NB: A version of this post also appears at Existential Ennui.
Plucked from atop the Parker Mega Score stack—i.e. that haul of British Coronet/Hodder Fawcett paperback editions of the Parker novels I recently acquired—comes The Steel Hit, Coronet’s title for the second Parker outing, The Man with the Getaway Face (the publisher retitled a number of the Parkers, as we’ll see in a later post). Published in paperback by Coronet in the UK in 1971 (originally published in the States in 1963), this was the first time the novel had been issued in Britain, four years after The Hunter—or rather Point Blank, it being a movie tie-in—had made its British debut. In the interim Coronet had published a further five Parkers, but these dated from later in the series (Coronet was loosely following the pub programme of its American sister company, Fawcett/Gold Medal). It wasn’t until 1971 that the publisher began filling in the gaps, over the next year or two issuing the Parkers from The Man with the Getaway Face to The Handle (Parker #8). And when they did, it was under highly unusual covers…
Up to this point, the covers of the Coronet paperbacks had sported either film stills (Point Blank, 1967; The Split, 1969), illustrations (The Rare Coin Score, 1968; The Green Eagle Score, 1968; The Black Ice Score, 1969; The Sour Lemon Score, 1969) or posed photos (the 1970 reprints of Point Blank and The Rare Coin Score). But in ’71 the publisher introduced a new cover concept: the “bullet hole” design. Created by Raymond Hawkey—the man behind the iconic dust jackets for Len Deighton’s novels—the bullet hole covers were in effect a double cover: a metallic-finish card outer cover featuring, on the front, the author’s name, the legend “a novel of violence” and a rough-edged “burnt” die-cut hole, through which the novel’s title could be seen. Open it up:
and the thinner inner cover is revealed, bearing the text “Parker is in” and then the title. It was an innovative approach to paperback cover design, but actually typical of Hawkey, who already had form both with bullet hole-style designs and die-cuts on paperback covers—witness his cover treatments for the 1963 Pan edition of Ian Fleming’s Thunderball and the 1967 Pan edition of Len Deighton’s London Dossier.
But for Parker/Stark/Westlake fans, it’s the back double-cover that might be of more interest. The outer cover carries the usual sort of stuff: description of the novel, ISBN, price, a blurb from the New York Times about Stark. Flip it open, however:
and there’s a photo and short bio of Donald E. Westlake on the inner cover. Now, considering Richard Stark’s true identity was still being kept a secret by his American publisher, Random House, even by the time Butcher’s Moon was published in the States in 1974, it’s notable that in the UK, by 1971 he’d already been “outed” as Westlake by Coronet. Although I don’t believe they got there first; legend has it that it was the critic Anthony Boucher who unmasked Westlake as Stark in his New York Times “Criminals at Large” column—which presumably is how Coronet got the idea it was OK to do the same on their (inner) back covers: that New York Times quote on the back of The Steel Hit is taken from a Boucher review.
Copies of The Steel Hit are currently very thin on the ground; there are a couple on AbeBooks going for around $30 a piece, but that’s about it—this despite it being reprinted in 1972 (with minor amends to the cover). Indeed, the Coronet Parkers have become quite collectable in some circles—something I’ll be exploring in the next Parker Score post.