Parker (Stark novels character)

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First appearanceThe Hunter
Last appearanceDirty Money
Created byDonald E. Westlake (as Richard Stark)
Portrayed byJason Statham

Parker is a fictional character created by American novelist Donald E. Westlake (1933-2008). A professional thief, Parker is the main protagonist of 24 of the 28 novels Westlake wrote under the pseudonym Richard Stark.


A ruthless career criminal, Parker has almost no traditional redeeming qualities, aside from efficiency and professionalism. Parker is callous, meticulous, and perfectly willing to commit murder if he deems it necessary. He does, however, live by one ethical principle: he will not double-cross another professional criminal with whom he is working, unless they try to double-cross him. Should that happen, 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, it is hinted throughout the series that the name "Parker" might itself be an alias.

In a 1981 introduction to a reprint of The Mourner (1963), Westlake's friend and fellow crime novelist Lawrence Block describes Parker as rare among anti-hero protagonists in that the character never develops a conscience. Block argues that novelists are generally "uncomfortable writing consistently from an antisocial perspective", and tend to soften such characters over time. However, "[Parker] never turns honest, or finds God, or starts working as a secret agent for the government." According to Block a sign of Westlake's genius, and the key factor in the character's durability across the decades, was the realization that "[a] mellow Parker is no Parker at all."[1] Albert Frederick Nussbaum, a bank robber turned writer, notes that given Parker's "cold, methodical [and] humorless" habits, the character would be the villain in most books. But Nussbaum also identifies two critical elements that make Parker a sympathetic protagonist: first, he is surrounded by criminals even more ruthless than him, and second while Parker is capable of using violence he rarely if ever initiates violence except in self-defense.[2]


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.

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."[3] In 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.

In terms of his interactions with others, Parker dislikes small talk, and has little use for social pleasantries. Instead, he prefers to converse as little as possible, and will end conversations abruptly once he feels that he has obtained the information he requires. Parker has few interests outside his work, and when he is planning or executing a heist, he is focused on it to the exclusion of almost everything else. However, once the heist is complete, Parker has an almost overwhelming desire to have sex. Though he has a wide range of professional contacts, Parker has no friends.

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." [4]

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. In The Outfit, it is 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 Chapter 3 of The Man With the Getaway Face it is mentioned that Parker "owned a couple parking lots and gas stations around the country". He has virtually no involvement with the operation of these businesses, allowing the managers to skim profits in exchange for creating the appearance of Parker having a legitimate source of income to avoid suspicion from "internal revenue beagles"

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.[5]

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. In both cases, his real identity wasn't known to the authorities at the time of arrest, and he escaped both times from facilities with relatively low security. However, Parker'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 -- which means that he has no chance of ever being released if caught and properly 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.[6]

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.[7]

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). Unlike Parker, Grofield can be friendly, chatty and gregarious in all types of company—but, like Parker, Grofield does not hesitate to use brutal violence (when necessary) in pursuit 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 (whom 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 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.

Novel structure[edit]

Westlake used the same structure for many the Parker novels, a method that Library Review described as "clever."[8]

Each book is divided into four sections of roughly equal length, subdivided into shorter chapters. The first and second sections are written in a limited third-person perspective focused entirely on Parker as he plans and undertakes a robbery or heist with colleagues. The second section ends on a cliffhanger, as Parker is betrayed -- often injured and left for dead. Section three shifts to the perspective of Parker's opponents, usually in flashback as they plan and execute their double-cross. Section four returns to Parker's perspective as he survives the plot against him and sets out for revenge.


Novels by Richard Stark[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 include 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, often, doing so while endeavouring to exact revenge on 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."

