Wednesday 28 November 2012

Westlake Score: The Green Eagle Score (Parker #10) by Richard Stark (Gold Medal, 1967); Robert McGinnis Cover Art

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

As trailed at the end of that post on Edward S. Aarons's Gold Medal spy novel Assignment to Disaster, I've got lots more lovely paperbacks lined up for you over the coming weeks – terrific books by the likes of Patricia Highsmith, Richard Matheson and Elmore Leonard; published by such iconic imprints as Pan, Corgi and Gold Medal; and featuring spectacular cover illustrations by the likes of Sam Peffer, Harry Bennett... and the man responsible for the cover art of this latest Westlake Score:

Robert McGinnis, here painting to my mind one of his best visualizations of Donald E. "Richard Stark" Westlake's taciturn antihero Parker. Published straight to paperback in the US in 1967, The Green Eagle Score was the tenth novel to star Parker, but only the second to be published by Fawcett/Gold Medal (second new one, anyway; Gold Medal also reissued the first Parker outing, The Hunter, in 1967, as Point Blank); the eight novels prior to the preceding Parker, The Rare Coin Score, were all issued by Pocket Books.

I'm not sure how many "Top Five Parkers" lists The Green Eagle Score would feature in, but it's a solid Top Ten, I think, at least once you get your eye in as regards the greater series. In his brilliant book-by-book overview of the Westlake canon, Ethan Iverson memorably recalls how The Green Eagle Score was the first Parker he read, and how he "could not understand how dry as dust, simple, and matter of fact it was". By this point in the series, Westlake/Stark's prose is so stripped back, so deadpan and impassive it's almost zen-like in its doggedness: just the facts, ma'am. And yet this is deceptive; the novel's opening paragraph is a perfect example of the Stark less-is-more approach, of how much Westlake crams in with so few words:

Parker looked in at the beach and there was a guy in a black suit standing there, surrounded by all the bodies in bathing suits. He was standing near Parker’s gear, not facing anywhere in particular, and he looked like a rip in the picture. The hotel loomed up behind him, white and windowed, the Puerto Rican sun beat down, the sea foamed white on the beach, and he stood there like a homesick mortician.

I shared some other thoughts about the book back in 2010, so I shan't go over old ground again here, except to note that I like The Green Eagle Score enough that spotting and then winning this copy of the Gold Medal first edition on eBay was an unexpected thrill. As I've mentioned before, it's unusual to see US paperback firsts of the Parkers on this side of the pond, and nabbing them gives me the opportunity to hold little pieces of publishing history in my hands; to discover things about them – for example, the opening page of The Green Eagle Score:

Which affords a glimpse into Fawcett's marketing strategy for the book, positioning master thief Parker alongside other characters in the Gold Medal stable: two spies – Philip Atlee's Joe Gall and Donald Hamilton's Matt Helm – and a salvage consultant. Matt Helm I've blogged about before, but it just so happens that Messrs Gall and McGee – the latter created, of course, by John D. MacDonald – will be appearing later in this run of paperback posts. But next: another Gold Medal novel, published a couple of years after The Green Eagle Score, one which again boasts a Robert McGinnis cover, and marks the crime fiction debut of one of America's greatest writers.


  1. You really could argue this (and The Rare Coin Score before it) was the peak of the series--not just in terms of the writing, but in the way it was sold to the public. There's a reason Westlake submitted The Hunter to Gold Medal first. I'm not saying these were necessarily the best novels, AS novels--but this was the high point of the series, AS a series.

    Pocket had done a very good job up to then, and are to be commended for recognizing the potential of a series of books about a crook and a killer who has no problems being a crook and a killer. There were precedents (Ripley, Drake), but the follow-ups to their first outings came along much later, and of course Ripley has doubts, and Drake endlessly self-justifies (and turns legit after only two books). The Parker novels remain unique for their ability to stick to the damn point, which is stealing the money and then hanging onto it, by any means necessary. They also have something Ripley and Drake don't have--a protagonist who refuses to explain himself to us.

