his implication is that crime fiction is any more popular than it was, but I don't remember crime fiction topping the best-seller lists in my youth the way it does now (not that that's necessarily the crime writing I read). Maybe he's doing nothing more than trying to account for Stieg Larsson and Law and Order.

April 05, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

No, no one's actually said that the man's a genius but at the reading I attended he certainly hinted very strongly that we lucky attendees were in the presence of the greatest Irish novelist since James Joyce. I'm not sure why but I kept finding myself doing doodles of Napoleon on the dust jacket of my book.

April 05, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, if Banville's personality is worth discussing, at least his superciliousness is mitigated by what appears to be genuine appreciation of Westlake who, in turn, revered Hammett.

April 05, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Well its your blog, if you dont think his personality is worth discussing then drop it I shall.

At the Banville reading I attended someone asked him to name his favourite crime writers. He, alas, couldnt think of any, saying that it wasn't his type of fiction. When pressed he did mention Simenon which he read "to improve my French." Westlake's name did not come up. How this squares with his avid appreciation in Slate I have no idea.

April 05, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

No, it's not that I don't think it worth discussing. It's just I realized with a start that I was so aware of the Black/Banville controversy without having read any of his books.

How his disdain for crime fiction then squares with his appreciation of Westlake is an interesting question. I always assume, perhaps without any good reason for doing so, that people who say they don't like crime fiction really mean they don't like old-fashioned whodunnits.

Incidentally, "to improve my French" may be a stock answer for authors asked why they read Simenon. Janwillem van de Wetering said that's why he read Simenon.

And Scott Phillips prefers Simenon's "romans durs" to the Maigrets, and Phillips is a good writer and anything but a snob.

April 05, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I read Maigret to improve my English.

Maybe thats where JB got his two three thousand words a day model. In the Paris Review interview Simenon said it took him about two weeks to write a Maigret and then another week to do the polishing. Thats not bad. Although it isnt the record, I think I read somewhere a - possibly mythical - account of Philip K Dick writing four novels in a month under the influence of speed.

April 06, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Is it said that one day Alfred Hitchcock dropped in on Simenon, whose secretary said, "I'm sorry. Mr. Simenon is writing a novel," to which Hitchcock replied, "That's all right. I'll wait."

April 06, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

And I'll bet Madame Simenon had some delicious cakes on hand.

April 06, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Oh, much of this was hugely funny. Banville does make crime writers bristle. It seems idiotic to me that he would make those disparaging remarks about mysteries abd their authors and then write them himself. Does he consider his mysteries trash? Why then should we buy them? Maybe he thinks people are idiots and, given the promotion, will buy anything. Maybe he's right.

I'll stick to what I've said above about both sorts of books by him: excellent prose and uninspired plots. On the whole, probably not worth the money.

(Now Simenon has very good plots.)

April 06, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, I read Simenon to improve my cooking.

April 06, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I.J., I would not discount the possibility that Banville simply has the sort of personality that feeds on deliberately making other people angry.

April 06, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Ah. They say bad reviews also sell books. I can see people buying the mysteries to be able to discuss Banville/Black. I'm wondering about his publisher's reactions to the author's public statements. Or his agent's. Agents have been known to speak harshly to their outspoken authors.
Can Banville be above such considerations?

April 06, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You're now treading in territory unfamiliar to me. I have no idea what goes on between authors and agents in the sanctity of the office.

I'm not all that familiar with Banville's utterances about crime novels. Since he has now published four novels as Benjamin Black, I have to believe they haven't hurt his sales. I wonder if his pronouncements have the effect, intended or otherwise, of making the Benjamin Black books respectable to readers who might otherwise look down on crime.

April 06, 2011  
Blogger Tales from the Birch Wood. said...

This discussion reminds me of "Deconstructing Harry".

'Argumentum ad hominem' is always such good fun...

Totally off the point, I was once mugged on Orwell Road but the fact that now blood was drawn may not count as an interesing enough event.

(Orwell Road is very leafy and very bourgeois... very dangerous...)

April 06, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

I haven't read Simenon, so that explains my cooking skills and my inexpertise with French.

I had read about the remarks made by Banville/Black that Adrian refers to, and it had the same effect on me, especially that he is making oodles of money churning out the crime fiction--and he dares to show distain for it, and by that, for the very readers keeping him in roast beef, and Yorkshire pudding, or whatever.

But I like the quote posted above from Westlake, very good, short, concise, but to the point, and dry wit.

April 06, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Oops, "disdain," is meant. And, oy, I proofread...oh, well.

April 06, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Not that getting mugged is fun anywhere, but Orwell Road has grim overtones all its own.

Re ad hominem arguments, I stay away from or grow exasperated with the controversies that break out from time to time among crime writers and their readers.

April 06, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Oh, and I haven't seen "Deconstructing Harry".

April 06, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, Westlake's interviews are sometimes as much fun to read as his books. I don't mind calling Banville a snob, a blowhard, or even a boring writer it he deserves it. I just haven't had the chance to discover whether the last is true.

April 06, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

I wouldn't judge his writing without reading it, but I was aghast at his arrogant putdown of crime fiction, when not only does he write it, but it is bringing him a good income, and what is that saying to his readers and all crime fiction readers?

That we are all mindless dweebs? Or anti-intellectuals?

Jeez, the crime fiction that I'm reading is better than some of the "genre" fiction out there -- pretentious as some of it is -- but then this blog has been down this road multiple times and there is agreement on this issue!

April 06, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

If Banville would drop in right about now, that would be great, even as Bennie Black.

I find myself a bit puzzled by the guy. He places a lot of importance on his aesthetic technique, but there seems to be another guy trying to get out, who happens to write crime fiction. I've only read his non-crime fiction. The early book on Kepler was pretty good and interesting, but Eclipse and The Sea seemed very flat to me. Maybe if he could combine his two aspects, he could write a really great novel. He does seem a bit condescending in his interviews, but of course if he writes something worthy of his rarified self-conception, all is forgiven.

April 06, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Too bad Westlake's not around to field questions about Banville.

April 06, 2011  
Blogger Tales from the Birch Wood. said...

Literary Ireland is a bear pit, so a certain hauteur is probably Banville's protective mask.
Banville's sense of irony can be so esoteric that I just stop reading.

I think that "Deconstructing Harry" is useful for anybody considering an academic career... a very humourous warning.

I'm glad the intended reference to Orwell was picked up. The Orwell prize long list is out at the moment.

April 07, 2011  
Blogger Tales from the Birch Wood. said...

Proust is the great writer for gastronomers.

Also, an explanation about the post about the mugging is called for.

It should read "no blood", not "now blood".

The new version should make more sense, though that is not necessarily so.

A raid on the inarticulate is an uphill struggle

April 07, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

A raid on the inarticulate is really a long, tiring campaign full of surprise attacks and frequent skirmishes.

I'd figured out you meant in your earlier post, though "Now Blood" would make a good crime title.

Proust liked writing about cookies, didn't he?

April 07, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Proust loved madeleines.

April 07, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Millions of people who have not read a word of Proust know that!

April 07, 2011  
Blogger Photographe à Dublin said...

Yes, by only Kathy d. has the generosity to share that information here.

There are many cookery books that recreate Proust's work, with elaborate table settings and recipes designed to keep the cook in the kitchen for days.

A search for "marcel francoise recipes" will lead to sections of "Temps Perdu" where food is present.

