It’s been a couple of months since I did one of these, so let’s chat a little.
I am particularly interested in the opinion of anyone who has seen A Walk Among the Tombstones based on the novel by friend of Donald Westlake (and occasionally the VWOP!) Lawrence Block. I’m booked solid this weekend but am planning on seeing it Wednesday with a review to follow.
NB: A version of this post also appears at Existential Ennui.
I might not have written about Donald E. Westlake much of late—just one post in the last five months, an outrageous state of affairs for which I can only apologise, especially to Violent World of Parker readers (still, at least Trent’s back now)—but Westlake is never too far from my thoughts. For instance, a few months back I reread the first three Parker novels, gaining a new appreciation of the stripped-back, stylized brilliance of the second book in particular (The Man with the Getaway Face was already one of my favourite Parkers but I’m now of the opinion that it’s the best Parker full stop), and I’ve recently read a couple of later Parkers too; I may write something about some or all of that at some point.
And I’m still picking up the odd Westlake Score when I come across something interesting. Like the one up top: All the Girls Were Willing by Alan Marshall, published in paperback by Midwood/Tower in 1960. Westlake’s fifth novel under the “Alan Marshall” alias, it’s also the second of three books starring ladies man/wannabe actor Phil Crawford, the other two being Backstage Love (Monarch, 1959; reissued in 1962 as Apprentice Virgin) and Sin Prowl (Corinth). I scored a copy of Backstage Love four years ago but noted at the time that I had no intention of collecting any others of the sleaze efforts Westlake wrote under a variety of pseudonyms in the late 1950s/early 1960s; while their scarcity—especially in the UK—does make them attractive to the Westlake collector (i.e., me), they’re of decidedly dubious literary merit. Since then, including All the Girls Were Willing (and one other sleaze title I’ve yet to blog about), I’ve acquired another four of the buggers, which only goes to show (yet again) what a hopeless case I am.
All the Girls Were Willing was an eBay win, so in my defence I suppose I could say that I was swept up in the excitement of the auction; plus I didn’t end up paying very much for it, and the cover art on this first printing—the novel was reissued in 1962 with different cover art under the title What Girls Will Do (Midwood #166)—by an uncredited Paul Rader, is rather nice. Question is, inveterate collector that I am, now that I own the first two instalments in the Phil Crawford trilogy, do I try and collect the third one, Sin Prowl, which is the scarcest one of all? The inevitable answer being, with a weary sigh of resignation: probably, if I ever come across it. Er, so to speak.
Here’s an interesting story I discovered amongst the stacks of articles marking the passing of Joan Rivers.
It’s told by Roger L. Simon, novelist and screenwriter. Simon is best known as a novelist for his series of Moses Wine detective novels (which, I’m ashamed to say, have never made it off my TBR pile despite being on there for a decade or more), the first of which is The Big Fix. Simon also wrote the screenplay to the movie adaptation of The Big Fix, which came out in 1978 and starred Richard Dreyfuss. (Incidentally, Simon started on the Left, but developed into a sort-of conservative, while Dreyfuss stayed very firmly on the Left. Despite this political difference, Dreyfuss was kind enough to write the introduction to the latest edition of The Big Fix.)
As a screenwriter, Simon’s most famous credits are likely Bustin’ Loose, starring Richard Pryor, and Scenes From a Mall, starring Woody Allen and Bette Midler, directed by the recently-passed Paul Mazursky.
It was the former that got Simon this gig:
It’s the very early eighties and, as it goes in Hollywood, I’m in one of my intermittent hot periods, having just written Bustin’ Loose for Richard Pryor, ergo the powers that be thought I could be funny. (I’m not altogether sure they were right.) I got what was then a dream job, writing a script for Lily Tomlin. The premise was that Lily would play a “psychic detective” based on an Italian-American woman in New Jersey who was then doing clairvoyant investigations for the police. I met the woman. Lily told me she wanted me to write her as if she were Al Pacino. Cool, I thought.
It’s a very Hollywood story, and, rather than steal the whole piece, I’ll let him tell it here. The short version is, Tomlin got fired because the Powers That Be didn’t think she was a box office draw. Instead, they hired Joan Rivers. Simon went to meet with Rivers and it didn’t go well. Rather than being allowed to do rewrites with Rivers in mind, he was removed from the project.
