Monday 17 January 2011

Richard Stark's Parker Novels: The Allison & Busby Paperbacks of Deadly Edge, The Sour Lemon Score and Slayground, and the Hunt for Cover Artist Stephen Hall

My friends, let us begin the week with a tale of abject failure.

A couple of weeks ago I demonstrated how UK publisher Allison & Busby's editions of Donald 'Richard Stark' Westlake's Parker novels developed over twenty-five-plus years, using Point Blank as a guide. In that post I mentioned that in the early 1990s Allison & Busby introduced one other short-lived style of cover design – or rather, illustration – one that was never deployed for Point Blank, and that I'd be returning to that design in a separate post. This is that post.

So far as I've been able to establish, only three of the Allison & Busby Parkers ever had this type of cover (four if you count the 1997 Omnibus volume 1, but that just reuses one of the three other covers, so we won't), which took the Mick Keates 'torn logo' design of the second wave of A&B editions and incorporated new paintings/illustrations. And it's those illustrations that I want to concentrate on here.

The three novels in question are the A&B paperback editions of Deadly Edge (1990):

The Sour Lemon Score (1991):

and Slayground (also 1991):

Those last two are recent-ish Westlake Scores, which I nabbed on eBay pretty much so I could write this post. Again I say to you, dear reader: the sacrifices I make... Anyway, all three covers sport illustrations by Stephen Hall, and while I wasn't terribly keen on them when I first saw them online many moons ago, I've since grown to appreciate them – or two of them anyway. The one for The Sour Lemon Score I'm still not sold on – it looks dashed-off compared to the others – but the ones for Deadly Edge and Slayground are intriguing mixed media efforts. Slayground in particular seems to incorporate elements of collage, lending the picture a nice clashing energy.

So I thought I'd do some digging, see what I could find out about the artist. Unfortunately, it soon became apparent that identifying the correct Stephen Hall wouldn't be as straightforward as I'd hoped. There were lots of links for artists named Stephen – and Steve – Hall, but none seemed quite right, and certainly none of them made any mention of creating covers for either Allison & Busby or Richard Stark novels.

Eventually, after a hell of a lot of googling, I narrowed the field down to two possibilities – both rather remote, but worth exploring. One – Stephen Hall – was a New York-based painter who'd moved to the US from Scotland in 1978, and whose work had featured on a number of books, including many crime novels. The other – Stephen Hall, or Randall Stephen Hall – was a children's book illustrator and storyteller from Northern Ireland. Neither quite fit the bill, but artists' styles do change, so either one could conceivably be the right man.

There was, however, no way of finding out without contacting them directly. So that's what I did. I emailed the NY-based Stephen Hall first, explaining the nature of my quest, and not really expecting to hear back. But I did get a reply, that same day. Stephen confirmed that he had illustrated many book covers during that period of the early 1990s, among them crime and mystery works. He didn't think that he'd worked on these particular Stark novels, but he said to send along cover scans and he'd be able to say definitively yes or no. Which I duly did... and received a definitive 'no'.


Disappointed but undeterred, I moved on to the Northern Ireland-based Stephen Hall, and emailed him. Once again I received a swift reply... and once again it was in the negative. Drat. Stephen did, however, note that it was an interesting quest I was on, and suggested I try another Stephen Hall, an artist with an illustration background, originally from Scotland, now living and working in New York... Yeah, you know where this is going. I replied that unfortunately I'd already tried that Stephen Hall... and that's where my quest ended. None of the other Stephen Halls I turned up in my search looked to be likely candidates. The only other hint I have to go on is a distant notion that a very similar illustrator worked for music weekly NME in the early 1990s, but there I might just be projecting (there's an NME press blurb on the cover of Deadly Edge).

My only recourse now is to post this tale of woe and hope that somehow the correct Stephen Hall stumbles across it. So if you're out there, Stephen, make yourself known. Be great to get some background on both you and the creation of these covers...


  1. I created these images soon after leaving college great to see them all together. My portfolio had similar work which they liked. The drawings were created over a week, in a kitchen in East Finchley - not East Village, from brief, to initial sketches, to final A2 drawings. They are created adding layers of tissue paper to areas of the pastel and charcoal drawing where I wanted texture, ink was then applied on top which bleeds into the tissue paper and cracks as the glue dries - giving the effect you see. Hope you can rest easy now... best regards the real Stephen Hall

    1. Aha, well thank you for shedding a little light on the matter, Stephen! And if you care to add anything about what you've been up to since these covers, I'd be fascinated to see.