I often wonder if Proust meant the reader to understand a hidden reference to "pain perdu" when he chose his title.

And speaking of titles, "Blood Now" would have an even more sinister ring, perhaps.

April 08, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I like the added formality of "Now Blood." I don't know what pain perdu is, but I hope the poor guy finds his lost bread.

April 08, 2011  
Blogger Tales from the Birch Wood. said...

We call it
French Toast

April 08, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

Yum!

Another great v word: hexpin

April 08, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks. I looked it up after I posted my comment, and I saw it defined as New Orleans-style French toast. The subject merits further research.

April 08, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yum for the food or for your v-word?

À la recherche du pain perdu is part of a highly nourishing but very, very long breakfast.

April 08, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

The food. A hexpin sounds painful. And not the French toast sort of pain, either.

April 08, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

A hexpin sounds like something one sticks into a voodoo doll.

April 08, 2011  
Blogger Brian Lindenmuth said...

Banville's condescension toward genre fiction is well documented. One such quote is posted below (bolding is mine):

“Now, looking back I think the invention of Benjamin Black was John Banville’s ploy to find his way out of what was suspiciously like a rut. I took the pseudonym to indicate that the venture was not an elaborate, post-modernist, literary joke. It is straightforward. I simply discovered I had this facility for cheap fiction.”

His position seems to be well documented but as such with these things it does very little to change positions that are already had. His supporters continue to support him and his detractors continue to do so.

Me personally, I don't the man has a deep genre knowledge but does have a couple of names whose work he likes.

May 05, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I thought about Banville yesterday when I picked up one of Georges Simenon's romans durs. Banville talked about he could write many more words per day as Black than as Banville. I forget the numbers he gave, but even a caffeinated Black could probably not match Simenon on a slow day.

We on the crime/genre side ought to judge Black's crime writing (as opposed to his snooty comments) on its own terms. Does he do it well?

May 05, 2011  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I prefer Simenon's non-Maigret novels, Adrian; ditto with Highsmith's non-Ripleys.

Just skimming that joint-interview with Banville and Stark/Westlake, though; all very cosy, in an 'after you, Claude' kind of way.
It leaves us none the wiser as regards Banville's commitment to - or love for - crime fiction.

To paraphrase the late, allegedly great, Queen Victoria: 'we are not impressed'

May 06, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The deciding factor has to be Banville's crime novels. I've read one, and I was no more impressed than Vicky was.

May 06, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

The term 'crime-writing by the numbers' springs to mind

May 06, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"Cleverness that fails to mask one's own shortcomings" is what occurs to me.

May 06, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Good one, too
We make a great team!

May 06, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, as I wrote in my review, the man can write a beautiful sentence, but his handling of crime fiction tropes in that book is downright incompetent and not nearly funny enough to be a joke.

May 06, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Well, that opening chapter of 'Flashfire' is about as pared-to-the-bone lean as you can get
I don't think Hammett ever starved his sentences, to that extent

'Tosú maith, leath na h-oibre'

May 06, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

A good opening is more than half the battle with me. I may take another look at the book. Thanks.

May 06, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

150 pages in, and he's straying into Elmore Leonard territory, style-wise, and even Carl Hiassen territory, humour-in-an-Everglades-setting wise.

Two scenes I especially loved - apart from that opening chapter: the first, where he was picking up paper for change of identity,and things didn't go entirely to plan, and a later one which came from out of the blue.
(although that might have been somewhat Elmore Leonard-ish, also)

I was thinking for the first 50 pages or so that maybe he just got too high on these pared-to-the bone descriptions, because he was packing a helluva lot of detail into confined spaces. I also thought there were far too many successive long paragraphs, with little relief - even for dialogue.
Then he must have heard me.

This one's 250 pages long, compared with 'Point Blank's' 190, and its already showing
(and I thought 'Point Blank' should have called a halt at 177)
I'm thinking he made a mistake in introducing a sub-plot with a resourceful female character; perhaps an attempt to broaden his base, or to silence charges of misogyny
Structurally, I liked the brief re-introduction of the gang-members, some 140 pages in

Plenty of great writing, with some really top-notch writing, but I strongly suspect the verdict will be too much fat, among all that lean and mean.

Mind you, it garners almost unanimous 5-star ratings from Amazon reviewers, most of whom seem to be long-standing Parker fans

May 06, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hmm, one of my favorite of the Parker novels is Butcher's Moon, which is by far the longest of the series, I think.

Some of the books have taken criticism for introducing female characters who seem at odds with the rest of the story.

As far as humorous territory, Leonard and Hiaasen may have strayed into Westlake's territory rather than vice versa. Leonard had been writing since the early 1950s, but I'm not sure his stuff took its humorous turn until after Westlake starting writing the Dortmunder novels and his comic standalones.

May 06, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Yeah, I know Stark/Westlake came first: you had introduced me to Leonard's Western writing, which preceded his crime novels, but this one strikes me as some kind of hybrid - of 'Hunter/Point Blank' hardness, and classic Elmore Leonard, with its blend of humour and cocktail of colourful characters, including resourceful women.

The variety and volume of POV scenes/characters seem to be coming thick and fast, now, as opposed to the two POV characters of 'Point Blank'

Of course it would be difficult, if not impossible, to maintain that spartan hardness over a 20+ series

May 06, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That might be one reason I generally like the pre-comeback Parker novels better than the post. He was always up for trying different things in the pre-comeback novels. He may have been a different kind of writer in the later books. That was an awfully long layoff he took, 23 years, I think.

May 06, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

He's fairly cranking things up now, and its entertaining, but there's more POV characters than you can shake a stick at.
Of course I'm only comparing this with his first Parker so I don't know did he use this m.o. in any of the pre-comeback set.

But more and more it reminds me of the Elmore Leonards I read, 20-25 years ago

May 07, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'm at sea with Leonstd the way you are with Westlake/ I've read maybe four of Leonard's novels and a few stories, but I don't know where they fit in that six-decade career of his.

May 07, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

'Point Blank' could have done with the kind of abrupt ending that 'Flashfire' had: not perfect, but it was brave.
And he made some brave choices in the last couple of chapters.

Definitely a much softer Parker than the 'Point Blank' one: in touch with his feminine side, to an extent, but on the whole I thought the characterisation - and the style - was inconsistent. I don't think he thought everything through, sufficiently.

For the most part it smacked of 'prime-period Leonard', although not as good, because 'prime-period Leonard' was consistent, and true to itself.
I enjoyed it, overall, but I'd like to see the best of the pre-retirement period before I can assess the veracity - or otherwise - of John Banville's contention.

May 07, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yes, Parker decidely is a bit softer in the post-comeback books. I've mentioned this before, but my other favorite pre-hiatus Parker novels include The Score. Butcher's Moon is the final novel before the hiatus and, at least one reader has aptly observed, it feels like a summing-up. I liked it very much.

I mentioned that Westlake liked to set challenges for himself. Slayground opens with a heist gone wrong, Parker escaping a car crash with the loot and fleeing into an amusement park called Fun Island. The rest of the novel takes place in the park.

A separate book, The Black Bird, opens with the same scene, only it follows Parker's sidekick Grofield from the car and into his own story.

May 07, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I’ve mentioned the ”Parker novels” section of the Violent World of Parker website. Its judgments on the Parker novels are sound. And the rest of the site is an unparalleled resource on Westlake – an excellent place to visit if you want to know more about the books, the characters, the movies, the author, and more.

