Inside the new hardcover edition of The Hunter

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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.

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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.

News for week ending 2014-07-20 (open thread)

Added to the cover gallery: The Black Ice Score, 1972 Coronet edition

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!

Black Ice 1972 - Front Black Ice 1972 - Inside Black Ice 1972 - Inside Back Black Ice 1972 - Back

Hard Case Crime review: Grave Descend by John Lange (AKA Michael Crichton) (#26/MC7)

26 - Grave Descend by John Lange

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.

MC7 - Grave Descend by Michael Crichton, with bonus covers

(Editions image swiped from Gravetapping, which has lots of other good stuff for genre fans.)

News for half-year ending 2014-07-12 (open thread)

Hello, folks!

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.

 

 

New Donald Westlake blog: The Westlake Review

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.

Trailer for A Walk Among the Tombstones

A Walk Among the Tombstones cover

I’m a bit late to the party on this, so maybe you’ve seen it already, but below is the trailer to the upcoming film adaptation of Lawrence Block’s Matthew Scudder novel, A Walk Among the Tombstones, starring Liam Neeson as Scudder. Lawrence Block has a cameo.

This is one I have not yet read, so I can’t comment on how close it looks like it hews to the book. It does look like they got the origin story right, though.

It looks like they’re trying for a dark, serious film. Fingers crossed!

(Thanks to cluelo for the tip. Book cover illustrating this post of an inscribed copy is from my personal collection, suckaz!)

New York Crimes

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I look rather the dork in this photo–we don’t have the professional pictures back yet, so we are having to suffice with whatever guests took on their camera phones–but no matter how well I photographed, I was never going to shine in comparison, was I?

After the craziest year and half of my life, which saw me go from unemployed and single to working a great job and married to a wonderful woman, I believe I finally have a chance to take a deep breath and relax, and, more important for your purposes, do some reading and writing, and put some work into the site. Thank you all for your patience, and thanks as always to Nick for his contributions during this exhausting and exhilarating period.

Now that the wedding and honeymoon are over, I should be back to regular posting of Westlakeiana, coverage of crime fiction and related genres, and occasional asides soon enough. Allow me one of those asides right now, to tell you a little about my honeymoon. (Not too much!)

We went to New York City. Although I’ve traveled extensively in this great country, I had somehow never been there before. Being new to it, I wanted to hit up the things that every tourist does (the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, Central Park, Greenwich Village, a museum or two, &c.), but I did manage to squeeze in a couple of genre-related things along the way.

We made it to the Empire State Building, where King Kong briefly reigned and where I got to go to the 86th floor where Doc Savage’s headquarters used to be. From there, you can see the Chrysler Building, where Doc’s headquarters were in that bad 1975 movie. We went late at night, which is the way to do it as the crowds were minimal and the view of the city at night is spectacular. We also bought top deck tickets, which were worth the extra money.

Coverage (I hope) coming soon

Coverage coming soon (I hope)

We also made it to Otto Penzler’s Mysterious Bookshop, where Mysterious Press, publisher of many books by Donald Westlake and his friends, is also headquartered. I did not get to meet Mr. Penzler, although I did see him exiting at the end of the business day from my perch at the bar across the street, he being completely unaware that he was being watched. (I wasn’t actually stalking him–the window seat was where the electrical outlet was for a badly needed phone charge.)

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Lack of money on my part (weddings are expensive!) and lack of interest on my bride’s part (crime is not her genre) kept me from staying at the Mysterious Bookshop for too long, although I did stay long enough to pick up my first inscribed Donald Westlake book.

Inscribed Backflash title page
I chose Backflash both because its price was modest relative to many of the inscribed Richard Stark and Parker volumes, and because it is a personal favorite.

The following day, we had the pleasure of breakfasting with Mr. Levi Stahl. Levi is the fellow at the University of Chicago Press responsible for getting the Richard Stark novels back into print. He also blogs at I’ve Been Reading Lately, and, speaking of lately (as in, “What have you done for me…”), is the editor of the forthcoming anthology of Donald Westlake’s nonfiction, The Getaway Car.

Westlake-Getaway-Car-Cover
We only had a short visit together, as he was in NYC on business and his first appointment of the day was coming up on him quickly, but what time we did have was very enjoyable. I look forward to seeing him again when we have more of it at our disposal.