  • The Hunter (Pocket Books, 1962)
  • The Man With the Getaway Face (Pocket Books, 1963) also published as The Steel Hit
  • The Outfit (Pocket Books, 1963)
  • The Mourner (Pocket Books, 1963)
  • The Score (Pocket Books, 1964) also published as Killtown
  • The Jugger (Pocket Books, 1965)
  • The Seventh (Pocket Books, 1966) also published as The Split
  • The Handle (Pocket Books, 1966) also published as Run Lethal
  • The Rare Coin Score (Gold Medal, 1967)
  • The Green Eagle Score (Gold Medal 1967)
  • The Black Ice Score (Gold Medal, 1968)
  • The Sour Lemon Score (Gold Medal, 1969)
  • Deadly Edge (Random House, 1971)
  • Slayground (Random House, 1971 — first chapter shared with The Blackbird, a novel in Westlake's Alan Grofield series)
  • Plunder Squad (Random House 1972)
  • Butcher's Moon (Random House 1974)
  • Comeback (Mysterious Press 1997)
  • Backflash (Mysterious Press, 1998)
  • Flashfire (Mysterious Press, 2000)
  • Firebreak (Mysterious Press, 2001)
  • Breakout (Mysterious Press, 2002)
  • Nobody Runs Forever (Mysterious Press, 2004)
  • Ask the Parrot (Mysterious Press, 2006)
  • Dirty Money (Grand Central, 2008)

Also appears in:

  • The Blackbird (1969) by Richard Stark — Parker appears only in 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.


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).


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, is dedicated to Richard Stark/Donald Westlake. 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 reference 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."[9]

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]

Jim Doherty's short story, "The Ghost of Dillinger," published in the anthology Tales from the Red Lion, pits his series cop, Dan Sullivan, against a legendary criminal named "Karper," whose backstory derives from Stark's Parker novels. Doherty contacted Westlake ahead of time to get approval for this deliberate homage to his character.

In other media[edit]



  • Darwyn Cooke wrote and illustrated a graphic novel based on The Hunter published by IDW in July 2009.[13] 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.[14] The third adaptation, The Score, was released in July 2012,[15] and the fourth - Slayground - was released in January 2014.[16] Slayground also contained an adaptation of The Seventh in abbreviated form as an added bonus. The contract to adapt the series had been extended past the intended four books, as Cooke wanted very much to adapt Butcher's Moon, and possibly others, but Cooke's death in 2016 left these plans unfinished.


  1. ^ Block, Lawrence (1981). "Introduction", p. iv. Westlake, Donald (1963, 1981). The Mourner. Boston: Gregg Press
  2. ^ See Nussbaum's introduction to the 1981 Gregg Press reprint of The Mourner (1966)
  3. ^ "Interview with Donald Westlake, author of the Parker novels". The University of Chicago Press. 2008. Retrieved September 1, 2010.
  4. ^ Bahn, Christopher (November 16, 2006). "Donald Westlake: Interview". A.V. Club. Retrieved August 30, 2014.
  5. ^ Sante, Luc (March 28, 1985). "The Gentrification of Crime". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved September 1, 2010.
  6. ^ "Canarsie and Westlake, Parker and Stark (and Me)". Mulholland Books. June 30, 2011. Retrieved March 2, 2012.
  7. ^ Samson, Ian (March 3, 2007). "The man with flawed-onyx eyes". The Guardian. Books: Book of the week: Mar 2. Retrieved September 1, 2010.
  8. ^
  9. ^ "Not Quite Parker". Retrieved March 2, 2012.
  10. ^ Nussbaum, Albert. "An inside look at Donald Westlake." Take One 4.9 (May 1975): 10-13
  11. ^ "About". Archived from the original on March 5, 2011. Retrieved March 5, 2011.
  12. ^ Jennifer Lopez joins Jason Statham in new thriller 'Parker' | Film & TV News | NME.COM
  13. ^ "IDW: Richard Stark's Parker: The Hunter". IDW. IDW. Archived from the original on June 18, 2014. Retrieved June 17, 2014.
  14. ^ "IDW: Richard Stark's Parker: The Outfit". IDW. IDW. Archived from the original on June 18, 2014. Retrieved June 17, 2014.
  15. ^ "IDW: Richard Stark's Parker: The Score". IDW. IDW. Archived from the original on June 18, 2014. Retrieved June 17, 2014.
  16. ^ "IDW: Richard Stark's Parker: Slayground". IDW. IDW. Archived from the original on June 18, 2014. Retrieved June 17, 2014.

External links[edit]