May 07, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

'Slayground' sounds interesting: is that 'pre' or 'post'?

Bizarrely, the archive search facility on the Dublin Library system website isn't available, overnight, so I'll have to wait until 'waking hours' to see what Parkers are available

May 07, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"Slayground" is pre-layoff. The last pre-hiatus book appeared in 1974. Stark/Westlake resumed the series in 1997.

The University of Chicago Press is reissuing all the novels. Allison and Busby put out a few three-volume omnibus editions of the early books in the UK.

May 07, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Just did a search of the library database: they don't have any of your favourites, and they mostly have the post-hiatus novels.

They have a good-looking omnibus, which includes the second and third novels, as well as an interesting-looking one, 'Deadly Edge', which is about a rock concert heist
(and I wonder how many 'hey maaaan' stereotypes that will feature).

I've added it to my 'wish-list', so hopefully I'll see some action on it

May 09, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"Deadly Edge" includes far fewer such stereotypes than you might think. I can recall none, adn Westlake generally avoids such things. But the scene of the heist--I think--it's the opening scene is excellent. The music is just a distant throb to the heisters, which is a nice touch.

If I recall correctly, a crime writer friend said that fictional heist may have been based on a Led Zeppelin concert in Montreal.

May 09, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

So, would Westlake be a 'Dead' or a 'Led' fan, then?

May 09, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Here's the opening of Deadly Edge:

"Up here, the music was just a throbbing under the feet, a distant pulse. Down below, down through the roof, through and beneath the offices, down in the amphitheater shaped like a soup bowl, the crowd was roaring and pounding and yelling down at the four musicians in the bottom of the bnowl."

That's not a bad way to set a scene, I'd say.

May 09, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

'bottom of the bowl', eh?
Sounds to me as if he thought all rock music was shit!

May 09, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

No, I'd say that's Parker making a calm, unemotional assessment of thre situation at hand.

May 09, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

So, where would you rank 'The Green Eagle Score', Peter?

May 30, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

If my memory serves me well, I'd rank The Green Eagle Score just below the top rank of my favorite Parker novels. I especially liked the character of the young kid who worked on the base who gets co-opted into Parker's gang. That, plus the book's setting in upstate New York, seemed to point a way toward what Westlake would do in the latter stages of his career.

May 30, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

What's the significance of an upstate New York setting?
(I was in New Rochelle, on World Cup Final day, 1986)

May 30, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The only significance is that Westlake wound up setting several of his books and stories in upstate New York. It had not occurred to me before that The Green Eagle Score may have been the first.

I think Westlake lived in Greenwich Village as a young man, and I know he wound up living in upstate New York. Maybe he moved around the time of The Green Eagle Score.

May 31, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

58 pages into 'Green Eagle', and I'm liking the idea of the wife/ex-wife telling her shrink about her fears for what's going down; and giving a blow-by-blow account of how things are progressing.
And what she thinks of Parker.
(kinda 'Soprano-esque')
The shrink sounds way too interested for his health

To date, I think I'm enjoying this one the most: I hope he doesn't blow it with the pay-off

June 03, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

To tell the truth, I don't remember much except the heist's basic set-up and that I liked the book. So keep me posted.

June 04, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Yep. Definitely the best of the three I've read so far: it maintained the quality to the end.

It was interesting that he had scenes where Parker, and/or accomplices, was seen to be talking through his strategy in particular situations.

The heist was quite detailed and easily the longest chapter in itself. I presume he would have drawn a plan, both of the base itself, and the building and room where the safe was located, just so he could describe their progress, logically and in detail.
I liked, though, that it was largely free of jargon, and technical 'mumbo jumbo'.

It's funny, also, how ex-wives - and their demands - impacted on the actions of two key characters!
It probably helped the tone that girlfriend Claire only appeared briefly in the opening and closing chapters

June 04, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

The Sour Lemon Score - Richard Stark (Books)
The Rare Coin Score - Richard Stark (Books)
The Outfit - Richard Stark (Books)
The Handle - Richard Stark (Books)
Deadly Edge - Richard Stark (Books)
Breakout - Richard Stark (Books)
The Black Ice Score

I'm still waiting on 'Deadly Edge', but the other six all arrived today.

I think I'll start with 'The Sour Lemon Score': I like the fact that, as with 'The Green Eagle Score', Claire has only peripheral involvement. I love the cover illustration for this 'Allison & Busby' edition, with Parker looking not unlike a 'mean and moody' period Elvis

June 10, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You are leaping right into your embrace of Richard Stark. I'll look at the Violent World of Parker Web site to see it it shows a cover of your edition of the cover in question. It will often provide illustrations of covers of multiple editions.

June 10, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

It was 'The Green Eagle' that was the clincher for me: with the first one he was still formulating the idea, as a sculptor would, I thought.
And there were one or two compromises too many in Flashfire'.

I'm as enthusiastic about this series as I was about the Bill James' Harpur & Iles series
(even if I've still only read four or five of them)

I did get to see film version of 'The Outfit': in many respects it probably got the Parker character spot on - even if I didn't think Robert Duvall was right for the part - but it needed some more variety in tone. It was almost precious in its unrelenting dourness.
And I suspect the book might be too

June 10, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You're a step ahead of me in one respect, at least: I still not have seen the film version of The Outfit, and th ebook is one of my favorite in the series.

Drawing out the analogy between art and crime writing, Butcher's Moon would be the perfect balance between classical restraint and Baroque exuberance in the Parker series.

June 10, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

If you can't find it on DVD I could do a copy of my DVD-R for you
And also of 'City of Industry', which I've read somewhere - possibly on that Parker website - is based on, or similar to, a Parker plot.

38 pages into 'Sour Lemon': I like the no-nonsense fussiness, and the bit where Uhl just casually shot his buddy in the head, following which Parker immediately threw himself threw the window.
I also liked the scene with the old lady gun-dealer.

I hope he mixes it up a bit, though, because too much of the spare, precise language can become a bit monotonous
(Although my similar early fears for 'Green Eagle' proved unfounded)

June 10, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Page 76: completely out of the blue
(you'll probably know what I'm talking about!)

I loved that.

No, I don't have any more worries about this one

June 10, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I must admit I don't remember Page 76, though I suspect it would come back to me if I consulted my copy of the book.

Thanks for reminding me of City of Industry. I, too, had seen it invoked in discussions of Parker.

And I shall keep you posted on your DVD offer, for which, thanks.

June 11, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Finished 'Sour Lemon'.

Tight, and well-paced, and nicely structured, but overall, I prefer 'Green Eagle', mostly down to the support characters in that novel are more fully drawn, have more of an input, and thus give more breadth to the plot.

'Deadly Edge' arrived today.
I'll probably read another one this week: perhaps one where Claire has more of an input: the Parker website author is less enthusiastic of those novels, maybe because she softens his character too much, but it's good to have him show some feelings, occasionally.

June 11, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

TCK, this is tangential to the matter at hand, but Fred Vargas mentioned Westlake in my interview with her, the first part of which is up now, with Part II to follow this evening.

June 14, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Just been listening to Westlake (and others) on the commentary track to 'The Grifters' Special Edition DVD; I think you should check it out, Peter.

And I think I need to give 'The Grifters' another look: I only watched the last 20 minutes or so, and I know I always thought it looked great and Anjelica's performance - and The Great Pat Hingle in a cameo, of course - but there was a lot of the kind of darkness a filmed adaptation of Thompson requires, so maybe I was too harsh in my original assessment

June 26, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I would love to hear that. Thanks.

