Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Outfit: A Parker Novel / by Richard Stark

Even for an author as well-published as he was, Donald E. Westlake (1933-2008) had a lot of pseudonymns. Though to be fair, many of them were implemented during his early career when his offhand authorship of some pulpish, soft-porn titles discretely bore different pen names out of necessity. The Brooklyn native began writing stories as soon as he could spell and was publishing stories by his late teens. By the early sixties, his stories were being published in several minor serial publications using pen names like Alan Marshall, Ben Christopher or John Decker and it wasn't long before his taught, underworld style novels caught on. It was his Richard Stark novels featuring the gritty, amoral anti-hero Parker that quickly established the author as one to watch out for. With a restless, drifter-like persona and always a score to settle, Parker is the sympathetic criminal living in a world where crime and treachery is a given but survival isn't. Over 20 of the nearly 30 novels Westlake wrote as Richard Stark feature Parker as the protagonist and several have been adaptede or remorphed onto the big screen (different names and places) in movies like Point Blank with Lee Marvin or Mel Gibson's Payback. Elmore Leonard as well as Jim Thompson have said they owe much of their style and characterizations to Westlake and Parker. The Outfit has Parker trying to get back at the syndicate after it tries to kill him.

Some may say that crime doesn't pay. But for Parker, it's all he knows. The veteran thief and underworld player
 would've liked to think that his former employer, an influential crime syndicate referred to as the Outfit, would prefer to lay off him a while. After all, the ruthless way he'd cut ties with them had him thinking they'd leave him alone. But a late-night visit from an amateur hit man with a silenced .25 proved it hadn't. The guy was just a lackey and had had the unfortunate pleasure of breaking in on Parker in Miami during one of his business liasons. With little effort, Parker turns the tables on his would-be assassin and gets the guy to tell all he knows. An hour later and Parker's busting up a backroom poker game where a few former employees sit surprised that he's not dead. After shooting the man that framed him, Parker escapes and forms a plan of his own. Soon with the aid of few fellow rogues, Parker begins ripping off certain racetracks, casinos and 'establishments' owned by the outfit to settle the score.

When is the bad guy a good guy? Usually when all of the other characters are worse than he is. In this case it's more that he just lives by his own code. It's not that Parker is necessarily on a vendetta or out to get someone, it's more just that this is the only way he can achieve some balance in the world system he lives with. As in The Hunter, Parker's actions are usually provoked. His hand is forced by those who've double-crossed or harmed him in some way and the only real way to set things right is to enact swift, brutal revenge toward his enemies. There's an honorable bent to his actions even when he's heedlessly shooting a few bullets into someone in cold blood. There's also a callousness which denies any soulful type of real compassion. Parker doesn't really want a just or an honorable world, he just wants his piece of the pie. (MYS STARK)

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