I once read a book of stories by a man named Fredric Brown. In one of them he quotes the tale of the peasant walking through the haunted wood, saying to himself, “I am a good man and have done no wrong. If devils can harm me, then there isn’t any justice,” and a voice behind him says, “There isn’t.”
361 by Donald Westlake, published by Hard Case Crime.
NEAL POLLACK on a 23-volume RICHARD STARK reprint series
and JOHN SHANNON on the greatest Vietnam War novel ever written.
Smith Corona cc Haris Awang Richard Stark The Hunter (1962) The Man with the Getaway Face (1963) The Outfit (1963) Deadly Edge (1971) Slayground (1971) Butcher’s Moon (1974) Comeback (1997) Firebreak (2001)
And 15 other titles. Reprints University of Chicago Press, 2008-2012.
NEAL POLLACK Artistic Pulp Sleaziness
I got the email in early May. “Dear Mr. Pollack,” it went, way too formally, as though the editor were informing me that I’d been late in making my credit card payment. Then I read the pitch: “Would you be willing to review or write something on the occasion of U. of Chicago’s reprints of Richard Stark’s Parker novels?”
This “occasion” had slipped my purview, as had, I’ll admit, Richard Stark’s Parker novels themselves. I was only barely aware, if aware at all, of their existence and probably wouldn’t have been able to say for sure that Stark was a pseudonym of the legendary crime writer Donald Westlake. This isn’t something I’m proud to announce, particularly since I’ve spent many years trumpeting myself as a lover of all things “noir.” But hey, there are lots of writers in the world, and I’ve got a kid to feed and TV to watch. Still, this email offered me something I couldn’t refuse. Free books, in a genre I like. I would come to the Parker novels with fresh, innocent eyes, like a newborn fawn staring at the world for the first time, or at a pair of headlights.
A couple of weeks later, a big box arrived from Chicago. It contained 10 nifty, sleek paperbacks, with appropriately muted coloring and silhouettes of snubnosed guns on their covers. Some of them also featured backlit dames or guys with hats, and, depending on the book, a truck, a serrated knife, or a carnival midway. I’d entered noir country. That night, I flossed and put in my night guard and started some easy reading about a very tough character.
“When a fresh-faced guy in a Chevy offered him a lift, Parker told him to go to hell. The guy said, ‘Screw you, buddy,’ yanked his Chevy back into the stream of traffic, and roared on down to the tollbooths. Parker spat in the right-hand lane, lit his last cigarette, and walked across the George Washington Bridge.
The 8 A.M. traffic went mmmmm, mmmmm, all on this side, headed for the city. Over there, lanes and lanes of nobody going to Jersery. Underneath, the same thing.
Out in the middle, the bridge trembled and swayed in the wind. It does it all the time, but he’d never noticed it. He’d never walked it before. He felt it shivering under his feet, and he got mad. He threw the used-up butt in the river, spat on a passing hubcap, and strode on.” -Richard Stark (Donald E. Westlake), The Hunter
Then, in a twist that I don’t understand even though I read it three times, the NYC narcotics squad ends up getting the suitcase and Parker barely catches a train out of Grand Central Station alive. But that’s the best thing about books like this. Even if the plots don’t make sense, and they often don’t because they’re written quickly for small amounts of money, the character and the mood can carry you a long way.