    Gold Medal inherited a finished product--already the subject of one movie, and shortly another--the one quibble I have with them is changing the titles to match the films, but the goal was to sell books, and the new titles worked fine.

    I have wondered if they acquired Parker because of the Lee Marvin film. But say this--they didn't order McGinnis to make Parker look like Lee Marvin. They understood the books were something very different from any movie that was ever going to be made of them. Or else they didn't want to pay Lee Marvin or the studio off for the right to use his image. Sometimes we read too much into decisions that had to be made very quickly by people who were publishing a whole lot of books at the same time.

    This in many ways is the most controversial Parker novel--not with fans, who almost universally love it, but it's the least likely to ever become a movie, ever. Parker doesn't kill anybody in this one, that I can recall--but he's stealing a military payroll, and in the process he holds a woman and her two small children prisoner--it's strongly implied that much as he'd rather not, if retaining his freedom means killing all three of them--well, Richard Stark generally spared Parker that kind of decision. It's shocking enough to even tacitly raise the subject. Westlake knows exactly where to draw the line here, and he draws it with great care.

    This is the only Parker novel I can think of where you even SEE any children. Unless you count The Jugger, and that was more of a young adult. Godard made a movie out of that one--kind of--not really. I'm still confused about that. Never mind. :)

  2. Chris: There's good reason to suspect that Point Blank (the movie) played a part in Gold Medal's decision to go with the Parkers. They rushed their edition of The Hunter out, retitled Point Blank as a result of the film, pretty sharpish, publishing it pretty much alongside Rare Coin. But the decision not to feature a Lee Marvin version of Parker could simply be down to Gold Medal's preferences, and McGinnis's as well. I know that here in the UK around that period, paperback cover artists didn't get a lot of art direction from publishers – they were told to read the books and pick a scene to illustrate. Since McGinnis was pumping out so many covers for Gold Medal, it might have been a similar thing there. After all, at the time, the Parkers were just another series of genre novels in the Gold Medal stable, as Gold Medal themselves make plain on that first page – one of many that McGinnis illustrated. And other US "tie-in" editions around that period I've seen do little more than slap a bit of text on about there being a movie – as Gold Medal did with Point Blank. Whereas here in the UK, it was more common for novels to have a still from the film on the cover of tie-in editions, as is the case with the 1967 Hodder-Fawcett-Coronet edition of Point Blank.

    Kelly: oh I do!

  3. Well, seems like the UK model won out here in the end--unfortunately, just as the art for paperbacks today is mainly not half as cool as McGinnis' (except when it is McGinnis), the movie stars that have appeared on Parker book covers since then haven't been in the same league as Lee Marvin. Nor in the league just below his. Nor the league below that.

    They put a photo of Paul Newman (to name one of Lee Marvin's true peers) on the cover of a paperback edition of Donn Pearce's "Cool Hand Luke", when the much better remembered film adaptation came out. That was published by Fawcett Gold Medal--in (wait for it) 1967. And I'm just remembering that right this very minute. Amazing the amount of useless information a brain can accumulate in somewhat more than half a lifetime. :)

  4. Had a bit of a Westlake find myself tonight. Always check the second-hand store for Starks and tonight found a second print of Plunder squad in unread condition, for $8. Also picked up Allison & Busby pb's of The Green Eagle Score, The Jugger, and Deadly Edge for just slightly less.

    There are some pictures here:

  5. Nice scores! Especially Plunder Squad. You sure it's a second printing though? If it says "first edition" on the copyright page, it's a first printing, even if it's lacking a "1" in the strike-off line (Random House strike-off lines started with a "2" at that point).

  6. I think it's second printing, just has the line starting with a 2. I added a picture of the copyright, if you wouldn't mind taking a look.

    Went back the next day and they had unread firsts of Comeback and Backflash as well.

  7. Ah, yes, you're quite correct – there's no "First Edition" under the number line, which would denote a first printing (I checked against my copy). Still, what the hell: at that price, one can't really grumble. And with Comeback and Flashback on top, that's quite the Parker bonanza!

  8. Thanks, appreciate your looking.