The end of the story?
Joan had the good taste to hire the late Donald Westlake, one of the finest mystery writers in America, to rewrite me. But as you may not be surprised to learn, as with many Hollywood projects, the movie was never made.
So there’s a lost Westlake screenplay for someone to track down!
Rest in peace, Joan Rivers.
As regular readers know, one of my favorite series of paperback originals is the Destroyer, created by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir. They made a movie version once, Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins, but it wasn’t a big enough hit to get a sequel, even though everyone who lived through the ’80s seems to have seen it. An attempt was made to go small-screen and turn it into a TV series. One godawful pilot aired (with different actors in the lead roles) and that was that for Remo and Chiun’s film careers, something that no doubt upset Chiun mightily.
After years of rumors and a trickle of solid-sounding news, something that means almost nothing in Hollywood, a new Destroyer movie has been officially announced. This time, it’s as solid as can be, because the director is Shane Black. Shane Black wrote and directed Iron Man 3, which grossed over $400 million in the States and $1.2 billion worldwide. A success like that means Shane Black can do anything he wants for his next movie, and Mr. Black wants to do the Destroyer.
The tales of Remo Williams and his master in the assassin’s art of Sinanju, the incorrigible Chiun, ran to nearly 150 novels before finally fading away in the early 2000s. The series was revived as The New Destroyer for Tor books a few years later, but that series didn’t take off with buyers (perhaps due to really ugly cover art). That was a real pity, because one of those volumes, Dead Reckoning, was one of the best yet in a series with lots of great entries.
Warren Murphy owns the rights to his characters, so he has published a couple of novellas, one novel, and two in a series of Young Adult-ish spinoffs through his own imprint, but my gut tells me they probably haven’t sold much beyond the series’ hardcore following. I feared that my beloved Remo and Chiun would fade away forever, relegated in most people’s minds to a bit of trivia about an ’80s movie.
Enter Shane Black and some interesting history. Black’s first produced screenplay was for a little movie called Lethal Weapon. You may have seen it. If you have, you’ll recall that it’s about a pair of cops, one black and one white.
Those cops bore a striking resemblance to a couple of cops in a five-book series by Warren Murphy named Razoni and Jackson. According to legend, Murphy’s lawyers made some noises and the deal struck was that Murphy would work on the screenplay for Lethal Weapon 2 as compensation.
And now Shane Black wants to do the Destroyer, so he really is a fan of Mr. Murphy’s work.
Black is not writing this one, though. And this is where the news gets really good. Not because he couldn’t write a good screenplay, but because of what it tells us about this movie.
One of the screenwriters is Jim Uhls, best known for writing Fight Club. The other is a fellow named James Mullaney.
There are probably only three people who know the characters of Remo and Chiun almost as well as Murphy and the late Dick Sapir. Those are Murphy’s ex-wife, Molly Cochran, who ghosted several entries, Will Murray, who ghosted many, and James Mullaney, who ghosted the last great run of the original series and earned cover credit for The New Destroyer, the only person other than Murphy and Sapir to get cover credit when the series was mass market.
Jim Mullaney is beloved by fans of the series. His selection means that they are making a real Destroyer movie. And from what we know about Shane Black, he wants to make a real Destroyer movie. They are going to make every effort to make Remo and Chiun the real Remo and Chiun.
Mullaney confirms this via Facebook: “[E]verybody on EVERY level is on the same page as to what a Destroyer film should be.”
I liked Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins, despite it’s devastating weakness of an utterly lame villain. But back in the ’80s it would have been difficult to capture Remo and Chiun’s wilder adventures and physical feats. As far as wilder adventures go, it is thought by many that the shape-shifting T-1000 from Terminator 2: Judgment Day was inspired by series supervillain Mr. Gordons. As far as physical feats go, more than one person believes The Matrix has some Destroyer influence in at as well. Things like those weren’t going to happen back when Fred Ward and Joel Grey gave it a go. They can happen now.
And maybe the series of novels can be fully revived? A man can dream.