I saw the movie years ago, before I knew who Westlake was. My occasional recent critical comments refer to the novel.

Westlake might well be a delight to listen to. He was certainly a wise, perceptive observer of American culture.

June 26, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Just been watching the 'Making Of' feature: he looks nothing like the kind of person who you could imagine writing the hard-as-nails Stark novels: high forehead, large wide glasses, and softly spoken

June 26, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

In photos from when he was younger, he looks a bit like Woody Allen.

June 26, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Yeah, that figures

btw, reading the last couple of Stark novels convinced me what a huge influence he was on Elmore Leonard.

I liked that 'Rare Coin Score' where Clare was introduced.
Couple of things I've noticed:

1). He wasn't too good at describing his women characters: Clare was given the same general 'fashion model' description, as he'd given the high-class hooker in 'The Hunter'

2). A standard feature of his plots seems to be the 'sucker-punch' moment about three-quarters way through where even though I've now accepted he'll introduce them, the beauty of them is I just don't see them coming
(like the classic 'sucker punch')

With the Clare introduction it seemed to me that he was grappling with himself: he wanted to introduce a female partner to make Parker somewhat more human, and three-dimensional, but at the same time he wanted to retain the hardness.

June 27, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I've always respected Westlake for trying new tricks in the Parker novels. Parker and women was always a problem, though I very much like the meeting between Grofield and the woman with whom he takes up in The Score (which you might find under the title Killtown).

By sucker punch, do you mean the moment when the caper goes pear-shaped?

June 27, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I thought I'd replied to your sucker-punch question; I wonder did I reply by e-mail?

Up to page 97 (of 214) into 'Deadly Edge': I might finish it tonight.
I think Stark might be my favourite of your recommended authors, to date, although I've bought most of the Bill James novels and only suspended reading more - temporarily - because I needed to do more diverse research-reading for my own projects.

Just a few points: on 'Deadly Edge', and Stark, generally.

1). Claire was re-introduced by way of Stark's generic 'fashion-model' description: I wonder did he not know enough women, or was this 'type' his ideal woman. I laughed, this time, given I'd previously mentioned it to you.

2). The heists in general are described very well, and this one was described in great detail, but for me the strengths of these late 60s/ early 70s books that I've enjoyed are in the aftermath of the heist that goes wrong, or when Parker realises that he is facing an unknown enemy.

3). With 'Deadly Edge', as with those other early novels - apart from the first I think - I love those sucker punches, and never fail to be enthralled by how he changes tack, and gear - mid-novel.

4). Am I alone in not caring about detailed interior decor descriptions?

5). Its hard to know how to handle the 'woman problem': the dialogue between Claire and Parker - and their domestic scenes - just don't ring true; either with the Parker, as originally conceived, or the 'Deadly Edge' Parker. It's not a fatal flaw, nor does it hamper the read, unduly, but it prevents you from awarding the 'Masterpiece' accolade to some impressively-crafted works.

July 07, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I'm just about to order seven more (pre-retirement) Parkers, including your fave 'Butcher's Moon' and 'The Score'.
I don't think I care for the Grofelds; at least, not now.

I think it's fair to say I'm a fan
(I'm just about to finish 'Deadly Edge').

Again, although its a significant part of the novels, and the 'driver' for Parker's actions and the criminals that oppose him, the heist descriptions - or the variety of them - aren't a significant part of his appeal for me: it's really all about the cat-and-mouse game

July 10, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Wel, I'm glad you're a Parker fan, and I hope you'll like Grofield's appearance in The Score. I can see what Westlake spun the character off into his own books. That initial set-up of Grofield and his woman running a struggling theater has to be one of the most original in all of crime fiction. It's irresistible, but I don't think he did much with it.

Maybe this is saying the same thing you are, but the variety of ways a heist can go wrong are a big part of the attraction, as is the slowly dawning realization, through the pre hiatus books, that Parker lives in a world all his own parallel to the real one, with stashes and networks of associates all over the country, and phone calls at prearranged signals.

July 10, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Is there a 'spoiler' code in Blogger, where somebody needs to run their mouse over a hidden comment in order to reveal it.
Because I wanted to comment on a scene in 'Deadly Edge' which I thought was a 'faux pas' on Stark's part - and I don't want to spoil it for people who may wish to read it - even if it made for great drama.

And I also liked the scenes of Claire 'in peril' - and the two beautifully drawn bad-guy creations, who might well be the best yet - but the scenes of 'domestic bliss', and the 'romantic dialogue' between her and Parker just didn't ring true.
which says a lot for the quality of the series that I can overlook these flaws

That 'Violent World of Parker' is a great resource, which is guiding my purchases, in addition to wanting to read your two special faves

July 10, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And here's The Violent World of Parker in handy, one-click form.

I don't mind if you reveal the faux-pas here, especially since i don't remember a faux-pas from my reading of Deadly Edge.

July 10, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

The 'faux pas' was when Parker's associate, Morris, showed up at Claire's house, when the two bad guys were holed up there, and proceeded to tell them - while they were all sitting down to a Mexican meal - that he knew who they were.

I had thought maybe that Parker had planned it, and was outside while he was doing so, but Morris was alone, and he suffered a similarly grisly end as other members of the gang.

It was a good way of filling in the bad guys back-story, but it just didn't make sense for Morris to do so, quite apart from being too much of a coincidence, given Parker's imminent arrival

July 10, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I withhold my verdict until I can reexamine the scene in question.

July 10, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

A Nation holds its collective breath! :)

July 10, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hah, keep breathing, It may be a while.

July 10, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Phew! :)

'Butcher's Moon' is the one I'm most looking forward to read, of that bunch.
What makes it so special, for you?

July 10, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Oe of true reasons would constitute a spoiler, so I won't reveal it. But the scene in question contains some beautiful writing. The book is kind of a super-Parker novel, much longer than most, and it brings in characters from many of the previous books.

July 10, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

How did you rate Jessup and Manny, in the pantheon of Parker bad guys?

I thought their character-construction at Claire's house might well be Stark's finest hour.

btw, 'The Green Eagle Score' is one of the seven I've just ordered: it's the one I have out on loan from the library - which sold me on the Parker series. It's a keeper

July 10, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Just now read 'The Violent World of Parker' review, which includes this comment
"Deadly Edge then delivers on that setup with a pulse-pounding second half featuring two scenes (Claire avoiding a rape and a particularly intense dinner) that are series highlights."

What I especially loved was Jessup oppressive questioning about Parker, and not believing her about the hotel, and then following her out to the bathroom and was quizzing her about the pills, and initially she had difficulty convincing him, but how elated she was when he eventually bought her hastily-improvised story.
Then how Manny was gradually revealed, and his 'Surrealism' game.

That was the novel for me: everything else had to take a backseat; including Parker, himself

July 10, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You're doing a good job of getting me to read Deadly Edge again.

July 10, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

You don't even need to read the whole novel: just fast-forward to those scenes where Claire is left all alone and decides to buy herself a gun.

You'll probably remember the rest, or back-flick, as required

July 10, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

But I'll want to read the whole novel. The last time I did something like this, I picked up The Handle so I could enter a competition at the Violent World of Parker that asked which Dashiell Hammett story The Handle pays explicit tribute. I found the answer, kept reading, finished the book, and just kept reading

July 11, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

much longer than most, and it brings in characters from many of the previous books.

