Thursday 5 August 2010

Westlake Score: Slayground by Richard Stark (Random House, 1971); Signed Copy

No, I haven't duplicated a post accidentally. I really do have two different editions of the same book to showcase as part of Westlake Week, which, depending on your point of view, is either incredibly cool, incredibly sad or incredibly idiotic. I lean towards option a) myself, but hey: whatever floats your boat. Still, it does bear out the old saying: you wait ages for a Slayground and then two come along at once. Let's have a look, shall we?

This is the very first edition of Richard Stark's Slayground, published in hardback by Random House in 1971, dustjacket design by the sexily named Peter Raunch. I saw it online for a remarkably low price and snapped it up – not just because it's a first edition (and first printing) and in great condition (with only patches of lifting on the dustjacket laminate, which is common with this edition), nor merely because I now have the final three Parker novels from the initial run of the series in US first editions:

but because of this:

It's another signed edition, this time dedicated to "Mike", whoever he may be. So, it makes a nice pair with that US first of The Blackbird, which, as I mentioned, Slayground shares its opening chapter with. One thing I hadn't considered though is that The Blackbird predates Slayground by two years, published, as it was, in 1969; the copyright page of Slayground states: "Chapter One reprinted by permission of The Macmillan Company. From The Blackbird by Richard Stark." Any Stark fans reading Slayground when it first came out must've experienced a sense of deja vu if they'd read The Blackbird a year or so before... I imagine it's unlikely Westlake wrote The Blackbird that far in advance, so Slayground must have just taken a while to see publication. And when you compare the first chapters of Slayground and The Blackbird, there are marked differences between the two: though both written in the third person, Slayground is very much told from Parker's perspective, whereas The Blackbird is from his cohort's, Alan Grofield, the star of that novel. Here's the first paragraph of Slayground:

Parker jumped out of the Ford with a gun in one hand and the packet of explosive in the other. Grofield was out and running too, and Laufman stayed hunched over the wheel, his foot tapping the accelerator.

And the first paragraph from The Blackbird:

Grofield jumped out of the Ford with a gun in one hand and the empty satchel in the other. Parker was out and running too, and Laufman stayed hunched over the wheel, his foot tapping the accelerator.

Only subtle differences there, but here's the third paragraph of Slayground:

Parker ran to the rear door of the armored car, slapped the packet of explosive against the metal near the lock so that the suction cups grabbed, then pulled the cord and stepped back out of sight. The armored car's right rear tire turned slowly beside his head.

And The Blackbird:

Grofield ran to the front of the armored car, running around the big old-fashioned grill, sideways now at chest level. Through the bulletproof windshield he could see the uniformed driver in there, turned every which way but conscious and moving around, getting a phone receiver out from under the dashboard.

Thereafter the two books diverge and re-entwine again throughout their respective opening chapters, and then take completely different paths from Chapter 2 onwards. It's an interesting experiment on Westlake's part though, like his slightly later weaving in of the fictional – as in it doesn't exist in our real world – Parker novel Child Heist into the John Dortmunder novel Jimmy the Kid. It's part of what makes Westlake's work so fascinating, the interconnectedness of it all.

Anyway, having two copies of Slayground to post about – three actually, including the Allison & Busby edition I already had – has given me an idea for the next post in Westlake Week...


  1. Great post! That first-edition cover of Slayground is one of my favorites. I envy your signed copy! (I just reread the U of C reprint the other day, and liked the novel a lot more the second time through.)

  2. I'm getting closer to reading it: I've got Sour Lemon Score and Deadly Edge to get through first, but having read those opening paragraphs of Slayground for this post, I can't bloody wait to get my teeth into it.