Why Should I Read?...
Richard Stark, 1962
“Richard Stark” is a pseudonym of the prolific Donald E. Westlake, and whichever name he writes under, he’s worth reading. For me, though, the twenty or so Stark novels, of which Point Blank is the first, are the best of the bunch.
The protagonist of the stories is Parker (he doesn’t have a first name, which would be an unnecessary frivolity). He’s a career criminal who defines “amoral”: he murders, robs, extorts as the need takes him. His job is crime, and he’s a thorough professional. The people he works with are not always so proficient, and his heists usually come unstuck at some point, often when members of the gang try to double-cross each other.
Creating sympathy for such an anti-hero is a difficult business, but Stark’s technical mastery pulls it off. The cool narrative tone doesn’t give us anything in the way of interior monologue: when we see Parker thinking, it’s about the practicalities of his heist, so the reader too is sucked in at that level. We are not invited to judge Parker, just to watch him—and we come to respect someone who’s very good at what he does. And he is amoral rather than immoral: he doesn’t kill for kicks, only when it’s “necessary” (i.e. to help him get what he wants). When we see the police, which is rarely, they are invariably buffoons, corrupt, or both. There is no-one to root for but Parker.
The Parker books are very much in a line of descent from the hard-boiled mid-century writers like
One last observation: the Parker novels are short (normally around 200 pages). There are no frills at all. The grim practicality of Parker’s existence is reflected in the utilitarianism of Stark’s prose. It’s a perfect match.
How has it influenced me?
Lessons for the aspiring writer
Nice guys don’t always make the best protagonists
You can write satisfying stories in which crime pays
Choosing a narrative voice which supports the protagonist’s character is essential
You can get away with telling the reader almost nothing about your protagonist’s inner life