I’m thrilled about the flick happening in the right hands, and I’m extra-thrilled for Jim Mullaney. Since the Destroyer gig ended, he’s been writing two series, the Red Menace and Crag Banyon. The books are a lot of fun, but I doubt they are making him rich. We are Facebook friends, and he’s a nice, funny guy who shares my love of Warren Zevon. He has spent his time in the trenches doing great work for the characters I love, and he has earned this opportunity by dint of well over a decade’s worth of hard labor and quality output. Congratulations, Jim!
I reviewed the debut entries in Mullaney’s Red Menace and Crag Banyon series here. I may have a couple more Banyon reviews for you in the near future.
I look at a recent Destroyer novella, Savage Song, here.
If you read the Hollywood Report article I linked, you already know that Shane Black is also likely to bring another one of my series heroes back to life–Doc Savage. Former Destroyer ghost Will Murray currently pens the adventures of Doc Savage.
The Destroyer is the second biggest men’s adventure series. The first is, of course, Mack Bolan, the Executioner. He is also coming to film, with Bradley Cooper set to star.
When I was tweeting this news out last night, I said the screenplay was by George Uhl. Too much time spent in the Parker-verse. Wallace Stroby called me out on it.
As you may not be aware because I did not give it nearly the coverage I should have, Darwyn Cooke and IDW Publishing have launched a companion line to their highly successful line of comic book adaptations of the Parker novels. They will be reprinting the original Richard Stark novels, each with ten full-color plates by Darwyn himself.
“That’s great!”, you say, “But I’ve already got a couple of copies of The Hunter. Do I need to buy this, too?”
Everyone’s circumstances are different, of course, but let’s have a look-see and maybe I can help you decide.
The appropriately stark red dust jacket declares this to be the “first hardcover edition of the classic novel.” That’s not technically true, but it’s close enough. There was a Gregg Press hardcover, but that was pretty much sold only to libraries so it isn’t like you could go to a bookstore and buy it, and there was a UK Alison & Busby hardcover as Point Blank, but that didn’t do you much good if you lived in the USA. So it is the first hardcover available to the general public in the United States.
Excitingly, the spine says “Volume 1.” I know IDW has said they are going to do the set, but that drives it home.
The back features an illustration, based on a photo I have not seen before, of a young Donald Westlake.
The endpapers will be familiar to anyone who has purchased the graphic novel adaptations, tying these editions to those.
The pages are printed on high-quality, acid-free, blindingly white paper. This book is built to last.
There is a short and touching introduction from Darwyn Cooke, providing a little background while keeping it quick for readers who are likely eager to get to the good stuff.
And now, the moment we’ve all been waiting for–we get to our plates!
You can see the first one atop this post, titled “Go to hell,” and illustrating a scene that needs no introduction for most of the folks reading this. If you’ve read Darwyn’s comic book adaptations (and if you haven’t, what’s wrong with you?), you’ll immediately note that he’s opted for a more realistic style than he did in the comic books. This is an important and excellent decision. Illustrations in the same style as the comic books may have made it seem like he was simply recycling art. This lets you know that you’re buying a whole new creation.
In selecting what to illustrate, Cooke picked a nice combination of brooding noir scenes and explosive action. Parker sits on the bed with a cigarette next to the corpse of an overdosed Lynn. Parker runs and fires his weapon during the heist that sets the events of the novel into motion. Mal Resnick waits alone, in fear. Parker tells Bronson, “I’ll be seeing you.”
As I’m sure you can guess by now, the plates are on beautiful, high-gloss paper, continuing IDW’s admirable commitment to quality for the Parker line.
I think this edition of The Hunter is a steal at the $20 or so you’ll pay at an online retailer, and even at the $30 MSRP if those discounts go away. For the price of the latest New York Times hardcover bestseller, you get a handsome edition of this classic, wonderfully illustrated, made from top-notch material in every regard. It looks great on my bookshelf, and it will look great on yours.
(If you have any questions about the book, drop a line in the comments and I’ll happily answer.)
PS: On Twitter, Alexander P. points out a Point Blank homage in one of the plates.
I’ve occasionally been awful about posting covers that readers have sent me.