I read an opinion from one reader who did not like Butcher's Moon for those same reasons, though. I think opinions among Parker readers were probably closer to mine, though part of the book's mystique may have to do with its having been unavailable for so long except at fantastically high prices.

I would guess that the only Parker novel about which opinion is unanimous is The Hunter, and the opinion is that it's a classic.

July 11, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

"I would guess that the only Parker novel about which opinion is unanimous is The Hunter, and the opinion is that it's a classic."

...apart from my reservations about that 'epilog', of course!

July 11, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Three of the books in my order arrived today:
'Getaway Face'
'The Seventh'
'The Score'

I see Banville provides a foreword for the last of them

All three are that recent U Chicago Press editions, and all are in excellent condition, although second-hand

July 15, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Those Chicago editions are attractive books and fairly recent so likely to be in good condition. There's an interview/discussion between Banville and Westlake floating around somewhere, and Banville called Westlake one of the great writers of the twentieth century.

Speaking of Westlake, last night I watched part of The Grifters, for which Westlake wrote the screenplay.

July 15, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Just started 'The Score', for which John Banville provided an introduction, although it's more in the form of introduction to Richard Stark, and Parker.

I'm only two chapters in and I won't resume until tomorrow afternoon's sunshine, but I've just been wallowing in what has proven to be another series highlight.

Its an extended sequence of riffing/rapping/shadow-boxing, between Parker and an old associate Paulus, and Parker and Edgars. the unfamiliar who has come up with the idea - as opposed to foolproof plan - for the heist.

Its a beautiful piece of writing, containing little - if anything - in the way of purple prose or Chandlerian metaphor, all revolving around the matter of Parker having reservations about involving himself in a caper where the heist leader has had him tailed.

Part of the beauty of it is the audaciousness: can't see John Banville coming up with something like that.

July 17, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You certainly hot on two of the highlights for me, and you didn't even mention the fate of the messenger sent to summon Parker to the meeting.

I, too, could not imagine Banville coming up with something like that, which may be part of the reason he likes Stark.

July 17, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Yeah: that opening chapter was beautifully spare and succinct, but its not as 'left-field' as the subsequent chapter's opening four or five pages.

I wonder does Stark purposely set out to encircle the heist plotting and execution with absolute zingers of scenes and sub-plots that serve to put the basic heist details in the shade, because he hasn't failed me yet

July 17, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

He was such a professional that perhaps he deliberately posed himself the challenge of making a formula, the heist movie, fresh.

July 17, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Your fave, 'Butcher's Moon' - all 306 pages of it - arrived today.
I'll probably start into it immediately after finishing 'The Score'.
I see it's got a foreword by Lawrence Block who's probably more in tune with Stark's sensibilities than Banville - however admirable his belated Damascene conversion might be.

Although at the very least I'm sure I'll find much literary gold to enjoy in those 306 pages can you recall any 'padding', or any sections where my faith might be put to the test?

July 18, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, I'd say The Score is still my favorite of the series. But you're reading my two favorites back to back.

July 18, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

That answer - at least as regards 'Butcher's Moon' - is what's known in the trade as 'a neat sidestep' :)

I see 'The Score' has been filmed by a French director: I've just been looking for it on French Amazon, but no such luck.

I think I told you that what I consider the two best Jim Thompson adaptations were by French directors, so it's quite possible that this one maintains the high quality
'Point Blank' has always been considered more akin to a European art-house film, than an American film

July 18, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Speaking of Jim Thompson adaptations, I finished watching The Grifters last night, and I quite liked it. I did not get far when I tried to read the novel not long ago, on the other hand.

I presume Coup de Torchon is one of the adaptations you have in mind. What is the other?

July 18, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Serie Noire, the adaptation of 'Hell of a Woman'

Its two leads died in tragic circumstances : (the woman) Marie Trintignant was killed by her boy-friend; male lead Patrick Dewaere committed suicide

Did the version of 'The Grifters' that you watched have a Westlake commentary?

July 19, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

No extras; I streamed the movie on Netflix. I remember now that you'd mentioned the extras on the DVD version. I'd like to hear Westlake's commentary.

Interesting that between us, we've said good things about three movies based on what I don't think are considered Thompson's best books. It may simply be impossible to get the essence of Thompson down on screen. (I've still read just a small proportion of his output, but I can't imagine he ever wrote anything better than Pop. 1280. Savage Night is second among the Thompsons I've read, followed by The Killer Inside Me and The Getaway.)

July 19, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I'm not sure have I told you before, but I'd rate 'Hell of A Woman' as second only to 'Pop.1280', and I've read those others, also.
'Pop 1280' is head and shoulders over those others, but I think 'Hell' runs it close.
Neither film version of 'The Killer Inside Me' is satisfactory.

There's a great low-budget, adaptation of 'The Kill-Off', by US director, Maggie Greenwald: I'm not sure if it's available on DVD, or even if she's still in the business

July 19, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I may have bought A Hell of a Woman on the strength of your recommendation. I'll have to check my files. And I have just put up a post about the screen version of The Grifters.

July 20, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Just in case you're wondering, Peter, I haven't read any more of 'The Score' since that first few chapters. Hopefully I'll be able to finish it in one reading tonight.
And hopefully, also, I'll agree with your high ranking of it

July 20, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

No rush. And you've noticed some of the high points already, though I can think of at least two you have not mentioned yet. And no, I won't tell you what they are until you've finished reading.

July 20, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Just started back into it: I'm not sure I'm liking that Edgars is not only been made to look a completed amateur, but - even more - a complete idiot.
Doesn't augur well

July 20, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Yep! Edgars was too dumb to be true.
I like it.

Too tired to finish it tonight
Tune in tomorrow night: same Bat-time; same Bat-channel

July 20, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Come back when you're finished. There are things to be said about Edgars.

July 20, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Forgot to say: I liked the idea of Edgars' girl-friend. She reminded me of noir icon, Marie Windsor, but I reckon there's more to that relationship than meets the eye: its certainly not like Marie and Elisha Cook Jrs, of 'The Killing'.

Bringing her along, just to hole her up on the other side of the state line does smack one as decidely odd - to put it mildly.

I also like the notion of the truck, and driving it onto the mine floor: reminded me of 'Wages of Fear'

July 20, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Aha! I told you there was more to be said about Edgars.

July 20, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Aha! I told you there was more to be said about Edgars.

July 20, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Yeah. but what prompted me to make that original comment about Edgars was he seemed too dumb to be true: he seemed to be trying too hard to convince them that he knew nothing about their game: 'methinks he doth protest too much'

Given that the heist was his idea, he couldn't possibly have thought of the idea, and then brought it as far as he did without knowing something about their game.

I'm just surprised that Parker's 'radar' didn't pick that up.

I thought it interesting - also - that nobody picked up on him saying "I know something of police procedure": it smacked to me of Stark dropping that little hint to be able to say to readers: "well, the clues were there all along!"

July 20, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I thought it interesting - also - that nobody picked up on him saying "I know something of police procedure": it smacked to me of Stark dropping that little hint to be able to say to readers: "well, the clues were there all along!"

Maybe that's why Stark included it, but I won't begrudge him his fun because I did not pick up on the clue. I suppose I had grown to trust Parker enough that if he was willing to go along with Edgars, I was, too-though naturally, having read Stark before, I knew the heist would go pear-shaped.

