*Starred Review* It’s been 50 years since the first, furious appearance of Parker as he walked across the George Washington Bridge into Manhattan—after trudging all the way across the country, hell-bent on revenge. Written pseudonymously by Donald E. Westlake, a pro’s pro well known for his later, lighter fare, this series about a tough, pent-up professional thief, a “bastard” who slaps women and makes them like it, is, on the one hand, unreconstructed, unrepentant, hard-boiled tough-guy pulp. On the other hand, it’s terrific. It may be a period piece to some, but it’s also been hugely influential, impressing writers from Elmore Leonard to John Banville, and Max Allan Collins to Dan Simmons. Hollywood has taken note, too: filmed versions include Point Blank (1967) and Payback (1999). And Darwyn Cooke’s magnificent graphic-novel adaptations (beginning with Richard Stark’s Parker: The Hunter, 2009) have brought the series to a whole new audience. But whether you find Parker’s approach to relationships infuriating or amusing, the author’s way with words is always powerful. As Parker relentlessly slaps, punches, glowers, and kills his way to the mobster who betrayed him and stole his woman, the prose hits as hard as two huge, bare-knuckled fists. And the structure throws a left hook, too. Halfway through the book, with Parker closing the room on his prey, Stark detours back to the beginning of the story. Still, when revenge has finally been served, it’s not enough. Not satisfied with killing one mobster, Parker declares war on the entire Mob, setting the stage for two dozen novels over the next four decades. (Westlake died in 2008, at the age of 75.) University of Chicago Press, an unlikely publisher, has done crime-fiction fans a great service by returning the first 20 Parker novels to print. The covers should be better, but it’s the pages inside that count. --Keir Graff
“Parker represents the antihero with dubious morals. Stark’s clever plot structure, moving back and forth in time, is totally engrossing.”--Library Journal
“Writing a couple of years ago . . . John Banville reckoned the Parker novels to be 'among the most poised and polished fictions of their time and, in fact, any time.' That's high praise from an impeccable source, and Banville is right to single out the technical excellence of these books. The Parkers read with the speed of pulp while unfolding with an almost Nabokovian wit and flair. . . . Original editions of these books, and even later reprints, change hands for scores or hundreds of dollars on the Net, and it’s excellent to have them readily available again—not so much masterpieces of the genre, just masterpieces, period. . . . . The Hunter glitters with seemingly effortless intricacy, being aimed at one episode—a stunner, the kind of moment in fiction that really does have you leaping from your chair and exclaiming in surprise and glee.”
(Richard Rayner Los Angeles Times
“Parker is refreshingly amoral, a thief who always gets away with the swag.”
(Stephen King Entertainment Weekly
“Parker . . . lumbers through the pages of Richard Stark’s noir novels scattering dead bodies like peanut shells. . . . In a complex world [he] makes things simple.”
(William Grimes New York Times
“Whatever Stark writes, I read. He’s a stylist, a pro, and I thoroughly enjoy his attitude.”
“Richard Stark’s Parker novels . . . are among the most poised and polished fictions of their time and, in fact, of any time.”
(John Banville Bookforum
“Parker is a true treasure. . . . The master thief is back, along with Richard Stark.”
(Marilyn Stasio New York Times Book Review
“Westlake knows precisely how to grab a reader, draw him or her into the story, and then slowly tighten his grip until escape is impossible.”
(Washington Post Book World
“Elmore Leonard wouldn’t write what he does if Stark hadn’t been there before. And Quentin Tarantino wouldn’t write what he does without Leonard. . . . Old master that he is, Stark does all of them one better.”
(Los Angeles Times
“Donald Westlake’s Parker novels are among the small number of books I read over and over. Forget all that crap you’ve been telling yourself about War and Peace and Proust—these are the books you’ll want on that desert island.”
“If you’re looking for crime novels with a lot of punch, try the very, very tough novels featuring Parker. . . . The Hunter, The Outfit, The Mourner, and The Man with the Getaway Face are all beautifully paced, tautly composed, and originally published in the early 1960s."
(Christian Science Monitor
“Richard Stark writes a harsh and frightening story of criminal warfare and vengeance with economy, understatement and a deadly amoral objectivity—a remarkable addition to the list of the shockers that the French call romans noirs.”
(Anthony Boucher New York Times Book Review
"Parker is a brilliant invention. . . . What chiefly distinguishes Westlake, under whatever name, is his passion for process and mechanics. . . . Parker appears to have eliminated everything from his program but machine logic, but this is merely protective coloration. He is a romantic vestige, a free-market anarchist whose independent status is becoming a thing of the past."
(Luc Sante New York Review of Books
"I wouldn't care to speculate about what it is in Westlake's psyche that makes him so good at writing about Parker, much less what it is that makes me like the Parker novels so much. Suffice it to say that Stark/Westlake is the cleanest of all noir novelists, a styleless stylist who gets to the point with stupendous economy, hustling you down the path of plot so briskly that you have to read his books a second time to appreciate the elegance and sober wit with which they are written."
(Terry Teachout Commentary
"If you're a fan of noir novels and haven't yet read Richard Stark, you may want to give these books a try. Who knows? Parker may just be the son of a bitch you've been searching for."
(John McNally Virginia Quarterly Review
"The University of Chicago Press has recently undertaken a campaign to get Parker back in print in affordable and handsome editions, and I dove in. And now I get it."
(Josef Braun Vue Weekly
"Whether early or late, the Parker novels are all superlative literary entertainments."
(Terry Teachout Weekly Standard
“The UC Press mission, to reprint the 1960s Parker novels of Richard Stark (the late Donald Westlake), is wholly admirable. The books have been out of print for decades, and the fast-paced, hard-boiled thrillers featuring the thief Parker are brilliant.”
(H. J. Kirchoff Globe and Mail