Parker (fictional criminal)

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Parker is a fictional character created by Donald E. Westlake. He is the main protagonist of 24 of the 28 novels Westlake wrote under the pseudonym Richard Stark.

Character overview[edit]

A ruthless career criminal, Parker has almost no traditional redeeming qualities, aside from efficiency and professionalism. Parker is cold, methodical, and perfectly willing to commit murder to get what he wants. He does, however, have a rigid code of honour, in that A) he will absolutely not double-cross another professional criminal with whom he is working (although, in the first book, The Hunter, Parker plans to double-cross the character that then manages to double-cross him first), unless B) if anyone tries to double-cross him, Parker will unhesitatingly undertake to exact a thorough and brutal revenge.

Parker's first name is never mentioned in the novels, and there are many details about him which remain unknown. In fact, the name "Parker" might itself be an alias.

The series[edit]

The first novel in Parker's series is The Hunter (adapted to film twice: as Point Blank in 1967, and as Payback in 1999.), in which he chases a past associate who betrayed him in a heist and left him for dead. He survives, but is arrested by the police. Slowly and methodically, Parker tracks down Mal Resnick, his former accomplice, who intimidated Parker's weak-willed wife into shooting her husband after the job had been completed. When the gambling syndicate known as The Outfit refuses to return to Parker his share of the loot Resnick gave them to make good on a debt, Parker takes on The Outfit as well, a storyline that figures in several subsequent books in the series.

In subsequent novels, Parker is often at work, putting together a team of professionals to plan and execute a series of daring heists. Parker's numerous memorable adventures including robbing an entire town in The Score, a football stadium in The Seventh, an island casino in The Handle, an Air Force base in The Green Eagle Score, and a rock concert in Deadly Edge. Always perfectly blueprinted heists, Parker's plans tend to go awry in the execution, sometimes due to bad luck but more often due to greed or incompetence on the part of Parker's less-experienced partners. The tension in the novels often comes from Parker having to work his way out of increasingly dangerous situations on the fly, as his carefully planned heist collapses around him—all while he tries to keep hold of both the money he stole, and his life—and in some cases, to hunt down and kill those responsible for his troubles.

Throughout the course of the series, Parker has operated under a number of pseudonyms, and it is implied that the name Parker itself is an alias. In the first novel in the series, Parker is arrested for vagrancy and is imprisoned in a work camp under the name Ronald Kasper, a name that is linked to his real fingerprints. In the next five novels in the series, The Man With the Getaway Face, The Outfit, The Mourner, The Score, and The Jugger, Parker lives comfortably in a Florida hotel under the name Charles Willis between jobs, but is forced to abandon this identity (and the money that goes with it) when police show up at his hotel at the end of The Jugger. In some later books, he uses Edward Latham as his 'straight' name. It's mainly other heavy heisters and people who live outside the law who know him as Parker.

In the novel The Rare Coin Score, Parker meets Claire Carroll, the woman who will become his companion for the rest of the series. They live together somewhere in northern New Jersey in a lake house owned under the name Claire Willis (she took this surname from Parker's past). In the novel Backflash, their home is described as "a house on a lake called Colliver Pond, seventy miles from New York, a deep rural corner where New York and New Jersey and Pennsylvania meet ... mostly a resort community, lower-level white-collar, people who came here three months every summer and left their 'cottages' unoccupied the rest of the year ... For Parker, it was ideal. A place to stay, to lie low when nothing was going on, a 'home' as people called it, and no neighbors. In the summer, when the clerks came out to swim and fish and boat, Parker and Claire went somewhere else."

Background and character[edit]

While in 1966's The Handle Parker's age is explicitly stated to be 38, Parker is, essentially, an ageless character—in the various Parker novels that were written and take place over a span of 45 years, Parker always appears to be somewhere around 40. His first name is never revealed in the series, a decision Westlake has stated he made when thinking that The Hunter would be a standalone book and which he stuck to even though it complicated writing the subsequent books. Westlake himself never definitively settled on a first name for the character, once musing "I don't know what the hell it would be, maybe Frank."[1]

No mention is ever made of Parker's family. While the events of previous novels are frequently referred to throughout the series, very little that happened in Parker's life before his appearance in The Hunter is ever discussed. A brief mention is made in The Hunter of Parker first having used a gun in Germany (implying that he served in World War II), which is then confirmed in The Outfit, where its stated that he had been in the Army from 1942 to 1944 and had been given a bad conduct discharge for blackmarketeering.

