Thursday 15 July 2010

Westlake Score: Jimmy the Kid / Child Heist (Hodder and Stoughton Edition) by Donald E. Westlake / Richard Stark

That's a real mouthful of a title for this post. Sorry about that: got carried away there. Anyway, I teased this one yesterday, and here it is:

This, my friends, is the UK hardback first edition of Donald E. Westlake's Jimmy the Kid, published by Hodder and Stoughton in 1975, one year after the US edition. Regular readers might recall I showcased that American edition last week, with its Don Bender jacket illustration. Well, no sooner had I ordered that book from an American dealer than this UK edition popped up on eBay, and the cover was so fantastic I had to have it. Luckily it seems there weren't many Richard Stark/Parker fans lurking on eBay that week, or at least ones who knew the significance of this book (which I'll come back to in a moment), and I won it easily. The jacket is by one Tony Page, and I love the simplicity of it: a black and white photo, block-coloured in a pop art style, with the the same figure seen from behind on the back cover.

This UK edition is actually incredibly scarce. When I started collecting first editions of the Dortmunder novels (of which this is the third), I had planned to get the UK editions, which for The Hot Rock and Bank Shot wasn't a massive problem (although I ended up buying the latter of those from Australia). But Jimmy the Kid is another matter entirely: there are, at present, zero copies of this for sale on Amazon or AbeBooks. I can see why: if you're a hardcore Parker fan, it's a must-have.

As I mentioned in that other post, in this book John Dortmunder and his crew plan a kidnapping based on a book by Richard Stark called Child Heist, featuring a career criminal called Parker. And of course Donald Westlake wrote a series of books under the pen name Richard Stark about a career criminal called Parker. But Child Heist isn't one of them. It only exists as part of Jimmy the Kid. And having now looked through Jimmy the Kid, I didn't realise how much of the mythical Child Heist there is in there. For a start, early on we get this excerpt:

When the guard came to open the cell door, Parker said to the big man named Krauss, "Come see me next week when you get out. I think I'll have something on."

Which is exactly how a lot of the Parker books open. And also, intriguingly, could be read as suggesting that Parker is in prison at this point (Westlake stopped writing Parker novels in 1974, only starting again some twenty-three years later). Then, later in the book we get two whole chapters from Child Heist. I won't quote them entirely, but here are the opening sentences of each:

When Parker got to the intersection he made a U-turn and stopped, facing back the way he had come...

At exactly four P.M. Ruth, in a pay phone at a Shell station in Patchogue, Long Island, made the second call...

Pretty cool, huh? Ah, but there's even more. Right at the end of the book there's a letter from 'Richard Stark' to his lawyer, about an unauthorized movie version of Child Heist. Bear in mind I haven't read Jimmy the Kid yet, so I don't know if this spoils a plot payoff or something, but here's the first paragraph of the letter anyway; read at your peril:

September 29
Mr. John Donald Riley
27 West 45th St.
New York, N. Y. 10036

Dear John:
I know I promised you I'd never get involved in a lawsuit again, but I think this just might be the exception to the rule. My friend Hal out on the coast tells me he's seen a rough cut of a movie called Kid Stuff that is a direct steal from my book Child Heist, except it's played for laughs. Now, it's bad enough to steal from me, but to make fun of me at the same time is even worse...

So there you go. A few examples of why Jimmy the Kid is pretty much essential for the Parker completist in your life.

Anyone wanna buy a US first edition...? 

Click here for a review of Jimmy the Kid.

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