Introduction to the Gregg Press Edition of The Man With the Getaway Face

From the Gregg Press edition, copyright 1981


My friend and occasional mentor, Donald E. Westlake, is an innovator.  Thus far in his career he has created not one, but two types of modern mystery-suspense novels and unless someone steals his typewriter, hell probably invent a third.  As a hundred imitators can tell you, Mr. Westlake is the creator and funniest practitioner of the comic-mystery wherein an appealingly buffoonish, thoroughly unassuming hero shambles through a plot that would make an ordinary man’s teeth fall out, and emerges holding the hand of the attractive woman who got him into trouble in the first place.  (Dortmunder fans will quibble about May’s appearance, but she does bring home groceries and must be, if you stop and think about it, a beautifully romantic creature to cherish qualities in Dortmunder that a literal-minded observer might overlook.)

Parker novels are Westlake’s second modern type.  Writing as Richard Stark, he gave us a new kind of hero–a strong, taciturn and singleminded villain.  But a thousand imitators can tell you that’s not as easy as it sounds because Parker is not an anti-hero.  There is nothing anti about Parker.  He knows what he wants and goes out and gets it.  Secondly, the other characters in the Parker novels have desires, shortcomings, and sometimes a heroism of their own.  But where the reader sees vividly drawn, interesting human beings, Parker sees obstructions.

His whole world is people by obstructions, which is logical since making a living stealing things does go against the grain.  That doesn’t mean you don’t like Parker.  In fact you like him a lot because he does exactly what has to be done, and only what has to be done, and if he can’t figure out what to do, he thinks about it.  The proof is that unlike the Exacerbator-Demolisher-Obliterator-crowd, Parker does not kill automatically.  He kills, to be sure–often so suddenly that you feel you’ve been shot–but he kills when nothing else is practical.

The Man with the Getaway Face (1963) is the second novel of the ongoing Parker series and we readers are treated to an early look at the bones and blood that go into making a unique character grow.  Stark and Parker are still getting used to each other and every now and then Parker says something that delights an old fan.

An amateur insists that they need five men to heist an armored car and Parker deadpans, “You want to lay a siege and starve them out?”  Other times he turns almost garrulous, where in a later book we know he’ll think the same thing while smoking cigarettes for many hours in a dark room.  Parker’s being born and we’re there to watch.

And therein lies another surprise.  He’s been around a long time.  In the first novel, The Hunter (1962), we meet Parker striding across the George Washington Bridge.  But in The Man with the Getaway Face, those of Richard Stark’s friends and readers who haven’t noticed how low their canines are dragging, will be amazed to discover that plot elements hinge upon the fact that the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge hadn’t been built when the novel was written and that the only way off the New York side of Staten Island was by ferryboat.

The best marvel, however, is that while Parker matured rapidly, he never got stale.  Vivid detail infected the novels from the start.  The outcast’s sense of living in rented rooms and driving borrowed trucks and other people’s cars was strong from the beginning, as were Stark’s favorite themes–the clash of hope and doubt, fear and greed, and the practicality of honor among thieves and by extension the rest of us.  Parker remains a good heist man because he works hard and keeps his word.  He remains interesting because Richard Stark does the same.

Justin Scott
New York City