The Mourner (Parker Series #4)

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Overview

You probably haven’t ever noticed them. But they’ve noticed you. They notice everything. That’s their job. Sitting quietly in a nondescript car outside a bank making note of the tellers’ work habits, the positions of the security guards. Lagging a few car lengths behind the Brinks truck on its daily rounds. Surreptitiously jiggling the handle of an unmarked service door at the racetrack.

They’re thieves. Heisters, to be precise. They’re pros, and Parker is far and away the best ...

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The Mourner (Parker Series #4)

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Overview

You probably haven’t ever noticed them. But they’ve noticed you. They notice everything. That’s their job. Sitting quietly in a nondescript car outside a bank making note of the tellers’ work habits, the positions of the security guards. Lagging a few car lengths behind the Brinks truck on its daily rounds. Surreptitiously jiggling the handle of an unmarked service door at the racetrack.

They’re thieves. Heisters, to be precise. They’re pros, and Parker is far and away the best of them. If you’re planning a job, you want him in. Tough, smart, hardworking, and relentlessly focused on his trade, he is the heister’s heister, the robber’s robber, the heavy’s heavy. You don’t want to cross him, and you don’t want to get in his way, because he’ll stop at nothing to get what he’s after.

Parker, the ruthless antihero of Richard Stark’s eponymous mystery novels, is one of the most unforgettable characters in hardboiled noir.  Lauded by critics for his taut realism, unapologetic amorality, and razor-sharp prose-style—and adored by fans who turn each intoxicating page with increasing urgency—Stark is a master of crime writing; his books as influential as any in the genre. The University of Chicago Press has embarked on a project to return the early volumes of this series to print for a new generation of readers to discover—and become addicted to. This season’s offerings include volumes 4–6 in the series: The Mourner, The Score, and The Jugger.

The Mourner is a story of convergence—of cultures and of guys with guns. Hot on the trail of a statue stolen from a fifteenth-century French tomb, Parker enters a world of eccentric art collectors, greedy foreign officials, and shady KGB agents. Next, Parker works with a group of professional con men in The Score on his biggest job yet—robbing an entire town in North Dakota. In The Jugger, Parker travels to Nebraska to help out a geriatric safecracker who knows too many of his criminal secrets. By the time he arrives, the safecracker is dead and Parker’s skeletons are on the verge of escaping from their closet—unless Parker resorts to lethal measures.

“Whatever Stark writes, I read. He’s a stylist, a pro, and I thoroughly enjoy his attitude.”—Elmore Leonard

“Westlake knows precisely how to grab a reader, draw him or her into the story, and then slowly tighten his grip until escape is impossible.”—Washington Post Book World

 

“Donald Westlake’s Parker novels are among the small number of books I read over and over. Forget all that crap you’ve been telling yourself about War and Peace and Proust—these are the books you’ll want on that desert island.”—Lawrence Block

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Editorial Reviews

Globe and Mail
"The UC Press mission, to reprint the 1960s Parker novels of Richard Stark (the late Donald Westlake), is wholly admirable. The books have been out of print for decades, and the fast-paced, hard-boiled thrillers featuring the thief Parker are brilliant."-H. J. Kirchoff, Globe and Mail (Canada)

— H. J. Kirchoff

Virginia Quarterly Review
"Perhaps this, more than anything else, is what I admire about these novels: the consistent ruthlessness of an unapologetic bastard. And so if you're a fan of noir novels and haven't yet read Richard Stark, you may want to give these books a try. Who knows? Parker may just be the son of a bitch you've been searching for."-John McNally, Virginia Quarterly Review

— John McNally

Globe and Mail - H. J. Kirchoff

“The UC Press mission, to reprint the 1960s Parker novels of Richard Stark (the late Donald Westlake), is wholly admirable. The books have been out of print for decades, and the fast-paced, hard-boiled thrillers featuring the thief Parker are brilliant.”
Virginia Quarterly Review - John McNally

“Perhaps this, more than anything else, is what I admire about these novels: the consistent ruthlessness of an unapologetic bastard.  And so if you’re a fan of noir novels and haven’t yet read Richard Stark, you may want to give these books a try.  Who knows?  Parker may just be the son of a bitch you’ve been searching for.”
Entertainment Weekly - Stephen King

“Parker is refreshingly amoral, a thief who always gets away with the swag.”
New York Times - William Grimes

“Parker . . . lumbers through the pages of Richard Stark’s noir novels scattering dead bodies like peanut shells. . . . In a complex world [he] makes things simple.”
Elmore Leonard

