The Pequod Review:
Donald Westlake (1933-2008) remains one the underappreciated greats of modern crime fiction. He wrote over 100 books under his own name and a variety of pseudonyms, including a 24-book series as Richard Stark which stands as one of his finest achievements. The series features the memorable character of Parker, a professional thief whose amorality leads him to steal and kill without remorse. Here is how he is physically described in The Hunter, the first book in the series:
His hands, swinging curve-fingered at his sides, looked like they were molded of brown clay by a sculptor who thought big and liked veins. His hair was brown and dry and dead, blowing around his head like a poor toupee about to fly loose. His face was a chipped chunk of concrete, with eyes of flawed onyx. His mouth was a quick stroke, bloodless.
It would be incorrect to say that Parker has no ethics or no code; he believes first and foremost in his commitment to get the job done. In a later book in the series (The Sour Lemon Score), Westlake describes what could basically be Parker's personal philosophy: “Parker didn't believe in luck, good or bad. He believed in nothing but men who knew their job and did it.” As a result, he becomes an efficient and compelling character who earns the reader’s sympathies.
The plots of the Parker novels are solid but what is most impressive is Westlake’s spare prose, as scenes of extraordinary violence and brutality are described in a few short lines. He uses few adverbs, and writes in a purposeful, direct style. He explains what happens and lets you decide how to feel about it:
When the phone rang, Parker was in the garage, killing a man. His knees pressed down on the interloper’s back, his hands were clasped around his forehead. He heard the phone ring, distantly, in the house, as he jerked his forearms back; heard the neck snap; heard the phone’s second ring, cut off, as Claire answered, somewhere in the house.
The Hunter is the first Richard Stark novel, a good one, as Parker is double-crossed by both his co-conspirators and his wife. The book was the basis for the 1967 film Point Blank starring Lee Marvin, in a truly all-time great performance.