Thursday, May 27, 2010

Four Parkers

I completed the first part of my Richard Stark collection. I now have all of the Parker books Stark wrote before his 23 year hiatus.

I found terrible, old paperback copies of Deadly Edge, Slayground, Plunder Squad and Butcher's Moon on eBay. In a way, this was a stupid thing to do. In September, three of these books will be republished and will be easily available for the first time since, I think, 1985. Which means the prices of these crappy old paperbacks will plummet. But I couldn't wait that long. Butcher's Moon will be reprinted in the spring of 2011 - and then no one will ever again pay $88 for an old paperback copy of it. (The art and design on these 1985 reprints is hideous. I understand shelling out good money for vintage paperbacks that look good. I'll be embarrassed to be seen reading these things in public.)

I really should have my head examined for spending so much on these books - but I don't have money left to pay for psychiatric treatment.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Serendipity and the Origin of the Mourner in Richard Stark's The Mourner

The Mourner, the fourth of Richard Stark's Parker novels, is about the theft of a 15th century French statue. As part of the telling of the story of the statue's history, Ralph Harrow - the father of Bett, Parker's current squeeze, uses the September 1958 issue of Horizon magazine:

Harrow licked his lips and glanced at his daughter, but she was no help. “To begin with, I'd like you to read a brief article in this magazine.” He said magazine, but it was obviously the book he meant. He held it up, and Parker saw above the picture a title: Horizon.And below the picture a date: September, 1958. So it was a magazine that looked like a book. Harrow opened the magazine-​book, muttering to himself, “Page sixty-​two.” He found the page and extended the open book.

Stark then gives even more specific details:

This article concerns a group of eighty-​two statuettes in a monument at Dijon, in France.” He turned the book around so Parker could see. “You see the title? 'The Missing Mourners of Dijon', by Ferdinand Auberjonois.”

In general, the Parker novel do not feature overly specific descriptions of much of anything. So all this detail got me wondering if this article about the statues was real or not (I knew of Horizon magazine - in fact I came across a bunch of copies at a used booksale several months ago but barely looked through them). And it turns out, Stark did his homework:

I had never heard of the Mourners before so I thought they could have been made up. (Whenever Stark/Westlake wrote about African gems I always assumed they were made up. I know he likes to create fictional African and South American countries so made up statues seemed par for the course.) But on page 62 there is the article by Ferdinand Auberjonois that Parker refuses to read.

This is not much of discovery. Anyone so inclined could have easily found this out (and probably already has). But in a great case of serendipity, 37 of the real Mourners are on tour in the US for the first time right now:

As best I can tell, the Mourner in The Mourner is not on display.

I noticed two other things while looking at the table of contents for the mentioned issue of Horizon. One is that Harrow (the town) is in an article and I am guessing that is where Stark got the name to give to Bett's father.

The second thing I noticed takes a wild leap of imagination to make (and is probably nothing more than coincidence) is that there is an article by Freya STARK in the same issue. The first Parker story was published in 1959. If Donald Westlake read the magazine in September of 1958, did he get his new pen name from here? Yes, it is a stretch. But he did get the idea for his fourth book here - so maybe it is not that much of a stretch.

Friday, May 07, 2010

The Case of the Missing Starks

A literacy charity is running a book sale since mid-April in the building I work in. I, of course, have been going in every day since they opened. And I am not finding anything good. At all. Ever. Even though I have searched through dozens of boxes and tables of books, I have not found a single Donald Westlake or Richard Stark novel amongst the 50,000 or so books they have. Which is all I really want. Some people seem to find Starks everywhere. But not me. I'm losing auctions for them on eBay. The library can't find the few Starks I need. I can't even find pirated ebook versions of them. I know the four Starks I need will be republished by the University of Chicago Press this fall and next spring but I don't think I can wait that long. (I can remember when I used to see Starks all the time - back when I didn't want them. I remember standing in Second Story Books looking at copies of the Grofield books and thinking, How can a crime novel about an actor be any good? So I crossed Stark of the list of writers I was interested in - even though I made the judgment based on the wrong series of books, not knowing that Stark primarily wrote the Parker novels. In fact, my booksense has failed me twice when it comes to Donald Westlake. I always turned my nose up at his Dortmunder books, too. I thought I only liked non-Dortmunder, non-Stark books. I only tried the Dortmunder books after Westlake died a few years ago. Now I love his Dortmunder books, too.)

I did manage to find a Simenon novel that I did not have - Maigret and the Tavern by the Seine.
This is a significant accomplishment because it turns out I have approximately 160 Simenons (Maigrets and non-Maigrets) and it is very difficult to to find a recognize one I don't have. To celebrate, I vacuumed my Simenon bookcase tonight and cataloged all of the books.

Since this book sale started, the only other books I've bought are:
Savages by Shirley Conran
Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo
Straight Man by Richard Russo
The Draining Lake by Arnaldur Indridason

Savages really confuses me because it seems to be regarded as chick-lit (not my cup of tea) but it looks good. Of the reader reviews I've come across, most people seem to have had a wonderful time reading it. And I can't get enough of jungles and survivalist stuff these days (the effects of repeated/prolonged exposure to Lost, Bear Grylls, Survivorman, Freddie Spencer Chapman, and the HBO mini-series The Pacific). And the book has maps in it.

The two Russos are nice Vintage trade paperback editions. I've been wanting to re-read Straight Man and couldn't pass it up. And I'm stockpiling Scandanavian crime fiction so I had to grab the book from Iceland. I've got two of his other books and hear very good things about him.