Parker still looking for payback

Archetypal anti-hero headed to the screen again

He's been portrayed on film by Lee Marvin and Mel Gibson. Later this year, he'll be both a comic book character and a woman. His name is Parker, and he's one of the most compellingly amoral anti-heroes in crime fiction.

Parker is the protagonist (“hero” is definitely the wrong word) of The Hunter, a remarkable crime novel published in 1962 by “Richard Stark” (actually a pseudonym for award-winning novelist Donald E. Westlake, who passed away last New Year's Eve at the age of 75). The Hunter famously begins with merciless career criminal Parker walking into Manhattan, possessing nothing but the clothes on his back, yet determined to get revenge on the ex-partner who betrayed him and the ex-wife who shot him and left him for dead. Then, he single-handedly takes on the Mafia, reasoning that he's still owed payment for his last heist.

If the plot sounds familiar, it's because it's been filmed twice; first as Point Blank (1967) starring Marvin, and again as Payback (1999) starring Mad Mel. Fans of these films might be surprised by the ruthless ferocity of the print character compared to the more human movie incarnations.

In 2009, Parker is slated to make two rather unusual appearances in the pop culture landscape. First, the 1966 Jean-Luc Godard film Made in U.S.A. (with Anna Karina as a female version of Parker) will receive its first-ever home video release courtesy of the Criterion Collection. Second, a fantastic-looking comic book adaptation of The Hunter, adapted and illustrated by Darwyn Cooke, is set to come out this summer.

Stark's prose is as spare and efficient as his (fake) name suggests. All 24 Parker novels tend to be quite short, but any other novelist would have needed twice the page count to tell the same story. These tales are highly addictive, and reading one leads to an urgent need to read another. Fortunately, the first six Parker novels (The Hunter, The Man with the Getaway Face, The Outfit, The Mourner, The Score and The Jugger) have been recently reprinted in paperback, with the latter three books hitting bookstores a few weeks ago. This is great news for longtime fans and new readers alike, all of whom should also check out the excellent fan website for more info on the terrifying brute.

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