“Whatever Stark writes, I read. He’s a stylist, a pro, and I thoroughly enjoy his attitude."
Bookforum - John Banville

“Richard Stark’s Parker novels . . . are among the most poised and polished fictions of their time and, in fact, of any time.”
New York Times Book Review - Marilyn Stasio

“Parker is a true treasure. . . . The master thief is back, along with Richard Stark.”
Washington Post

“Westlake knows precisely how to grab a reader, draw him or her into the story, and then slowly tighten his grip until escape is impossible.”
Los Angeles Times

“Elmore Leonard wouldn’t write what he does if Stark hadn’t been there before. And Quentin Tarantino wouldn’t write what he does without Leonard. . . . Old master that he is, Stark does all of them one better.”
Lawrence Block

“Donald Westlake’s Parker novels are among the small number of books I read over and over. Forget all that crap you’ve been telling yourself about War and Peace and Proust—these are the books you’ll want on that desert island.”
New York Times Book Review - Anthony Boucher

“Richard Stark writes a harsh and frightening story of criminal warfare and vengeance with economy, understatement and a deadly amoral objectivity—a remarkable addition to the list of the shockers that the French call roman noirs.”
New York Times Book Review - Luc Sante

"Parker is a brilliant invention. . . . What chiefly distinguishes Westlake, under whatever name, is his passion for process and mechanics. . . . Parker appears to have eliminated everything from his program but machine logic, but this is merely protective coloration. He is a romantic vestige, a free-market anarchist whose independent status is becoming a thing of the past."
Commentary - Terry Teachout

"Whether early or late, the Parker novels are all superlative literary entertainments."
Vue Weekly - Josef Braun

"The University of Chicago Press has recently undertaken a campaign to get Parker back in print in affordable and handsome editions, and I dove in. And now I get it."
Christian Science Monitor

“If you’re looking for crime novels with a lot of punch, try the very, very tough novels featuring Parker. . . . The Hunter, The Outfit, The Mourner, and The Man with the Getaway Face are all beautifully paced, tautly composed, and originally published in the early 1960s."
Elmore Leonard
Whatever Stark writes, I read. He's a stylist, a pro, and I thoroughly enjoy his attitude.
The Barnes & Noble Review
Rumor holds that the thermostat for Hell is located in Chicago, and that if the Cubs were to win the World Series, the infernal regions would freeze over. The Cubs haven't threatened the natural order lately, but I wonder whether the sinners down below shouldn't start reaching for their overcoats anyway -- because Richard Stark is being published by the University of Chicago Press.

Chicago runs one of the toniest scholarly presses in America. Richard Stark, the best-known pseudonym of the prolific Donald Westlake, wrote 29 of the least mannered novels in the annals of crime fiction. Twenty-five of them feature an antihero named Parker (there is no first name), a thief by trade who is as laconic as he is competent. Chicago's reprinting of the first six Parker novels would appear to be the most unlikely possible meeting of prestige and pulp.

Westlake -- who died in 2008 with over 100 novels published -- started writing the Parker books in the early '60s, as part of a great onrushing cataract of creative energy that led him to worry about flooding the market under his own name. The first half-dozen Parker books originally came out as paperback originals between 1962 and 1965, and they have a different style and tone than Westlake's other work, as though his pseudonym were insisting on its own individuality. (Stephen King has admitted that when he wrote The Dark Half, a 1989 novel about a pseudonym that comes to life and demands just that, he had Westlake/Stark in mind. That King's own pseudonym, Richard Bachman, shares a first name with Stark is no coincidence either.) Westlake as Westlake is light, witty, and clever. Westlake as Stark is, well, stark. The writing is as spare and unadorned as the plains in winter.

The first three Parker books, The Hunter, The Man with the Getaway Face, and The Outfit, which Chicago reissued together in 2008, form a loose trilogy that describes Parker without giving him a back-story. He's a professional robber who lives as an independent craftsman in a marketplace dominated by organized crime, which is known as the Outfit and, in the words of one of its operatives, "conforms as closely as possible to the corporate concept." Parker insists on remaining outside the Outfit's bureaucracy, relying on his ties with his fellow independent contractors. "We don't have any organization," says Parker, "but we're professionals."

Parker is all about the professional work he does, for it was "while working, while a job was being set up and run through, that he felt most alive." The early Parker books center on his workplace rules. When Parker feels he's been cheated by an employee of the Outfit, he takes on the enterprise as a matter of fairness. Those first three books (which can, like all the Parker novels, be read out of order) give Parker an identity as a coldly raging entrepreneur who cares enough about the work to take on the whole system.