July 21, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I think somebody also said something like "I'm worried that Edgars may have some revenge motive", which was nagging me, also.
Anyway, I'm looking forward to finishing it - hopefully today - and seeing how it all 'unravels'.
hopefully also Edgars' 'girl-friend' has an important role to play: I presume she has a 'past', also

As things stand, I'll be surprised - and more than a little disappointed - if it doesn't prove to be my favourite of the series, also

July 21, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Yep. That's the best one. Most consistent, with little or no flagging.
Which, given that there was quite a high quota of dialogue, and also claustrophobic scenes, was no mean feat to pull off.

Parker mentioned afterwards that he always suspected there was something quite right about Edgars which, given that the latter eventually degenerated into a cross between Dr Mabuse and the Jimmy Cagney of 'White Heat', could be said to be something of an understatement.

Initially, I thought Grofield was really going to annoy me, although I could see why Westlake needed some variety in the gang-members, given the amount of dialogue, and the amount of scene-time where they were cooped up, just talking.
In the end I was literally grinning from ear-to-ear about his plans for doing Summer stock with the girl from the telephone company.

There's a touch of the philosophising Marlene Dietrich in 'Touch Of Evil' about the blonde in that final scene.
And again I was reminded of 'Wages of Fear' when Paulus was trying to make a break for it.

I was picturing the town as like a cross between the stereotypical Western town, and the town in 'The Last Picture Show'.

I didn't attempt to picture the characters, after their original descriptions, but I don't think it was important.
I was picturing Edgars as 'Leif Erickson' who starred in 'The High Chapparal', but also played villains

Overall, a well-crafted plot, with some beautiful writing

July 21, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

If I had to choose a weak point, I'd pick one I think you cited earlier: Why didn't Parker figure Edgard was nuts, and bail out? But I answered my own doubt: I trusted Parker's judgment.

I quite like that note of regreat, that there was something not right about Edgars. That makes Parker seem human without seeming in the least soft. Grofield, whose own books I like less, is in this book one of the great and most original supporting characters in all of crime fiction, I'd say. And, having made the decision to fix him up with the local girl to provide a light touch, Westlake then rings real drama out of her situation. He does a step or two beyond what other authors might have done with a similar set-up.

It may be time for me to read this one a third time (or maybe a fourth).

July 21, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

It might be said to be a weakness in the plotting to have Parker be suspicious of Edgars' motives early on; later hear him drop this little 'grenade' where he says "I know something about police procedure", then hear his contributions an extended conversation where he seems so clueless as to what's involved in planning a heist and yet blithely proceed in carrying out the score, without so much as a 'pause for thought'.
Perhaps Stark could have done it more subtly but, once I'd got over that 'hump', it was a great read

Grofield is a great idea, which Stark pulled off, beautifully, despite my initial scepticism. I might buy one of the books, purely out of curiosity, but I'd doubt I'd love those as I do his contribution to this.


What did you think of the other gang members. Did you always try to picture them in your mind or, like me, did they not matter t you?

July 21, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Doesn't Edgars say something to Parker like, "I need a professional. I have the idea, but I don't know how to carry out the score myself"? Stark cannily having Edgard appeal to Parker's respect for professionalism, perhaps.

I like that each gang member has not just a specialty, but a personality. I found myslf picturing scenes more than characters, particularly in the police and fire stations and phone company, and at the camp at the bottom of the canyon.

July 21, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Yeah, but his motive and how he came by that idea without being a professional; and then the way he kept asking about every little detail, just kept nagging at me.

I like the 'starkness' - no pun intended - of the 1970s Coronet 'Killtown' cover
http://violentworldofparker.com/?page_id=570


So, looking forward to 'The Butcher's Moon', now. I'll probably read it this week, and then take a break from Parker for a while.

July 21, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

This is the Allison and Busby omnibus that contains my copy of The Score. Yes, I had to order some of my Parkers from the UK.

July 21, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Nice, although the title takes up far too much space on that cover.

These University of Chicago covers are nice and spare: I like the overall design and the text placement; also having the gun as a recurring 'motif'. I also like the colours used: no pretty pastels, here.

Comparable in their beautiful, spare simplicity to the 'Haper Perennial' Sjowall/Wahloo covers, although I haven't progressed beyond their 'Laughing Policeman', due to my distaste with the excessibe politicking.

July 22, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I have a few of the University of Chicago Parkers, and the books always look nice on bookstore shelves. It might be nice to have a complete set, when the complete set has been issued.

As for pastels, I like the American, but even more, the UK covers of Andrea Camilleri's Montalbano novels. Pastels are called for in sun-baked Sicily.

July 22, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Just wondering, Peter, whether I should read 'Slayground' before 'Butcher's Moon'.

I've just received 'Plunder Squad' today - a 'softer', or 'muddy' brown cover, judging by your perspective, or state of mind when gazing on't - and scanning the foreword I note the writer describes 'Butcher's' as 'the epic sequel to Slayground' .

The writer also mentions that the four novels with 'Score' in their title - other than 'The Score' itself - had 'began to soften the edges of Parker's character' but that the three subsequent novels reinvigorated him

July 25, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I think all the novels read equally well in or out of sequence.

July 25, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Slayground is an ingenious book but Butcher's Moon is a better one.

July 25, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

So you're saying it won't spoil Slayground for me if I read Butcher's Moon first: and I don't need to read Slayground first as part back-story for Butcher's Moon

July 25, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's precisely what I'm saying. In Butcher's Moon, Parker tries recover the money he stashed at the amusement park in Slayground. But all the reader needs to know is that Parker is trying to recover money he had hidden earlier.

By the way, have you read this article: http://www.nytimes.com/2001/01/29/arts/29WEST.html

July 25, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Now I know he stashed money at the amusement park in 'Slayground'. I just need to have completely forgotten that, by the time I get to read 'Slayground': "your mission, Jim, should you choose to accept it!" :)

So, ok, 'Butcher's Moon' it is, then

No, I haven't read the article: I'll check it out, thought.

btw, I heard your buddy, Declan Burke, giving a big thumbs-up to Banville's latest Benjamin Black on RTE Radio, this evening. I think I'd be more interested in the Irish crime writer who's set his novel in 1930's Russia, though
(which you might also want to check out)

July 25, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Just thinking, reading the first chapter of 'Butcher's': Parker novel opening chapters are often like the pre-credits opening sequence in Bond films

July 25, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That article has Westlake talking about his work on the screenplay of The Grifters and how the movie was in part responsible for bringing Parker and Richard Stark back after their long hiatus.

Declan Burke was the guy who opened my mind to the possibility that Benjamin Black might be a decent person . I still say that the one Benjamin Black novel I've read showed he had a ways to go before he could claim to be a competent crime writer. That was a a novel or two back, though.

I presume you mean WIlliam Ryan, the Irish crime writer who sets his novels in Soviet Russia, including the writer Isaac Babel as a character. I have his latest, The Twelfth Department.

I saw the first Daniel Craig Bond movie and quite liked its opening sequence. That would work as one of the darker, more solitary Parker openings.

July 26, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I'm sure it must have been William Ryan who was being reviewed. Have you read any of his previous novels, and have links to any previous blog comments about him.
I'll definitely check him out via the Dublin library system.
The historical setting sounds like a great one for crime fiction

The thing with Black (Banville) is that I understood from yesterday's review that he may be using these novels in part as a commentary on the Ireland of the 1950s - and possibly by extension using it as an allegory regarding recent Irish history.

