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A Crime Filled Reading List Tangent—Mainlining Richard Stark’s ‘Parker’ Series

So, one thing led to another and I may have read four Parker books instead of just the one I planned on for May.

Now, in my defense, some of the other books I wanted to read had wait-lists with the library… and also, they’re all around only 200 pages, so they’re quick reads.

And they’re everything I thought they’d be—the only surprising thing is how unintentionally funny Parker is; throughout all the books Parker is constantly interacting with people who want to be around him, want to work with him, want his attention, want to hire him—and he just wants to be left alone. He wants to plan his job, do the job, not get double crossed, and then go off alone to live off his take. And that never happens.

I had only ever read the first couple volumes of Darwyn Cook’s incredible graphic novel adaptations, and seen the film versions of “The Hunter”, ‘Point Blank’ with Lee Marvin, and ‘Payback’ with Mel Gibson (which Point Blank’s director once remarked read like a script him that Lee Marvin had thrown out of his window in fury at its awfulness, and that a young Mel Gibson must have been passing by, and picked it up.)

After enjoying all these adaptations I’ve been loving actually getting to dig into the originals.

Rabbit Holes and Reading Lists

I’ve been a little behind filling out my reading checklists, mostly because I’ve been having a hard time reading or listening to books and really concentrating on what’s happening.

Two of the books I’ve read this month, “The Thin Man” and “Eight Perfect Murders” I’ve had to go back and listen to chapters over and over.

Finishing a book is a little difficult when you have to reread a chapter six times before it sinks in.

And it wasn’t the books themselves either—true, I didn’t care much for “The Thin Man”, I mentioned that the other day. But “Eight Perfect Murders” was fantastic and I highly recommend it for anyone looking for a well plotted, well paced mystery.

Not only did it revolve around a great list of thrillers (and their film or stage adaptations) that would keep any reader busy for a while, but in general it would make anyone who loves books want to dive right into a used bookstore and stay there for a few days.

Getting over (or trying to) my mental reading block I’ve at least filled out my May checklist. I also have plenty of backups of course, because only amateurs bring just enough books.

Of course, I’ve already gone down a detective fiction rabbit hole as I tend to do lately, and my list might be a little shot.

That’s ok though, a few of the titles I have on here might not be available through my library for several weeks, so I have enough time to read a bunch of Richard Stark’s ‘Parker’ series and maybe even read Raymond Chandler’s “The Big Sleep” back-to-back with Robert Kroese’s “The Big Sheep”.

I assume that’s how Chandler intended it to be read, right?

Follow me on Goodreads to see what else I’m reading or interested in, or to give me some suggestions from what you’re reading…

Reading Donald Westlake’s ‘361’

361 / “Look up 361 in any Thesaurus and you’ll find this: ‘Destruction of life; violent death; killing.’ “

361 Donald Westlake original cover by  Denis McLoughlinI picked up a handful of Hard Case Crime books on clearance, a couple of the authors being ones I recognized, but they sat on the shelf for a couple years before I got around to reading one of them. I started Donald Westlake’s “361” mainly because it was the one sitting closest to me while I was having some computer issues.  A few bugs had caused serious delays in my computer’s ability to even idle without freezing, so while I tried to troubleshoot that, I needed something to do.

Being in a significant reading slump the last few months, I didn’t have much faith in Westlake’s ability to keep me engaged.  Nothing I picked up interested me, and nothing I was reading already seemed worth grabbing.  This would do, I thought, for a momentary distraction while my computer struggled to open a single web page.  But I was wrong.  This was perfect.  This was just what I needed.

The jacket gave away the setup, but that only heightened the suspense as Westlake’s narrator, Ray Kelly, walked you through the first chapter.  I’ve missed this style of writing, the rough and to the point pulp narration.  Kelly himself has no patience for people throughout the book, and it comes across in everything he does and relays to the reader.

As the history of the plot unfolds you can feel the tension and mystery of all the directions it could go, the uncertainty of the Ray Kelly as he pushes forward through what he’s being told, struggling to sort out the lies, the misdirection, the motives that led to his blinding, his father’s death and destruction of the family he thought was his.

What sets this apart from the other pulp novels I’ve read is that Ray didn’t choose this course for himself in the sense that he isn’t a professional detective or criminal.  He was just a guy who was discharged from the Air Force, happy to be reunited with his father and heading home.

361 Donald Westlake Hard Case CrimeIn a way, that makes Ray just like Ed Johnson, the private detective who tries to help him but is (as perhaps as the most realistically written private detective in the history of pulps novels) terrifyingly out of his league when he learns his client is getting involved with violent criminals; and Eddie Kapp, the gangster who holds the secret to the death of Ray’s father, and who until Ray came along was content to retire to Florida and leave the underworld behind.

But where Johnson refuses to push on and leaves Ray on his own, and Kapp throws himself gleefully back into the New York mob scene, Ray is simply a scared, hurt man, who has had everything taken from him.  He wants justice and is willing to do whatever is necessary to achieve it.

Unlike the characters in similar books who suddenly find themselves at home in the darkness where their vengeance lies hidden, Ray has no interest in that life.  He’s simply a man who wants to go home, but is willing to kill any man who tries to stop him.

Follow me on Goodreads for more reviews and to see what else I’m reading….

Thanks to the Violent World of Parker for explaining the title and sharing the original cover art.

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