The closest Westlake has ever come to alluding to Parker's childhood is in the novel Butcher's Moon, when Parker surveys the fictional city of Tyler and thinks to himself that it is a very different place from where he grew up. As well, in The Sour Lemon Score, it's mentioned that Parker was "born and raised in cities", but no further details are offered. In The Outfit Parker does state he had already been a thief for 18 years, and refers to a heist he committed in 1949.

In Luc Sante's essay The Gentrification of Crime, which appeared in the March 28, 1985 issue of The New York Review of Books, he offered the following analysis of the character:

In Parker's world there is no good or evil, but simply different styles of crime. There is no law, so Parker cannot be caught, but merely injured or delayed. The subversive implication is not that crime pays, but that all business is crime. Among the Homeric epithets that follow Parker from book to book is: 'He had to be a businessman of some kind. The way he looked, big and square and hard, it had to be a tough and competitive business; used cars maybe, or jukeboxes.' He is a loner, competing with conglomerates (the syndicate) and fending off marginal elements (psychotics, amateurs). He has no interest in society except as a given, like the weather, and none in power. He is a freebooter who acquires money in order to buy himself periods of vegetative quiet.[2]

Contrary to what Sante says, Parker was arrested and imprisoned twice in the series—first in The Hunter for vagrancy, then much later, in Breakout after a heist goes wrong. He escaped both times, from facilities with relatively low security, but he's always very aware that the law is out there, and that his fingerprints are linked to the murder of a guard at a prison camp—meaning that he has no chance of ever being released if caught and identified. In the original version of The Hunter submitted to publishers, Parker was stopped by the police at the end, and killed trying to escape. Bucklin Moon, an editor for Pocket Books, said he'd buy the novel, on condition that Parker got away, so that he could appear in a series of books, instead of just one.[3]

In a similar tone, author Ian Sansom, in The Guardian (March 3, 2007), wrote of Parker as

...always restless, always on the move; forever hunted, forever hunting, crisscrossing the country following the mighty dollar, trying to make his way in the only way he knows how: through scheming, cheating, and the exercise of brute force. But Parker is by no means merely evil, merciless or insane; the brilliance of the books lies in their blurring of the distinction between madness and sanity, justice and mercy. Parker is not so much sick as blank, with the deep blankness of... humanity stripped to its essentials... [he is] callous, unable to feel guilt for his actions, completely lacking in empathy and incapable of learning from his own bitter experience... we admire and yearn for Parker's demented sense of purpose: he feels no embarrassment or shame... he is never afflicted or careworn; he is, in the way of all existential heroes and madmen, somehow stenchless, blameless and utterly free.[4]

Physically, Parker is described in the opening paragraphs of The Hunter as "big and shaggy, with flat square shoulders... His hands, swinging curve-fingered at his sides, looked like they were molded of brown clay by a sculptor who thought big and liked veins. His hair was brown and dry and dead, blowing around his head like a poor toupee about to fly loose. His face was a chipped chunk of concrete, with eyes of flawed onyx. His mouth was a quick stroke, bloodless." When asked about who he would cast as Parker, Westlake stated: "Usually I don’t put an actor’s face to the character, though with Parker, in the early days, I did think he probably looked something like Jack Palance. That may be partly because you knew Palance wasn’t faking it, and Parker wasn’t faking it either. Never once have I caught him winking at the reader."[5] In the The Man With the Getaway Face, Parker has plastic surgery in an attempt to evade The Outfit's retribution, so he's no longer recognizable to most who knew him before, though his general appearance (and the impression it makes on others) seems to be largely unchanged.