I'm sure I mentioned to you that when I detected too much political viewpoint in the Skowall/Wahloo series - the fourth novel in, I think - I called a halt to reading them: it was just too overt, and frequent, that it made me wonder what was the main purpose of the novel, and even the series.
There's such a thing as subtlety, and it was sorely lacking, there

I might yet give Black another go because he's undoubtedly a quality writer, but the first of the series didn't impress me as either having enough original storyteller imagination - or of refreshing or unique crime fiction style - that would mark him out as 'one to watch'

July 26, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Black is explicit that he is, indeed, trying to depict 1950s Ireland as it was, and the depictions were the strength of A Death in Summer. But when he came to the crime novel part of writing a crime novel (or the story part of telling a story), he did less well, Here's a chunk of my review of the book:

"Quirke has angst about family, alcohol, and women, familiar credentials for a fictional sleuth, but with dollops of guilt about - well, in Black's 1950s Ireland, everyone is guilty. Everyone knows everything, no one says anything. The rich sneer knowingly; the poor slouch, downcast, sullen, close-mouthed, beaten- down, resentful. That's tough territory for anyone whose job is to ask questions and find answers. The place is decidedly the star in this book.

Elsewhere, Banville has more trouble. He has said that he vowed to avoid cliches when he set out to write crime fiction, but he indulges in two of the oldest at the very start:

(a.) A murder clumsily staged to suggest suicide

(b.) An outsider who sees what police miss (or a semi-outsider in this case; Quirke works with the police, but he's not a detective). This may literally be the oldest trick in the crime-fiction book, dating at least as far back as Edgar Allan Poe's short story "The Purloined Letter" in 1844.

Banville, gifted though he may be when wearing his literary hat, has an uneasy relationship with crime-fiction conventions, even as he acknowledges their necessity to the genre. Early in A Death in Summer, he gives us a nervously beautiful interview between Quirke and a suspect's desperate wife. The woman is shrunken, shabby, wheedling, put-upon, and bitter. Quirke grows impatient with her whining. The scene is harsh, edgy, and real - until Banville pulls out another cliche: The woman lets slip a detail that contradicts something Quirke had previously heard from another interested party."

July 26, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

The depictions of 1950s Ireland may have been vivid, Peter, but there's creating a sense of time and place, and there's writing a history book, - or a sociological study, - or a political diatribe.

I've always reckoned that Graham Greene was the greatest travel writer of the 20th century, but yet his descriptions of time and place were neither the strengths of the respective novels, nor his main focus.

A murder clumsily staged to suggest suicide, indeed: how could he sink so low

July 26, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Just been reading the scene of the meeting between Lozini and Parker out in the countryside: I like it. I was reminded of Cary Grant waiting on the bus in 'North by Northwest'.
I also like the brief cop-killing scene, earlier, which now I'm thinking was by the guy who stole Parker's money.

Early impressions, though, is that perhaps there is just too much detail; too many characters - and too much information about them - in this one.

July 27, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

....and I also like the idea of this 'summit meeting', where Parker meets with mob-boss Lozini, and his various people, to discuss their mutual problem.
That's what I love about Stark: the variety of M.O.s, and structures he uses to tell his story.

July 27, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I'm guessing Nate the accountant is the insider who meets with the 'bad guy', a few hours after the 'summit meeting'
It's starting to build nicely, now

July 27, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

This novel probably does contain more characters and detail thatn the Parker bovels that went before.

July 27, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You're now bringing up characters who had slipped my mind. For me the novel is memorable because of scenes involving Grofield toward the middle of the book.

July 27, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I like the way he seems to be interested in Lozini's welfare, and trying to help him find out who he has most to fear. I suppose giving detailed pen-pictures of the various associates and henchmen gives us that many more 'red herrings' to dismiss.

I'm picturing the actor Eugene Roche as Lozini . He played a not-entirely-dissimilar character - albeit smaller-scale - in the wonderful film 'The Late Show', alongside Art Carney and Lily Tomlin.

I'll probably break tonight around about the midway point

July 27, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Peter, as an aside
(I didn't get to read any of 'Butcher's', last night)
How often have you noticed US journalists confuse 'uncharted' with 'unchartered'?

July 29, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Not to be indiscreet (I work for a newspaper, after all), but yes.

July 29, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Hardly indiscreet; more cryptic, I'd say
(or evasive)

July 29, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Back into Butcher's again: hopefully I'll be able to finish it tonight as he's really starting to crank up the pace: Grosfeld's been shot and Parker has killed one of them, just off the motorway; as he says 'to send out a message'.

This might turn out to be the best of the lot: I like the whole politicking, and manoeuvering; and then you got the background of an election.
Plus the way that it harks back to the debut novel, and how he announced himself to 'The Outfit'

July 29, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Just finished: impressive piece of work.
The climactic section, beginning with the first sentence of Chapter 48, "Calesian could feel it slipping away" and ending at the last sentence of Chapter 50, "Goodbye, Buenadella", Parker said, and Buenadella thrust his splayed-out hands to stop the bullet is an exhilarating, magic-carpet ride of crime-writing at its finest.

I loved also the little nuggets of humour, as with a neighbour's long-delayed 'vindication' for his fall-out shelter construction; and the discussion - between captor and captive - of the pros and cons of health foods.
Its these kind of things - used sparingly - which separate the men from the boys.

My favourite scenes/sections, apart from the climactic one, above - and the summit meeting already mentioned - were the short, sharp, knee-to-the-groin assassination scenes, and those sections detailing characters' movements in the course of committing crimes - as opposed to the elaborate descriptions of the crimes, themselves.

I'd like to have seen an alternate version,where he stripped it of about 40-50 of its 306 pages; at various times I thought there was just too much detail, and too many characters - often even relatively minor characters where detailed back-stories were provided. I've noticed that he tends to also provide very detailed descriptions of interiors for private homes: I don't know was interior decorating a sideline - or hobby - of his, but in most instances I would consider most of the detail provided is superfluous. Of course doing so would probably have ratcheted up the pace, considerably, and I appreciate the importance of varying pace and tone.... but still, I can always speculate.

Either way, it was a helluva way to end the series; and a fitting legacy.

Not to mention one I'll want to wallow in, again

July 31, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Ha. You make me want to read Butcher's Moon again.

August 01, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Despite my reservations about its length - and the interior decorating notes - I think its probably my all-round favourite. There's just so much great writing there, and far more than his re-uniting with old favourites, I loved the criminal gatherings.

btw, how many Starks have you re-read since I embarked on this 'odyssey'?

August 02, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Right. Butcher's Moon is big, and fat, and there's so much good writing in it.

I have not reread any Stark recently, though I did watch The Grifters, and I ordered a copy of Westlake's novel Memory.

August 02, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Do you know what a Naugahyde sofa is?
I'd never heard the term before seeing it mentioned in 'The Green Eagle Score'.
I wonder is it an exclusively US/Canadian term, or is it just another example of Stark's interior-decorating knowledge

August 05, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

STOP THE PRESSES:
Everything you ever wanted to know about naugahyde, but were afraid to ask
http://retrorenovation.com/2011/09/27/naugahyde-still-available-in-hundreds-of-colors-made-in-the-u-s-a/

August 05, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You probably now know more about Naugahyde that I do. I had known it was some kind of a synthetic fabric, and I had the ideas that it came into prominence sometime in the 1960s and that it was a symbol of suburban fashion and taste. Statk apparently had his finger on America's cultural pulse.

