(NB: a version of this post also appears on The Violent World of Parker blog.)
This latest Westlake Score was inspired by my learned friend Olman, who almost secured a copy of the book in question during a recent holiday ramble around a number bookshops in the Canadian Maritimes (not as unusual as that sounds; I did a similar thing on my holiday this year). Olman spied this book – the 1969 UK Hodder-Coronet movie tie-in paperback edition of The Split – in one store, but it was priced at $30, which he reasoned (correctly) was a bit too much. Inveterate collector that I am, and especially of the British editions of Richard Stark's Parker novels, I was suitably moved to have a look online and see if any copies were floating about over here in the UK, undetected. Turns out there was one, and I nabbed it for a tenner.
Why would I wish to purchase a forty-plus-year-old British copy of Stark's seventh Parker novel when I already own it in its original 1966 US Pocket Books softcover edition and its 1985 UK Allison & Busby hardback incarnation, I hear you cry? The reasons are manifold. For one thing, The Split – or The Seventh, to give it its US title; it was retitled in some markets as a result of Gordon Flemyng's 1969 Jim Brown-starring movie – is among my favourite Parkers, a blisteringly mean tale of a heist that turns into a spectacular bloodbath, with possibly the best ending in the entire series. For another, the cover of this UK edition is kinda cool: that's a great and unusual still from the film. Then there's the fact that it's pretty scarce in this edition; there are only two copies of the '69 Coronet softcover that I can see on AbeBooks, both in the States, both for around £20–£25.
But mostly it's because I am, as I say, a hopelessly obsessive collector, particularly of first editions. And that's what this edition of The Split is: the UK first edition, much as the 1967 Coronet movie tie-in paperback of Point Blank! is the first UK edition of Westlake's debut novel as Richard Stark (it's never been published in the UK under its original 1962 title, The Hunter). Why any of that should matter to a sane person is beyond me, but in my defence, one thing the Coronet paperbacks do have going for them are the different types of covers they sported over the years – even from printing to printing. Allow me to demonstrate. Illustrate. Whichever.
We begin, in 1967, with this:
The UK first edition of The Hunter, published, as I mentioned, as Point Blank! to tie in with John Boorman's movie adaptation of that year. Next, we get these:
The Rare Coin Score (Parker #9, original US pub date 1967) and The Green Eagle Score (Parker #10, also 1967), both published in paperback by Coronet in 1968. This style of cover (illustrator unknown, I'm afraid, although I speculated here that it might be John M. Burns) also cropped up in the two Parker novels Coronet published in 1969 alongside the movie tie-in paperback of The Split:
The Black Ice Score (Parker #11, US 1968 – and don't you just love that surprisingly witty and apposite front-cover strapline?) and The Sour Lemon Score (Parker #12, US 1969). At least, I think the Coronet paperback of The Sour Lemon Score came out in 1969; I don't own a copy of that one to check. Anyway, the next two Parker novels Coronet issued, in 1970, were these:
Reprints of the first two they'd published back in 1967 and 1968 respectively: Point Blank! and The Rare Coin Score. What's interesting about this short-lived iteration of cover design is how it seems to ape that of The Split, with lots of negative space. And then from 1971 we get this more familiar look:
The famed "bullet hole" double-cover design, as originated by Raymond Hawkey (although the books you can see above – the third printings of Point Blank! and The Rare Coin Score – date from 1972), under which wrapping almost all of the Parkers were either published or reissued – right up to the 1977 Coronet edition of Butcher's Moon (Parker #16, originally 1974), which boasts an entirely different cover design altogether. But that's a tale for another time...