We did not talk much about his new book and the making thereof, as our time was so limited and I wanted to save those questions for a more extensive interview to be presented here closer to publication date. I have not yet finished reading my advance copy of the book, as I’m savoring it bit by bit, but I’ve read enough to be able to tell you that you need it. In fact, I could have told you that before I read any of it, and you probably knew that without my having to tell you. We’ll have a full review when the time comes.

The Getaway Car: A Donald Westlake Nonfiction Miscellany is scheduled for release on September 24.

So now that I’m out of excuses, what do we have coming up? Planned for the near term, I’ve got a couple of books I’d like to tell you about, a musical aside that will be of interest to at least some of our readers, and a Parker artifact I’ve rescued from obscurity. I will also be getting caught up on correspondence (if you’ve written, I’m sorry!), as well as reviving the Twitter account and weekly news roundups. And that’s in addition to whatever great stuff Nick has for us.

Thank you all for your patience and continued patronage. It’s good to be back.

Westlake on Highsmith, in The Getaway Car

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NB: A version of this post also appears at Existential Ennui.

Four years ago on Existential Ennui I posted a review of Ripley Under Ground, Roger Spottiswoode’s 2005 film adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s second Tom Ripley novel. Much as I love Highsmith’s source text—indeed the Ripliad as a whole—I wasn’t terribly keen on the film; the dreadfully miscast Barry Pepper’s performance as Tom Ripley left a lot to be desired, and the way the filmmakers eviscerated Tom’s character, excising his murderous background, for me fatally undermined the entire enterprise. I didn’t blame anyone in particular for any of this, but I did make note of one of the people at least in part responsible: Donald E. Westlake.

Westlake is credited as co-writer of the screenplay for Ripley Under Ground—with William Blake Herron—but at that point I was only dimly aware of who Westlake was; I hadn’t yet read anything by him, although I was just about to, namely The Hunter, alias Point Blank—the first Parker novel (written, of course, as Richard Stark), and the first of many Westlake books I would read over the ensuing years. One of the most recent being this:

Westlake-Getaway-Car-Cover

The Getaway Car, the forthcoming (in September) Westlake non-fiction miscellany put together by Levi Stahl of the University of Chicago Press. Levi kindly arranged for me to be sent an uncorrected page proof of the book, which I’ve been dipping in and out of since it arrived the other week; I expect I’ll review it in full nearer the pub date, but I was drawn in particular to a piece to do with Westlake’s experiences on Ripley Under Ground—partly because Patricia Highsmith has been on my mind of late (I reviewed two inscribed copies of her short story collections recently, and have further posts on her planned), but also because it sheds a little light on what may have gone wrong with the film and on what Westlake made of Highsmith—i.e., what one of my favourite authors, responsible for one of the two most brilliant series of novels to feature a conscienceless criminal ever written, made of another of my favourite authors, responsible for the other most brilliant series of novels to feature a conscienceless criminal ever written (IMHO).

It’s part of a longer piece titled “The Worst Happens,” which comprises a selection of Westlake quotes from an interview by Patrick McGilligan (originally published in Sight and Sound in 1990 and then later expanded for Backstory 4: Interviews with Screenwriters of the 1970s and 1980s) in which Westlake expatiates on other writers’ adaptations of his own work (The Hot Rock, The Outfit) and his own adaptations of other people’s work (The Grifters). Westlake calls Ripley Under Ground—or rather “Mr. Ripley’s Return” as the film was apparently known to Westlake—”one of the odder episodes,” going on to recount how he “was delighted to take a crack at the book,” and that his “first draft . . . attracted Michael Tolkin to direct . . . [who] had some lovely ideas, details of menace and suspense for the second draft, which I wrote, and then never heard from them again.”

Over a decade later the film was made with no further involvement from Westlake (or indeed Tolkin), who had “no idea what happened to the script over the last eleven years” but who agreed to a shared credit in order to receive, on top of belated payment for his work, “a potential production bonus.” This despite the fact that, as Westlake memorably puts it, “[n]o one [from the production] has contacted me directly. I am merely that truck-stop waitress in Amarillo they fucked in 1992. That’s okay. I think highly of them, too. Someone working on the set of the movie—I think it was shot in France, but don’t know for sure—said it wasn’t coming out well, which could merely be schadenfreude.”