August 05, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I'm just 're-organising' things in the spare bedroom/office/mini-warehouse here, and my recently-purchased copy of 'The Seventh' brought itself to my attention: specifically it's width; all 155 and a bit pages of it.

Now that's my kind of crime novel: all lean and mean, with not an ounce of fat on it; or 'not a pick on it', as we'd say.
It's almost enough to want me to drop everything and read it right now.
Almost I said, although that will be my next Parker.

Can you remember much about it?

btw, who were your favourite 'bad guys' in the entire series.
For me - without question - it's the two lads that terrified Claire in her own home.
I also liked Calesion - the 'bad cop' in 'Butcher's', although he wasn't developed enough - perhaps he had difficulty with so many people jostling for attention.
I pictured him as Brad Dexter in 'The Asphalt Jungle' : he's the guy people have difficulty remembering as one of the Magnificent Seven, but he was perfet as Brannom in 'Asphalt'

I also loved the doctor in 'Green Eagle Score'
And the 'Dr. Mabuse-like' mad ex-police chief in 'The Score'

But that terrifying twosome trumped them all

August 07, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

It's too old to be a Stark, but I've just been reminded of 'The Brothers Rico', which I think has many of his sensibilities, and as a film is highly recommended.
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0050213/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

In fact, the entire DVD box-set it forms part of is, itself, highly recommended

August 09, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the recommendation.

Interesting to think as a thief and, when necessary, killer's opponents as bad guys. I like the collective opponent that is the Outfit's leadership in The Outfit, and Edgars is good in The Score.

August 09, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Off-topic: The continuing decline in the quality of writing among Irish Times journalists.
http://www.irishtimes.com/sport/september-road-five-reasons-why-this-is-the-best-hurling-championship-in-memory-1.1491153

I'd register my agreement with Cecilia's comment, only I've no intention to sign up to Facebook

August 12, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The article to which the comments were appended contains the following strange sentence:

"It’s simply not true (and not fair) to explain away absence of the traditional big guns by pointing to a drop in quality."

A good editor would have asked. "What the fook does that mean?" and flagged the sentence.

It was nice to read a complaint about the quality of prose, whether or not I have a basis on which to evaluate the complaint. The last time anyone complained about the quality of prose at an American newspaper was ... never.

August 12, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I strongly suspect that the Irish Times no longer employs a dedicated copy editor: twenty years ago you'd use it to help hone the quality of your written - and spoken - English.

I blame text-speak
And MTV

August 12, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

http://www.irishtimes.com/business/sectors/retail-and-services/supermarket-chains-not-revealing-profit-figures-1.1492253

Continuing our little diversionary tactic concerning the declining standards in the Irish Times, Peter, what do you think of the paragraph breakdown of the above article: its soundbyte-size paragraphs are surprising given that a business section article should be aimed at a 'higher class of reader'.

Are your journalists/editors confident enough in the calibre of its readers that they can include paragraphs of up to eight lines - and even more - or do you tend to restrict yourself to a sequence of two and three line paragraphs, with only an occasional foray into the giddy heights of four line territory

August 12, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Interesting that my previous post on this topic also commented on the declining sub-editing standards - or absence of same - in the Irish Times
http://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/us/us-shutdown-is-symptom-of-dysfunctional-government-1.1546752

"White House and House Republicans polls apart as Congress is locked in stalemate"

October 02, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Ha! I'll try to work "polls apart" into a headline. It's a bit of wordplay that could well be appropriate given many newspapers' mistaking of poll results for news.

October 12, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Just finished 'The Seventh': perhaps the long gap between starting it and finishing it - which I did in a large chunk on Thursday while my car was being serviced - caused me to be somewhat disappointed.

A lot to like about it, but I think it was closer to the novels Westlake published in his own name, with all the bungling that went on.
Although there was plenty of cold, clinical Stark in the way he finished off his quarry.

And continuing with my campaign to highlight the current low standards of The Irish Times
http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/striking-poses-behind-the-scenes-at-the-ballet-1.1579731
All these paragraphs of four or five lines: is it that the journalist can't do better, or that the calibre of readership has plummeted also?

And have quality US papers' standards plummeted, also?

November 02, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I wouldn't rate The Seventh up there with The Hunter, The Score, Butcher's Moon, or The Outfit, but it is better than The Black Ice Score.

Meanwhile, I read the graphic-novel version of The Score this week. It was not bad.

Have quality US papers' standards plummeted?

Are bears Catholic?

November 02, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Bears (small 'b'), or The Pope?

How would you rate that article?
And does copy editing involve adjusting paragraph sizes, or are your hands tied in that respect?

Another DVD recommendation, although you might have seen it already: 'The Shield'; better than the over-hyped 'The Wire', even though I've only just finished the first season of the former, and seen two seasons of the latter

November 02, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I figured better "Are bears Catholic?" than "Does the Pope shit in the woods?" Less chance of giving offense.

I have not yet read the article. I would (and, very occasionally do) take it upon myself to adjust paragraph sizes. I have read the occasional complaint that some writers' paragraphs are too short. With respect to newspapers, the complainers should remember first, that short paragraphs are a newspaper tradition, at least in the U.S., and second, that many newspapers are reducing the width of their pages, which means the columns of type are narrower. This only increases a tendency to break big chunks of copy into short paragraphs.

November 02, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Short paragraphs are fine in themselves; they're especially useful for taking pauses in between large paragraphs, or wanting to highlight something, without underlining, or emboldening.

But too many of them tend to suggest the target readership is dumbed-down bite-size MTV-generation vintage.

But, of course, there's always word-wrap, when the columns are narrower.

I don't know, Peter, I just think it's very sad when I see The Irish Times dumbing-down like this; nothing snobbish, at all

November 08, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The dumbing down of newspapers is an complicated subject, and one I see from the inside every day. It is also a product of two converging trends: decreasing literacy, and shrinking budgets administered by people who have fallen prey to the first trend.

November 08, 2013  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Hi Peter

Happy New Year, and all that.

I've just been watching this film on a link a buddy sent me. I know we've talked about the Martin Beck series, and I recall expressing my reservations about continuing to read later books in the series after the political commentary becoming too intrusive for my tastes.
I do believe, though, that this is about as good a Martin Beck film adaptation as it's possible to make; even if this Martin Beck isn't quite as I'd pictured him

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xgd2wd_man-on-the-roof-bo-widerberg-mannen-pa-taket-1976_shortfilms

Enjoy!

January 06, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks; I'll take a look. I'm not sure how I'd picture most Scandinavian crime-fiction protagonists. A mix of bland and stolid, I suppose.

January 06, 2014  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

He's not too dissimilar to the Swedish actor who originally portrayed the character, Wallander.

That actor was certainly bulkier, but bland and stolid would probably be a fair description of both their facial features; at least, in repose.

January 06, 2014  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I don't think I've read any Travis McGee novels, but my attention was directed to this adaptation of the novel, 'Darker Than Amber'.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YpjvnlIxrmE

Not a great film by any stretch of the imagination - the script could have done with a considerable amount of 'doctoring', for starters - but has a good look and feel to it.

Good performances - by lead Rod Taylor; a couple of bad guys, and Ahna Capri as the lead bad guys moll.

Definitely worth a look, whether you've read any of the novels or not.
And, it being YouTube, you might want to catch it - or download it - soon before it gets pulled


January 10, 2014  

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