Wednesday 7 April 2010

Parker Progress Report: The Allison & Busby Editions, Part 1

So, I now have almost all of the Allison & Busby UK editions of Donald Westlake/Richard Stark's Parker novels, mostly in hardback but with a few paperbacks here and there. To recap: Allison & Busby began re-publishing the Parker novels – first published in the US in the sixties – in the 1980s in hardback. Often this was the first time the books had been available in hardback, which, along with their standardized and attractive new trade dress, made them highly collectible.

Thanks to the books' indicia, I can pretty much determine the order A&B published them in (or at least the ones before they changed the cover design; after that I'm less sure, as A&B stopped listing the previous novels at the start of each book in order of their – A&B's – publication; instead they mixed them up with various other books in their American Crime series), which, if you're remotely interested, wasn't the order they were originally published in the sixties. I'm still not entirely sure why A&B published them out of order; I know some of the reasoning was movie-related (i.e. to tie in with a new film release), but that doesn't explain all their choices. I could hazard a guess that perhaps some of the previous UK Coronet editions from the seventies were still in print, limiting A&B's options, but I couldn't say for sure.

Anyway. For anyone still reading, you have my condolences. No, I mean, for anyone still reading, here are the Allison & Busby Parker novels (some of them, anyway; note the 'Part 1' in the title. I'll get around to Part 2 some time. Maybe.), in order of publication, with scintillating notes to boot.

1) Slayground. Originally Parker #14, A&B kicked off their editions with this in 1984, to tie in with the (by all accounts rubbish) movie version of the book. As with all the A&B editions, the jacket design is by Mick Keates, about whom I know next to nothing, other than he did a fair bit of design work for A&B. But I do know his designs for A&B's Parker books, particularly the first eight they published, are rather striking. The first six of those eight used foil blocking on the (biiiiig) title and (little) illo on each cover. They might not be the most revolutionary cover designs, but with their flat colours and bold typography, they make these editions instantly recognizable. I like 'em. Slayground is set in a funfair, hence those little human targets on the cover. Neat, huh?

I picked up my copy of Slayground fairly cheap, but you'd be lucky to nab one for less than £30, and more like £40-£60. It's probably mid-range in terms of rarity – I've seen maybe ten or so for sale online. As with a lot of these A&B hardback editions (although less so with some of the paperbacks-of-hardbacks), most of the copies are in the States, as they were all distributed in the US as well as the UK, so there are less copies residing in the UK than you'd think.

2) The Rare Coin Score, 1984; originally Parker #9. This is the only one of the A&B first eight hardbacks I don't own. Instead I have a seventies Coronet paperback. So far as I can tell, all the copies for sale online are in the US. But don't you worry: I'll get one eventually. Again, this is mid-range rare. So, the question is, why did A&B decide to publish the seventh Parker novel second? You can understand them starting with Slayground because of the movie, but why not follow up with Point Blank, which spawned the best known film adaptation of all of them? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

3) Point Blank, 1984; originally Parker #1 (duh). There are a few copies of this available online from the UK, around the £20-£30 mark, and a few more from the US. But it's a popular one, what with it being the first Parker, so copies don't hang around long. Note the slight change in trade dress: Richard Stark's name is promoted to the top of the cover, and we also get the "Donald E. Westlake writing as", to clear up any confusion. This book is brilliant, obviously. Read it. Although weirdly I think I might possibly prefer this one:

4) The Man with the Getaway Face, 1985; originally Parker #2. I think this is the most common of the A&B hardback editions – there are plenty of copies online from the UK and the US, starting around the £15 mark. Why that is I don't know, although it's possible A&B noted that sales on Point Blank were higher than the Parkers they'd previously published and upped the print run on The Man with the Getaway Face as a result. Pure conjecture on my part, but that would make sense. As I miiiiiight have just mentioned before, my copy of this lived in a library in Orkney for a large part of its life. I like to picture it sitting up there on a shelf, largely unread judging by the condition, all lonely, just waiting for me to track it down. God I'm weird. Anyway, Parker gets plastic surgery in this one, hence the face on the cover.

5) The Score, 1985; originally Parker #5. Hey! Allison & Busby published this one in the right order! Well done that publisher. Not quite as common as The Man with the Getaway Face, but there are still a good fifteen or so of 'em online, ranging from £20 to £50. I think they're all in the US though. I'm reading this one at the moment, so I'm not sure what the significance of the truck on the cover is. I do know the story follows Parker and eleven of his pals as they rob an entire town. Which, you have to admit, is a fantastic idea for a story.

6) The Split, 1985; originally Parker #7. This one's pretty rare. There's maybe four or five copies for sale online, so price-wise you're looking at around £40 and up. As noted previously, I had to get mine from the States. The story in this one follows the aftermath of an American football game heist, which is why that American football player's on the cover. You see what Mr. Keates did there? OK, it's obvious, but it works.

7) The Handle, 1985; originally Parker #8. Another rare one: you'd have to get one from America and it'd cost you at least £50-£60, probably more (I was lucky and found one in the UK for much less). I'm guessing A&B cut back their print runs again at this point. Also at this point we lose the foil blocking on the covers: it's just white on black, with no special treatment. Still a fab cover though. Although not as fab as this:

8) The Sour Lemon Score, 1985; originally Parker #12. This is the rarest of the lot. I've seen one copy for sale for about £60, but otherwise you're looking at well over £100. Again, no foil blocking on this, but it doesn't need it: I love that cracked design. Top marks that man Keates.

The Sour Lemon Score was the last of the A&B hardbacks in that style; thereafter the hardbacks looked more like this:

But that'll have to wait till Part 2, if I ever get round to it. Phew. And we're done! If you've made it this far, you deserve a prize. I need to go lie down now.


  1. I'm going through a Parker/Stark phase, too. I only have the new University of Chicago editions. If you turn up extra copies of Plunder Squad and Butcher's Moon (highly unlikely, I know), I'll take them off your hands - I can't wait until UC publishes them. Keep blogging your Parker acquisitions - the updates are wonderful reading.

  2. Oh don't worry, I'll carry on waffling on about Parker books for a while yet I'm sure. You should update your blog -- it's a good read.