Monday, March 7, 2011

Dangerous Dan recommends - The Parker series by Richard Stark

"But I'm only the messenger!"
"Now you're the message," Parker told him and shot him.

When I received The Hunter, the first book in the Parker series by Richard Stark, I was excited. The Parker series was one I'd been interested in reading for a long time and since University of Chicago press was reprinting them, I figured it was time to get started. I had no idea the ride I was in for.

The Parker books are about a thief named Parker and his heists. More often than not, something goes wrong and Parker has to think on his feet to stop it. The thing that separates Parker from the imitators is that Parker has very few redeeming qualities. He'll kill at the drop of a hat if someone's in his way. He doesn't do small talk, doesn't have pets or friends. He's a ruthless, relentless machine who always gets what he wants. So why do I like reading about him so much?

I guess it's because it's fun watching a professional at work, and with the Parker books, both the author and the character are consumate professionals. Richard Stark, aka Donald Westlake, doesn't waste words. You won't find any filler in the Parker books. There are no musings about the nature of the world or pop culture-laced dialogue, just Parker doing what he does best. The books are wall-to-wall tension with more action and suspense packed between the covers than most books accomplish in twice as many pages.

Over half of the books have the same plot:
  • Parker has a job lined out
  • The job is planned
  • Parker acquires the necessary supplies (guns, cars, etc)
  • Something goes south (there's a rat in the crew or there's a problem with the job)
  • Parker gets out alive
Much like P.G. Wodehouse, Stark plumbs unfamiliar territory with the same plot time after time. Who's the weak link on the team? What's going to throw a monkey wrench into the works? Which of the supporting cast will survive?

Unfortunately, Westlake passed away a few years ago so I've only got eight or nine more Parker books left after Butcher's Moon, the one I'm currently reading. I'm tempted to pace myself but who are we kidding? I'll devour the rest of them with minimal breaks in between.


  1. It sounds like the ultimate guy book. Non-stop action! And the fact that all the story lines are nearly identical and yet you still can't stop reading them does, in fact, say a LOT.

    It is sad that you only have a limited number of books left. Thankfully, my fave is still very much alive and kicking. BUT, there is always the option to re-read, so you're not totally lost.

  2. They're very much guy books. Stark sure knew how to dole out the suspense. Most of the books are less than 200 pages but it's about all you can handle.