Parker (character)  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Parker is a fictional character created by Donald E. Westlake. He is the main protagonist of 24 of the 28 novels Westlake has written under the pseudonym Richard Stark. Parker has been portrayed numerous times in movies although never with the name "Parker." The most iconic performances were by Lee Marvin (as Walker in Point Blank), Anna Karina (as Paula Nelson in Made in U.S.A.) and Mel Gibson (as Porter in Payback).

Contents

Character overview

A ruthless career criminal, Parker is a classic example of an antihero, and has almost no traditional redeeming qualities, aside from efficiency and professionalism. His first name is never mentioned in the novels and there are many details about him which remain unknown. Parker is cold, methodical, and perfectly willing to commit murder to get what he wants.

The Series

The first novel in Parker's series is The Hunter (filmed twice, as Point Blank in 1967 and as Payback in 1999), in which he chases his ex-partners and his ex-wife, who have betrayed him in a heist and left him for dead. He survives, but is arrested by the police. Slowly and methodically, Parker kills his betrayers one by one. When the mob protects one of them, Parker takes on the mob.

In subsequent novels, Parker has 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 coups, they fall apart in the execution because of greed or incompetence on the part of Parker's less-experienced partners.

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 went with it) when police show up at his hotel at the end of The Jugger. In the novel The Rare Coin Score, Parker meets Claire, the woman who will become his girlfriend 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; Claire's real last name is unknown). 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."

Parker's Background and Character

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 states that he had been in the Army from 1942 to 1944). 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. In The Outfit Parker does state he had already been a thief for 18 years, and refers to a heist he committed in 1949. Parker is, essentially, an ageless character.

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.

In a similar tone, Irish author Ian Sansom, writing in The Guardian (March 3, 2007), "[Parker] 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... [Parker 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."

Influences

Literary Spinoffs and Crossovers

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 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.

Parker sometimes associates with an actor named Alan Grofield, who moonlights as a criminal to finance his theatrical ventures. Grofield appears in several novels of his own, also written under the Richard Stark name, including The Damsel (1967), The Dame (1969), The Blackbird (1969) and Lemons Never Lie (1971). The Blackbird and Slayground (1971) have near-identical first chapters.

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 31 Cadillacs and the Dortmunder novel Drowned Hopes.)

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.

Fictional portrayals

Parker has been portrayed numerous times in movies although never with the name "Parker." The following actors have portrayed the character: Lee Marvin (as Walker in Point Blank), 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), and Mel Gibson (as Porter in Payback).

Appearances

Novels

  • The Hunter (1962, aka Point Blank, Payback)
  • The Man with the Getaway Face (1963, aka The Steel Hit)
  • The Outfit (1963)
  • The Mourner (1963)
  • The Score (1964, aka Killtown)
  • The Jugger (1965)
  • The Seventh (1966, aka The Split)
  • The Handle (1966, aka Run Lethal)
  • The Rare Coin Score (1967)
  • The Green Eagle Score (1967)
  • The Black Ice Score (1968)
  • The Sour Lemon Score (1969)
  • Deadly Edge (1971)
  • Slayground (1971) — First chapter shared with The Blackbird, a novel in Westlake's Alan Grofield series.
  • Plunder Squad (1972)
  • Butcher's Moon (1974)
  • Child Heist (1974) — Not really a novel but a fictitious book within a book. In Jimmy the Kid, a novel in Westlake's John Dortmunder series, the gang plans a caper based on this Parker novel they have. Chapters alternate between Parker committing a kidnapping and the Dortmunder Gang screwing it up as they try to imitate him.
  • Comeback (1997)
  • Backflash (1998)
  • Flashfire (2000)
  • Firebreak (2001)
  • Breakout (2002)
  • Nobody Runs Forever (2004)
  • Ask the Parrot (2006)
  • Dirty Money (2008)

Films





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