Highsmith_Ripley_Ground

As entertaining as all of this is, however, much more interesting to me are Westlake’s thoughts on the source novel and on Highsmith herself:

I’ve always loved the deadpanness of Highsmith, and I thought it reached a peak in that book. The guy Ripley is tormenting, in his passive-aggressive way, suddenly turns around, smashes Ripley’s head with a shovel, and buries him in Ripley’s own garden. Ripley survives, comes up out of the grave later that night, takes a nice hot tub, patches his cut parts, and then what does he do? Call the cops? No. Shoot the guy? No. He haunts the guy for the next one hundred pages of the book, appearing and disappearing in windows, stuff like that.

I’ve long wondered whether Westlake read Highsmith—I mean beyond Ripley Under Ground, which for obvious reasons I figured he must have read at least—so it’s nice to find that he did and that he loved her “deadpanness.” I’ve yet to discover whether Highsmith read Westlake, but something I did learn was that almost certainly the two never met. Westlake told McGilligan: “I was delighted to take a crack at the book, and I didn’t mind Highsmith’s weirdness and repulsiveness, because I wasn’t going to meet her or deal with her; that was the ground rule.”

Westlake Score: Two Much!

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NB: A version of this post also appears at Existential Ennui.

My (cross-)posting of this particular Westlake Score was prompted by a newspaper article I noticed last month. I actually bought the book in question—the British first edition of Donald E. Westlake’s Two Much!, published in hardback by Hodder & Stoughton in 1976, the year after the U.S. M. Evans edition—on a whim on Amazon Marketplace at the tail end of 2012 and have had it sitting on my to-be-blogged-about shelves ever since; the Hodder edition is incredibly scarce, and it’s hard for me to resist scarce books—especially Westlake ones—when I encounter them. That said, Two Much! doesn’t number among Westlake’s more celebrated works; pretty much the only reputable reviews of the novel readily available online are this glib Kirkus Reviews one and Ethan Iverson’s capsule review as part of his “A Storyteller That Got the Details Right” essay (Ethan places it in Westlake’s canon as “probably the darkest of all the humorous crime novels”). It’s perhaps better known for its 1995 Hollywood film adaptation—which in turn is arguably better known for the on-set romance which developed between co-stars Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith—and for its 1984 French film adaptation, Le Jumeau (The Twin).

Westlake-Two-Much-case

All of which was why I was quite surprised when it cropped up in a Guardian article in March. Written by author Stephen May and titled “The Top 10 Imposters in Fiction”, the article caught my eye principally due to a mention of Tom Ripley in its standfirst. Being, as I am, a Ripley obsessive, naturally I took a look to see which of Patricia Highsmith’s five Tom Ripley novels had been included (the first, The Talented Mr. Ripley, unsurprisingly; you could make just as strong a case for Ripley Under Ground, but May does at least nod to the greater Ripliad), and there, in the number two position (appropriately enough), was Two Much! It’s difficult to tell whether May has read any other Westlake works besides Two Much!—or indeed Two Much! itself; he does little more than recount the plot—but he’s obviously aware of Westlake’s wider oeuvre, noting that the author “published books under at least 16 names.”

Westlake-Two-Much-back

To my knowledge this (cross-)post marks the online debut of the Hodder hardback’s dust jacket; I’d certainly not seen it prior to getting my hands on the book, not even on either AbeBooks—not least because at present there isn’t a single copy for sale there (and only one other copy that I can see for sale online anywhere, making it possibly the rarest of all the Hodder hardback editions of Westlake’s novels)—nor at the official Donald E. Westlake website. The jacket design isn’t credited, but the designer evidently took a cue from the M. Evans wrapper (image borrowed from the official Westlake site):

Westlake-two_much_US

Except to my mind the Hodder jacket isn’t as well executed. Because while the Evans jacket clearly shows a risque greetings card—the writing of which being the narrator of the novel’s profession—it’s much less obvious, at least to my eye, that that’s what we’re supposed to be seeing on the Hodder cover. Still, given how uncommon the Hodder first is—as opposed to the Evans first, of which there are getting on for fifty copies on AbeBooks alone—I know which I’d rather have in my collection.

UPDATE, 11/4/14: The front of the jacket of the Hodder edition of Two Much! has now been added to the Existential Ennui British Thriller Book Cover Design of the 1970s and 1980s gallery.