Donald Westlake’s Parker series, featuring the stoic and violent thief Parker, is a celebrated franchise of paperback crime fiction. The books are renowned for being fast-moving, unsentimental and flavored with irony and dark humor. The University of Chicago Press has reprinted the Parker titles in highbrow tradeback editions, and maintains a site tracking all of the different characters that populate them. Moreover, the most thorough Parker resource on the web remains The Westlake Review, which also covers many other of the author’s works.
Although I found the first book The Hunter problematic (Parker is clearly a sociopath in this one), many who have read it have been engrossed with the series from the start. For me, The Man with the Getaway Face is the true launching point of the series – so if you don’t like one, try the other before giving up on Parker.
In any case, Parker develops as a character as the series goes along, and I thought The Seventh was a clear step forward from The Jugger, which seemed to be pollenated with ill-fitting asides. A recent SFFaudio episode suggested that Parker’s motivations fit classic Epicureanism: his actions are not guided by abstract mores or a hunger for great things, but by his preferences (following the plan, getting his share of the loot) and whether someone has taken his property. In The Seventh we get to see what boundaries this philosophy places between Parker and others, as illustrated with the interactions he has with the secondary characters, and by the relationships that these other persons form with each other.
When the engine stopped, Parker came up on deck for a look around.
The Handle (1966), the next book in the Parker series, features another change in focus. Whereas The Seventh was dominated by the messy aftermath of a successful robbery, The Handle is focused on the set-up and planning of an even more brazen job – knocking over an island casino. As always, Westlake used the Richard Stark pseudonym for this title, adopting his darker noir style to accompany the name change. The Handle has also been published as Run Lethal, for some reason.
Harry Bennett cover for Pocket Books. The Westlake Review.
The most interesting cover of The Handle comes from the ever-versatile Harry Bennett, who chose to depict Parker (the big guy on the right), his female companion Crystal, and (I assume) the fellow thief Grofield on a blank canvas. Crystal is painted in full color, while a greyscale Grofield wears a rather flamboyant blue suit. Parker of course has barely any color at all, and he hides his famous hands in his coat pockets. Their eyes are all focused on something to the right, but their different postures indicate a sort of mutual independence in their intended actions. They don’t particularly look at ease with other, either. Even tough this book is a satire of the trendy spy thrillers of the time,* Bennett’s cover rightly highlights the psychological aspect of this unusually cerebral heist novel. Continue reading