You might know Parker as Jason Statham, from the new movie Parker, which I haven’t seen yet. It’s based on Flashfire, the 19th Parker novel. I can tell you from the preview that it looks a bit like the book, but that it looks nothing like Parker. It’s had some sort of protagonist transplant.
Which is fine – you shouldn’t go around making movies out of Parker novels, because Parker’s too dark to appeal to a wide enough audience. Parker does not, for instance, live by any dumbass “code” like the preview for Parker says he does. Apparently this incarnation of Parker never hurts innocent people and never steals from the poor, which might make you like him more, might make it more likely that you’ll buy some movie tickets, but it isn’t Parker.
Parker’s assessment of whether or not he should kill you or steal your money is entirely risk-reward based. He is a sociopath. In the first novel, he breaks into a beauty salon right around closing time, ties up the woman who runs the place, and uses the window to watch some mob guys he’s interested in. Later he goes back to check on her and she’s dead. Parker doesn’t care.
I’m not saying – “Go Parker!” But I am saying, if you’re wanting to pretend you’re a criminal, you can do it Ocean’s Eleven-style, where they’re not actually bad people, just hot, lovable scamps. Or you can be grittily realistic. There’s no correct way, now, settle down – literary morality is not a race.
I AM saying that’s the character, he’s completely amoral, and that’s who he is. Very quickly in the series, author Donald Westlake softens the character up, but if that entails knocking off the accidental murder of innocent hairdressers and getting him a steady girlfriend later on, well- you’re really overreaching when you claim he’s Robin Hood.
The only reason – the ONLY reason – Parker isn’t killing you right now, is that it’s a pain in the ass and there is no compelling reason to do it. He doesn’t care who you are or what you did or whether or not you’re nice.
Here’s another modern incarnation of Parker:
In Payback, Parker’s name was Porter, and they softened him up in hilarious ways, like they made him goof around with a big, silly puppy dog and made him a former driver for a Super Hot Prostitute named Rosie, whom he was apparently in love with, because that makes sense, driving a prostitute from John to John and thinking, if only me and her could skip through the park together eating ice cream.
That movie was based on The Hunter, the first of the Parker novels, and so yes, that’s the one where he killed the hairdresser. Did you see Porter kill any hair dressers? Me neither, and Parker is to be clear, MUCH larger than Mel Gibson.
Rosie, who is Mel’s love interest in the movie and runs off with him at the end, is in the book for approximately seven pages, as a chubby, drug-addled prostitute who Parker knocks around a little bit until he gets some information out of her. I think she tells him she hates him when he stomps away with the name he needed, and we never see her again in twenty-three novels.
I actually like Payback. They kept it pretty dark, and it’s all retro-technology, since the original book was written in 1962, and this was before Mel Gibson parked a fertilizer truck in front of the Crazy Town Courthouse and started threatening the Queen and getting his Anti-Semite Groove going. Before that, he was very mainstream and the ladies dug him. Going dark was playing against type, and it worked for him.
It was as close to actual Parker as I think we’re likely to get on screen, but again – that’s okay. The books were practically designed to be read with a six pack of beer. They’re short, and they’re lean, and they come in two categories.
Either Parker is planning a job, and at the end they’ll execute it and we’ll see how it goes, or we join him in mid-job, and something goes horribly wrong, and we’ll watch him get clear.
That’s it. We’re just sociopathic criminals for a few hours, without hurting anybody and without going to jail. We don’t have to watch him fall in love with a beautiful and brilliant safecracker, or a beautiful and brilliant stunt driver, or a brilliant and beautiful police detective or anything like that. There’s no mute kid who says something at the end, making it really meaningful and softening the grizzled heister’s cold heart.
No. You’re going to pull off a heist, and you get to leave your conscience at home, and if you don’t like it you get out of the car.
So here’s why we’re going to hang out with Parker this weekend. Of the twenty-three Parker novels, I’ve read twenty-two of them, missing the tenth simple due to being unable to find it. There are more coming out, from what I hear, but Donald Westlake is dead. The last Parker novel, Ask The Parrot, was very clearly the result of a stooge being handed the beginning of a first draft which Westlake left behind, and being told to write a Parker novel out of it. I guess it isn’t terrible, but I know when Westlake’s writing and when he’s not. That wasn’t him.
In fact, it was him, for the first sixty pages. Then suddenly all the characters decide, let’s think of a whole new plan, these last sixty pages aren’t doing it for me, then Parker does something else, acting nothing like Parker at all.
Parker why do you suddenly sound like a thirty year-old English major with a second glass of whiskey in your hand? Sigh.
So anyway, the one Parker novel I haven’t read is The Green Eagle Score. It comes right after The Rare Coin Score, in which Parker meets Claire and she becomes the greatest criminal girlfriend ever, asking zero questions about what Parker does, putting zero requirements on when he should and shouldn’t be away, and being able to use her brain if the shit hits the fan and the cops show up. You know what Claire knows, officer?
Nothing. Beat it.
Suddenly, back in my world, it was 2013, and I realized that instead of combing local used bookstores for the remaining Parker novel, I could use Amazon Technology and have it in my hands overnight. Fair enough – that’s what I’ve done. Now I’m off to sit on my ass, drink a few beers, and read it. There’s a good chance you’ll get to hear all about it tomorrow, because what else am I going to write about if that’s all I’ve been doing all day?
And if you are wondering about Heinlein’s The Number of the Beast, I’m still going to finish it, but Parker doesn’t like to wait in line, so he gets to go first. You can take it up with Parker if you don’t like it.
That’s the best thing about Parker novels – you don’t have to wait for stuff to happen. Westlake – who writes the novels as Richard Stark – drops you right into the shit from the very first sentence. In fact, my favorite opening line ever is from Firebreak, a 2001 Parker novel:
“When the phone rang, Parker was in the garage, killing a man.”
I’ll tell you the first line to this one tomorrow, once I’ve finished it. Until then, blogosphere.