The Parker project: Re-readng Richard Stark
The experience offers an impressive answer to a question I pose occasionally at Detectives Beyond Borders: How does an author keep a long-running series fresh? Stark did it by radically reconceiving the series repeatedly. The lone-avenger plot of the first three books bleeds gradually into stories of heists gone wrong, the seed of the latter sown as early as Book Two, The Man With the Getaway Face.
Once he began writing the heist books, Stark stayed constantly ahead of what his fans expected of them. Parker, the unemotional user of women? Stark got good mileage out of that motif before introducing Claire in The Rare Coin Score (1967), then making her a part of Parker's life and a driver of the plot in Deadly Edge four years later. Claire was no calculated, pro-forma addition, either. Her interaction with Parker and the hapless heist planner Billy Lebatard shows that Stark had assimilated every lesson postwar novels of nervous American masculinity and sexual jealousy had to teach. And Deadly Edge shows Stark doing a creditable job with the frightened-woman-alone-in-a-house motif even as he makes sure readers know why she so strongly loves the house and refuses to leave it.
Parker the silent? Stark laid that one to rest, giving Parker pages of nonstop dialogue in The Black Ice Score. That is easily the weakest of the Parker novels, but I respect Westlake for doing something different. And anyone who scorns the idea that Stark had a sense of humor needs to read The Score or The Seventh. The latter book especially uses humor like the minor-key variation on the main theme in an opera. The book is grim and violent, which makes the humorous touches stand out all the more.
Think of any shorthand tag by which readers and commentators refer to Parker, and the chances are that it's accurate, but also that Stark went way beyond it.
(Read all about Parker at the Violent World of Parker Web site.)
© Peter Rozovsky 2015