OK, I’ve been worse than awful. This one is from four years ago from longtime reader Matthew A., just stumbled across in my inbox.
But it’s here now, and added to the cover gallery for The Black Ice Score.
The real treat here is the prose on the inside cover (or whatever you call it).
He is the man with the look of wildness in his eyes and animal strength in his limbs. He kills men as you or I would kill flies. They call him Parker. Call not called. No-one will ever catch Parker, for in his mean, dark world he is almost a god.
Really–who the hell wrote that?!? That’s crazy over-the-top!
DIVER JAMES McGREGOR
IS USED TO
EXPLORING SUNKEN SHIPS
But there’s something strange about the wreck of the luxury yacht GRAVE DESCEND. No one who was aboard tells quite the same story about what happened. And then there’s the matter of the mysterious cargo they wre carrying…
In one of the most beautiful places on Earth, a sinister plot is about to unfold. And if McGregor’s not careful, he may find himself in over his head.
In his early days, Michael Crichton published eight novels under the nom de plume John Lange. He described them this way (via the official Michael Crichton site):
“My feeling about the Lange books is that my competition is in-flight movies, ” said Crichton. “One can read the books in an hour and a half, and be more satisfactorily amused than watching Doris Day. I write them fast and the reader reads them fast and I get things off my back.”
Our friends at Hard Case Crime reprinted two of these novels toward the end of Crichton’s life under the Lange pen name, and have recently reprinted all eight for the first time under Crichton’s name. Grave Descend is the seventh of the Lange books.
Grave Descend is an old-school pulp tale, at least a twenty-year throwback already in 1970 when it was published. John Lange doesn’t bother with character development, and that’s quite intentional. Our protagonist, James McGregor, is no white knight, but he’s being sucked into a plot by bad actors, and that’s all you need to know. Any more would leave less room for barroom brawls, ocelots, spearguns, alligators, gun battles, hammerhead sharks, explosions, femmes fatales, and ambushes in the book’s scant length.
Lange has two goals–keep the intrigue up and keep the action moving, with an emphasis on the latter. He is also more successful at the latter, which helps a lot with the great flaws in the former. It’s a Saturday matinee cliffhanger serial for a slightly older crowd, designed to toss up excitement and plot twists at such a dizzying pace that there is little time to contemplate that the master scheme being executed behind the scenes is needlessly complicated and doesn’t make a lot of sense.
This was a nominee for the Edgar Award, which might give you the impression that this is a great mystery. This isn’t a great mystery, or even a good one, but it is a lot of fun in this era of bloated page counts. Sometimes you just want a rollicking adventure, logic be damned. Grave Descend is definitely that.
(Editions image swiped from Gravetapping, which has lots of other good stuff for genre fans.)
The Twitter Digest plugin I had been using for this weekly roundup broke back in January. I have spent hours trying to get it going again and trying to find an alternative, but I couldn’t and I didn’t. This is a bummer, because it was easy content and I know people enjoyed the threads.
This will teach me about switching to the latest version of WordPress just because WordPress insists that I should.
I’ll keep my fingers crossed that the developer of Twitter Digest eventually releases a new version or that someone develops an alternative. In the meantime, I will try to do this manually.
Here is some stuff that would have appeared in the news roundup had the feature been working for the past six months.
I don’t suppose there’s any way to write this post and not mention that Chris Lyons and I have had our differences in the past. Some of them spilled out into public, and they were sometimes not pretty. However, his take on things Westlake is always interesting (even if I strenuously disagree with it from time to time) and he’s a fine writer. We hosted an essay of his on Parker (part one of which is here) for those very reasons.
A few months back, he started a new site devoted to the world of Donald Westlake, The Westlake Review, and it’s a welcome addition to the world of Westlakeiana. Christopher’s essays are, in general, a more in-depth approach to the books than you will generally find at The Violent World of Parker–getting a BA in English cured me of the desire to write in-depth analyses forever, although I still do on occasion, and Nick sometimes dives in deep. With the wedding and all, I’ve barely had time to delve into his archives, but now that I’m back and diving into this sort of thing again, I love what I’ve read so far.
No surprise there. I’ve added The Westlake Review to our links on the sidebar, and will be a regular visitor. You should be, too.