Monday 3 January 2011

Richard Stark's Parker Novels: The Allison & Busby Editions of Point Blank

It may be a new year – in fact, it is a new year; there's no 'maybe' about it, you blithering idiot – but so far as me 'n' this blog are concerned, 2011 will be much like 2010 in at least one respect: there'll be plenty of Donald E. Westlake/Richard Stark posts over the next twelve months. I've got about ten Parker Progress Reports to get through – there'll be one on Plunder Squad along soon enough – plus around the same number of Dortmunder Dazes, and around the same number again of random Westlake novels. With all the other non-Westlake reading I plan on doing this year, that lot alone would see me well into 2012, and that's not even taking into account a Grofield File (on Lemons Never Lie), whatever cover galleries I can conjure up, and any further Westlake Scores over the course of the year.

That's right: brand new year, same old rubbish on Existential Ennui.

So, to begin what looks set to be as Westlakey a year as last year was, I thought I'd do something similar to that post on the development of the UK Coronet '60s/'70s paperback editions of the Parkers, except with the UK Allison & Busby editions instead. And with the aid of a cheeky cheapo Westlake Score or two (you see the lengths I go to for you? Buying editions of books I already own simply so I can write posts like this? I hope you appreciate it, you ungrateful wretches), one of them little-seen online:

I can demonstrate how Allison & Busby's various editions of the debut Parker novel, Point Blank (originally, of course, The Hunter) developed over twenty-plus years. Exciting stuff and no mistake.

To recap: here in the UK, just four publishers have issued Richard Stark's Parker novels in the nearly fifty years since the series began. Coronet/Hodder-Fawcett were the first of those, publishing all of the initial fourteen-book series beginning in 1967 and ending in 1977. And then in 1984 Allison & Busby picked up the series again, bringing many of the Parkers into hardback for the first time and issuing them in slightly larger trade paperback too. (The third and fourth publishers were Robert Hale and Quercus, who issued the later Parkers throughout the 2000s.) And as with the Coronet editions, the A&B editions went through a number of different styles of cover design, beginning with this design:

That's the 1984 hardback edition of Point Blank. As I showed in this post, Allison & Busby published eight of the Parker novels in hardback in this style in 1984/85, all with dustjackets designed by Mick Keates. Keates designed a good many covers for Allison & Busby in the 1980s, for novels including A&B's editions of Ross Macdonald's The Barbarous Coast and The Blue Hammer and Chester Himes's Cotton Comes to Harlem. He's still designing books today: his design for French Porcelain for English Palaces was commended in the 2009 British Book Design and Production Awards.

Keates also created the second iteration of Allison & Busby's cover designs for the Parker novels, which began in 1986. These books comprised both new-to-A&B hardbacks and paperbacks of Parkers A&B had already published in hardback. But whether hardback or paperback, the styling was the same:

That's the 1986 paperback edition of Point Blank. Some of these second wave of cover designs incorporated movie stills, as on this edition, which uses a still from the John Boorman movie of Point Blank, acquired from image library The Kobal Collection. Only one of the covers from this period, for the 1987 edition of The Green Eagle Score, isn't credited to Keates; that one is credited instead to Aubrey Warner, even though the styling is almost identical to the other Keates-designed covers from the same era. Bit of a mystery that.

Anyway, almost all of the Allison & Busby editions of the Parkers fell out of print in the 1990s. (There was one final short-lived style of cover design, or rather cover illustration, around 1990/1991, which I'll be dealing with in a separate post.) I think Allison & Busby itself went under and was swallowed up by another publisher, although it still exists in some form today, as evidenced by our third and fourth styles of cover design for Point Blank. Because, while all the other Parker novels were abandoned by A&B, in 2001 they once again brought Point Blank back into print in the UK:

This 2001 Allison & Busby paperback uses the same still from Boorman's 1967 movie (again from The Kobal Collection), but the cover this time was designed by boxharry, who, bizarrely, seem to be a Brighton-based web consultancy. Annoyingly, the copyright and title pages were removed from this copy, so the only way I can determine the publication year is by gleaning the information from Amazon and AbeBooks, neither of which are always the most accurate of sources. I think I only paid about £2 for it though, including postage, so it's not worth complaining about. I'll be donating it to a Lewes charity shop shortly, so at least someone will get some use out of it. Keep an eye out for it if you live or work in Lewes.

Which leaves one last Allison & Busby edition of Point Blank, which is this one 'ere:

This paperback edition was published by A&B in 2008. I can't tell you who designed the cover of this most recent version, because even I'm not deranged enough to buy yet another edition of the same bloody book to find out. So if anyone has a copy and can fill in the blanks, feel free to leave a comment.


  1. I've got a copy of that red paperback, and it is 2001. The copyright page says "This edition first published in Great Britain in 1986 by Allison & Busby Limited" and then a bit further down, under their address, "Reprinted 2001". I bought my copy at the BFI bookshop on June 30th 2005. I know that because I still have the programme notes for the event I was at: the Opening Gala of Crime Scene 2005, a screening of Point Blank followed by a Q&A (moderated by Adrian Wooton) with John Boorman and Donald Westlake. It was the first time I'd seen the film, and as you can imagine, it was pretty much the best possible circumstances in which to do so! Alas I remember little detail of the Q&A (though I presume the BFI have a recording of it somewhere, as they tend to document such things), but I do recall Westlake agreeing with Boorman that Lee Marvin gave a great performance. The discussion was more about the film than the book. My main memory of Westlake is that he looked old and a bit knackered (which he probably was, if only from jetlag), but he was a very cool guy. And yes, I got my copy signed by both of them.

  2. You lucky bleeder. Ta for confirming that, Adam.

  3. Great stuff. I worked in a remainder book distribution warehouse in between years at college and they had several of the Keates-designed hardbacks, including the Green Eagle Score (which was the first one I had scored, heh heh). I remember feeling how cool and sinister the cover looked.

  4. Interesting that the A&B editions were remaindered, particularly as they're so bloody pricey now. Times change...

  5. Yet another well written and authoritative blog -- congratulations.

    I appreciate your finanmcial sacrifices on our behalf - I can give a good home to any orphaned books of course, I only have a couple of Westlakes and one Parker novel. I'll even feed them well.

  6. Heh, thanks Paul. I'm planning on having a clear-out soon, so I'll let you know if I'm getting shot of anything on a Westlake tip...

  7. Excellent overview of the Allison & Busby editions of Point Blank. I came across the blog while trying to get more information on Allison & Busby as some of the Parker novels I'm interested in (in hardcover) are only available as Allison & Busby editions.

    After receiving my first A&B edition (The Jugger), I must say that I'm a bit disappointed. Compared to the quality of the Gregg Press editions, which were printed on acid-free paper with stitched journals, the Allison & Busby editions seem like cheap second-hand versions.

  8. Ah, yes, unfortunately those hardbacks in the second wave of A&B editions are a bit cheap n' cheerful. I've heard a book dealer refer to A&B as something of a cowboy outfit, and they did tend to use low grade paper. The hardbacks of Point Blank, Rare Coin, The Score etc. have held up better; I've got all eight of the original Mick Keates original jacket design hardbacks (see here: ) and they all still have cream pages.