Other recurring characters[edit]

  • Claire Carroll: Parker gained a steady companion in Claire Carroll as of 1968's The Rare Coin Score. Claire is perfectly aware of what Parker does for a living, and has no qualms about it. However, she is rarely involved in his work, and never as an active participant after her first appearance. Consequently, although Claire is a consistent presence in the later books, she is often an 'offstage' character, though Parker relies on her for a variety of functions that she, having no criminal record, can accomplish more easily.
  • Joe Sheer and Handy McKay: People who want to contact Parker in a professional capacity cannot do so directly, but must arrange a meeting through a third party contact. For the first few books in the series, Parker's contact is retired felon Joe Sheer, who lives in Nebraska. After the events of The Jugger, Parker's contact becomes Handy McKay. McKay is seen in a few early books as a compatriot of Parker. Having made enough money to retire on (and worried that he might be losing a step or two), Handy quits being an active criminal, and buys a diner in Presque Isle, Maine. Working in Maine, he still acts as the contact for Parker and several other criminals.
  • Alan Grofield: Parker sometimes associates with an actor named Alan Grofield, who moonlights as a criminal to finance his theatrical ventures. The wisecracking Grofield first appeared in The Score (1964), and made his last appearance in Butcher's Moon (1974). A ladies' man with a theatrical flair, Grofield also stars in four Stark-penned novels of his own: The Damsel (1967), The Dame (1969), The Blackbird (1969) and Lemons Never Lie (1971). Grofield differs significantly from Parker in that he can be friendly, chatty and gregarious in all types of company—but, similar to Parker, Grofield does not hesitate to use brutal violence (when necessary) in the furtherance of his goals. Unlike Parker, who seems to be monogamous with Claire after the events of The Rare Coin Score, Grofield routinely and guiltlessly cheats on his wife and fellow thespian Mary (who he met while helping Parker rob her entire town in The Score) nearly every time he's away from her on a heist—even though their relationship is shown to be close and passionate. Grofield practices situational morality, and it's up to the reader to decide whether that's better or worse than no morality at all.
The Stark novels The Blackbird (1969) and Slayground (1971) have near-identical first chapters, detailing a failed robbery involving Grofield and Parker. The Blackbird then follows Grofield's escape from the robbery scene, while Slayground follows Parker's.
  • Ed and Brenda Mackey: A dependable husband and wife team Parker works with on several occasions.

Influences[edit]

Literary spinoffs and crossovers[edit]

The Westlake novel The Hot Rock (1970) was originally intended to feature Parker, but the plot, which involves a precious gem that is stolen, lost, stolen again, lost again, and so on seemed too comic a situation for the hard-boiled Parker, so Westlake rewrote the novel with a more bumbling and likable cast of characters, including John Dortmunder, who is Parker seen through a comic mirror. The third Dortmunder novel, Jimmy the Kid (1974), features a plot in which Dortmunder and his associates base a kidnapping on a plan from a (fictitious) Parker novel called Child Heist. Good Behavior (1985) was originally intended as the seventeenth Parker novel following Butcher's Moon (1974), but, like The Hot Rock, was rewritten for Dortmunder. Good Behavior bore the dedication "To P., 1962-1974"—the dates the original Parker novels were published.

The Parker novel Plunder Squad (1972) contains a brief encounter with a San Francisco detective named Kearney, who is not looking for Parker but for one of his associates. The same encounter is described from Kearney's point of view in the Joe Gores DKA novel Dead Skip (1972).

Westlake and Gores repeated the same trick in 1990 with matching sequences in the DKA novel 32 Cadillacs and the Dortmunder novel Drowned Hopes.

Fictional portrayals[edit]

Parker has been portrayed numerous times in films although only once with the name "Parker." The following actors have portrayed the character: Lee Marvin (as Walker in Point Blank), Michel Constantin (as Georges in Mise a Sac), Anna Karina (as Paula Nelson in Made in U.S.A.), Jim Brown (as McClain in The Split), Robert Duvall (as Earl Macklin in The Outfit), Peter Coyote (as Stone in Slayground), Mel Gibson (as Porter in Payback), and Jason Statham (as Parker in Parker).

Homages[edit]

Author Dan Simmons has paid homage to Westlake and his Parker character with three hard-boiled action novels featuring the character of Joe Kurtz, a past and current private investigator who spent time in Attica prison. The first novel, Hardcase, contains a dedication to Richard Stark/Donald Westlake from Simmons. In the third Kurtz novel, Hard as Nails, Kurtz mentions that he did not know his father, but that he was a career criminal thief who went by a single name and would have sex with women after a job, a clear connection to Parker.