The second trio of books, The Mourner, The Score, and The Jugger, released this year, show Parker at different jobs. The Mourner fits a classic type of crime story that one critic describes as the "Object X" plot, about the search for a mysterious and valuable prize. The most famous Object X in all of crime fiction is surely the Maltese Falcon, and as in Dashiell Hammett's classic 1930 novel, the characters in The Mourner chase an old and valuable statue. The Score centers on the audacious mass burglary of a whole town, while The Jugger shows Parker in cleanup mode: one of his main underworld contacts dies, compromising Parker's legal front, and he must restore order to his affairs.

Sixties crime writers reacted variously to the postwar vision of suburbia and corporate life enshrined in bestsellers like Sloan Wilson's 1955 The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. Fictional detectives like John D. MacDonald's bohemian Travis McGee (who made his debut at around the same time as Parker) reflect an anxious preoccupation with the transformed view of what it meant to be professional.

The Parker series offers a criminal's take on the business of working, with Parker as a central character with no inner life at all -- he just eats, sleeps, has sex, and works. He never talks, except to say something concrete. He has no permanent home and no friends, just business associates and sex partners. Parker never ruminates; he just plans. When wronged, he becomes a fearless revenge machine. (In one of the later Parker novels, Parker brazenly seeks out a homicide detective who's looking for him. Parker uses his presence at the man's home as a dare; he knows that the cop can't go after him without risking his wife and children. The detective's conclusion: "He used my weakness.") In short, Parker is Westlake's vision of a skilled professional manager run amok.

Absolutely humorless, Parker is also pitiless. He takes no pleasure in killing, for he's "impersonal, not cruel," and killing represents an additional complication to him. But he's nobody's philanthropist either. When he tells a gun merchant, "I don't give a damn about you," he could be talking to anyone, anytime, anywhere in any Parker book. Westlake said of Parker that he'd "done nothing to make him easy for the reader." Indeed. The character is all hard surfaces and sharp edges, so it's no surprise that "his clothes fit him like an impatient compromise with society." (I love that line.)

Yet Parker is oddly easy to root for. To start with, he's better than the company he keeps, so he rarely suffers by comparison. But more important, Parker cares about doing things right. He weds precise skill to total self-interest without emotional complications like greed -- he never wants more than he can use -- or sentiment.

Like any good boss, Parker makes everyone accountable for the jobs they do. Do your job, and Parker will value you. Stop doing it, and he will scorn you as "a stupid old man" even if you've worked with him for years. In this sense Parker is as uncompassionate as they come: he measures all people by their value to him, and all of his decisions about how to treat them -- including whether to kill them -- arise from simple cost-benefit calculus.

In this respect, Parker resembles no one so much as Hammett's Sam Spade, the amoral detective of The Maltese Falcon. In a 1934 introduction to his novel, Hammett described Spade as a "dream man" who is "able to take care of himself in any situation" and "get the best of anybody he comes in contact with." Parker and Spade are both ingenious escapist fantasy figures who permit the reader to imagine extraordinary competence and life experience with no encumbrances.

Crime novels have gained greatly in cachet since Westlake/Stark's Parker paperbacks first appeared, with critics and readers now recognizing the substance of the genre. The Parker books meditate with surprising profundity on human desire and attachment at their fantastic extremes -- at a time when a roiling national debate was beginning about individual and social priorities, a debate which is still going on. Perhaps the surprise isn't that Chicago is publishing Parker, but rather why it took so long. --Leonard Cassuto

Leonard Cassuto is a professor of English at Fordham University and the author of Hard-Boiled Sentimentality: The Secret History of American Crime Stories, now available from Columbia University Press. He can be found on the web at www.lcassuto.com.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226771038
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 5/1/2009
  • Series: Parker Series , #4
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 232
  • Sales rank: 334,383
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard Stark was one of the many pseudonyms of Donald E. Westlake (1933-2008), a prolific author of noir crime fiction. In 1993 the Mystery Writers of America bestowed the society’s highest honor on Westlake, naming him a Grand Master.

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Table of Contents

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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 7, 2011

    Awesome

    My favorite Parker story.

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  • Posted October 31, 2011

    your review

    did not even finish it I like the nook though. What would you recommend for a fan of the Girl With The Dragon Tattoo Series. I have read them all. Liked it. Alos Sleepers, I have seen his other works. Read one. Apaches looked at the Sequel. Hi Mary Jo

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted April 14, 2009

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    Posted December 28, 2009

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    Posted December 27, 2011

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    Posted August 16, 2011

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