Wednesday 20 June 2012

Westlake Score: The Blackbird by Richard Stark (alias Donald E. Westlake); Alan Grofield #3, 1970 Hodder & Stoughton First Edition

NB: A version of this post also appears on The Violent World of Parker blog.

On to the second of two exclusive, never-before-seen-online Westlake Scores; and as with yesterday's Score – a 1969 British Hodder & Stoughton first edition of Donald E. "Richard Stark" Westlake's second Alan Grofield novel, The Dame – today's offering is also a Grofield book, and again boasts a particular provenance...

First published in hardback in the UK by Hodder & Stoughton in 1970 – the year after the US Macmillan edition – The Blackbird is the third of Westlake/Stark's Grofield-starring Parker spin-off novels, and is, of course, of particular interest to Parker completists due to the fact that it shares its opening chapter with Slayground, the fourteenth Parker novel. The Hodder edition of The Blackbird is just as scarce as the Hodder edition of The Dame: there's currently only one copy on AbeBooks, offered by an Australian seller, although it is, at least, priced slightly more attractively than the lone (ex-library) copy of The Dame.

I acquired this copy of The Blackbird from the same dealer as The Dame, and again it's Hodder & Stoughton's file copy:

But although its dust jacket design evidently takes as its inspiration Craig Dodd's design for The Dame:

It's actually credited to Graphics Partners, about whom I know virtually nothing, other than they also designed the wrapper for Sheila MacLeod's The Snow White Soliloquies. Whoever they were/are, however, by splitting the "Blackbird" in the title in two, they've made Westlake's pun rather blunter. Mind you, the later Foul Play Press paperback committed the same sin, but at least there they had the excuse that the design style they'd established for their covers meant they couldn't fit the "Blackbird" on one line.

Comparing the 1969 US Macmillan edition of The Blackbird to the Hodder edition, I think in this instance, unlike with The Dame, the British cover wins it. Jack Wolf's wrapper for the Macmillan Blackbird always struck me as a little ugly, although as my copy of that Macmillan edition is signed, I shan't be divesting myself of it anytime soon.

I mentioned in the previous post that Hodder & Stoughton published three out of the four Grofield novels in hardback in the UK. I've shown you two of them, but I also own the other one as well, and it strikes me that I've never really showcased it properly (aside from the odd shoddily photographed guest appearance). So, to complete the set, I thought we could take a look at it in the next post...


  1. The Blackbird has never had a good cover, and I doubt it ever will. But yeah, I'd say the British cover is better--marginally. Honestly, if you want to feature a beautiful black woman on a book cover, hire somebody who knows how to draw one.

    At least the U. of Chicago cover isn't ugly, though it's generic as all hell.

    And the novel itself isn't bad, though my favorite part is the segment shared with "Slay-Ground"--the events of which have all transpired before Grofield wakes up in the hospital.

    I think it would have been more fun if the government agents had strongarmed Grofield into stealing something for them--maybe that seemed too derivative of the 1968 Robert Wagner TV series, "It Takes a Thief"? Been watching repeats of that on cable of late.

    This is the novel where Grofield proves he's every bit as cold-blooded as Parker when he needs to be. And he feels exactly as much guilt about that.

  2. I like The Blackbird as well, Chris – probably more than Lemons Never Lie, which is the one Grofield everyone likes, and which is fine, but basically just a Parker novel in disguise. At least The Blackbird is different, even if it is uneven.

  3. I'm sorry to tell you I'm with the pack on this one--"Lemons Never Lie" seems like the best of the bunch to me, in part because I just think Westlake is better writing about domestic crime (admittedly, I haven't gotten to "Kahawa" yet).

    Also, none of Grofield's extracurricular affairs ever strike me as being half as interesting as his married life with Mary, who barely figures in the earlier Grofield books. It is, quite frankly, the least likable thing about Grofield--that he cheats on Mary so guiltlessly, even though he makes sure to never do so anywhere near her. Married man is just another role he plays, and yet when he's playing it, he's damned convincing. Is he ever 100% sincere about anything? Is any actor? Westlake did a bit of acting himself, as I'm sure you know. One reason he held onto Grofield as long as he did, I'd guess.

    I don't really think LNL is a Parker novel, if only because Grofield's style is so different from Parker's as to transform the subject matter into something quite distinct. It's impossible to imagine Parker riding a horse--or say he had to 'drum someone out of the corps' when Parker would either say "I'm going to kill him" or more likely say nothing at all.

    We even get to see Grofield and Mary's theater, though sadly during the off-season (I would give much for a novel that showed him fully engaged in his day job--so to speak, since there'd only be one or two matinees a week).

    However, I will say this--if you liked "The Blackbird", you should really get around to "The Spy in the Ointment", sooner rather than later. ;)