Max Allan Collins authored a series of novels with a protagonist named "Nolan" who was an homage to Westlake's Parker. Collins said of the character: "[T]he concept was to take a Parker-like character who has reached the ancient age of 48 and wants badly to retire, and of course needs one last heist to do so."[6]

The television series Leverage features a character named "Parker". As played by Beth Riesgraf, Parker is an expert thief, cat-burglar, pickpocket and safe-cracker. Like Stark's Parker, this character is also only known by the single name "Parker".

The webcomic Hunter Black, by Justin Peniston, William Orr, and Jacob Bascle, features a title character inspired by the notion of putting Parker into a fantasy setting. Like The Hunter, from which his name was drawn, Hunter Black starts off looking for payback against betrayers, but it soon diverges into a story of monsters, magic, and mayhem. [1]

Appearances[edit]

Novels by Richard Stark[edit]

Also appears in:

  • The Blackbird (1969) by Richard Stark — Parker appears only the first chapter of this novel starring Alan Grofield.
  • Dead Skip (1972) by Joe Gores — Parker appears briefly in a sequence that was also described (from a different viewpoint) in Plunder Squad (1972).
  • Jimmy the Kid (1974) by Donald E. Westlake — This novel in Westlake's John Dortmunder series features the gang planning a caper based on a Parker novel they have. Chapters alternate between Parker committing a kidnapping (in the otherwise unavailable novel Child Heist) and the Dortmunder gang screwing it up as they try to imitate Parker. Only a few chapters of Child Heist are featured, and this particular Parker story is not complete on its own.

Films[edit]

Comics[edit]

  • Darwyn Cooke wrote and illustrated a graphic novel based on The Hunter published by IDW in July 2009.[10] The story is a faithful adaptation of the novel, retaining its 1962 setting. Cooke produced the work in consultation with Westlake (who died before he could see the final product). Westlake was reportedly impressed enough that he gave his blessing for Cooke to use the name Parker for the central character—something he had not allowed with any film adaptation of the Parker novels. Cooke went on to adapt The Outfit, released in October 2010.[11] The third adaptation, The Score, was released in July 2012,[12] and the fourth - Slayground - was released in January of 2014.[13] A fifth adaptation is scheduled to come out in 2015.

References[edit]

  1. ^ http://www.avclub.com/articles/donald-westlake,14033/
  2. ^ Sante, Luc (March 28, 1985). "The Gentrification of Crime". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved September 1, 2010. 
  3. ^ "Canarsie and Westlake, Parker and Stark (and Me)". Mulholland Books. June 30, 2011. Retrieved March 2, 2012. 
  4. ^ Samson, Ian (March 3, 2007). "The man with flawed-onyx eyes". The Guardian. Books: Book of the week: Mar 2. Retrieved September 1, 2010. 
  5. ^ "Interview with Donald Westlake, author of the Parker novels". The University of Chicago Press. 2008. Retrieved September 1, 2010. 
  6. ^ "Not Quite Parker". Violentworldofparker.com. Retrieved March 2, 2012. 
  7. ^ Nussbaum, Albert. "An inside look at Donald Westlake." Take One 4.9 (May 1975): 10-13
  8. ^ "About". paulabascal.com. Archived from the original on March 5, 2011. Retrieved March 5, 2011. 
  9. ^ Jennifer Lopez joins Jason Statham in new thriller 'Parker' | Film & TV News | NME.COM
  10. ^ "IDW: Richard Stark's Parker: The Hunter". IDW. IDW. Retrieved 17 June 2014. 
  11. ^ "IDW: Richard Stark's Parker: The Outfit". IDW. IDW. Retrieved 17 June 2014. 
  12. ^ "IDW: Richard Stark's Parker: The Score". IDW. IDW. Retrieved 17 June 2014. 
  13. ^ "IDW: Richard Stark's Parker: Slayground". IDW. IDW. Retrieved 17 June 2014. 

External links[edit]