Friday 3 January 2014

Darwyn Cooke's Parker: Slayground (IDW, 2013), Stephen King's Doctor Sleep (Hodder, 2013), and Some Notable Comments

I realise certain date-specific salutations are slightly ridiculous in the context of a blog post which might only be chanced upon weeks if not months or even years after after the event in question (if at all), and especially a blog post which itself arrives days after that event, but even so: happy new year.

I shan't be making any resolutions regarding Existential Ennui in 2014, nor any predictions, or forecasts, or – God forbid – formulating any kind of manifesto for the year ahead; any past such attempts have at best turned out to be only partially correct, and in any case, who (other than me... maybe) really cares what one insignificant books-related blog among so many thousands has planned for the next twelve months? (Not that there is much of a plan beyond the next week or so.) Instead I thought I'd ease myself into the new blogging year in (arguably untypically) unostentatious fashion by posting some thoughts on the two books I managed to polish off over the festive period (not bad going, considering the various demands of fatherhood and home life and travelling to see family over Christmas and whatnot), and drawing attention to a couple of comments which have appeared since I last posted, plus a few more from earlier in December and November.

Books first, beginning with this:

Richard Stark's Parker: Slayground by Darwyn Cooke. When The Violent World of Parker (where I'm co-blogger) supremo Trent and I interviewed Darwyn back in the summer of 2012 (Christ, was it really that long ago...?), Cooke's intention had been to adapt the eighth in Donald "Richard Stark" Westlake's series of Parker novels, The Handle, as his next full-length Parker graphic novel, and after that do "a 48-page real boiled down version of Slayground", the fourteenth Parker outing. Evidently those plans changed, because instead of The Handle – of which there's been nary a sign – Slayground arrived as a 96-page graphic novel in December.

Of those 96 pages, Slayground itself takes up roughly 80, many of them, as the opening spread above demonstrates, as stylish and formally inventive as we've come to expect; there's even a foldout map of Fun Island, the closed-for-the-winter amusement park in which Parker becomes trapped. That the story lacks substance is less a fault of the adaptation than of the source novel – for me one of the slighter Parkers – but it's still an effective manhunt thriller, and in adapting it Cooke makes some intriguing storytelling choices, especially as regards the structure – swapping parts two and three and lopping off the ending where Parker tells Claire he'll go back for the stashed loot some day – and the character of Caliato, the local mob second-in-command, who in Cooke's hands becomes instead Benito, the son of mob boss Lozini. Presumably that change was made in order to give Lozini more of a personal beef with Parker for Cooke's final adaptation, Butcher's Moon, although if so, given that Lozini already regarded Caliato almost as a son, I wonder whether that was really necessary. I guess we'll find out in 2015.
Also included is Cooke's short adaptation of the seventh Parker novel, The Seventh (alias The Split). As I've mentioned before, The Seventh is one of my favourite Parkers, and consequently I'd been wanting to read Cooke's version ever since I learned that it was an extra in Parker: The Martini Edition, which I was reluctant to buy as I already owned Cooke's adaptations of The Hunter and The Outfit (which The Martini Edition collected). In the event I'm glad I held out, because Cooke summarily dispenses with the meat of The Seventh across a single spread and concentrates instead on Parker's climactic pursuit of his nameless nemesis, which, the payoff aside – which in any case is diluted by the abbreviating of the glorious madness which precedes it – is probably the least interesting part of the story. Still, it all looks lovely.

Incidentally, I expect there'll be a review of Slayground over at The Violent World of Parker before long, but if Trent doesn't have one lined up, I might end up posting a version of the above over there.

Anyway, the other book I finished was this:

Doctor Sleep, Stephen King's belated sequel to The Shining, published September 2013 and seen here in its British WHSmith limited edition. The phrase 'return to form' must have been applied to every Stephen King novel of the last twenty years, but in this case it's apt: Doctor Sleep is the best King book I've read since Cell – not quite up there with The Dark Half or Needful Things (and certainly not The Stand), but not far off. I think the reason for that is that Dan – formerly Danny in The Shining – Torrance is one of King's more convincing leads, an alcoholic like his father – and indeed like King himself – whose efforts to carve out some kind of life after a drink-sodden decade or so are at least as, if not more, compelling than the paranormal plot in which he becomes embroiled.

As for those comments, a Tehanu left a comment on my interview with spy novelist Anthony Price drawing my attention to the third novel in Charles Stross's series of "Laundry" occult spy thrillers, The Fuller Memorandum, which I'd not come across before but which apparently is an homage to Price's work. And on a similarly supernatural tip, an anonymous commenter left a message on this post on Andrew MacKenzie, confirming that as well as novels, MacKenzie did indeed pen a good number of occult works. And while we're on the subject of comments and updates, earlier in December a Saz left an enlightening pair of comments on this post on James Mitchell's Callan spy series which are well worth reading; "Going on Ninety" expressed thanks for reminding him about John le Carré; and in November a former associate of Dr. Strangelove writer Peter George's, Madeline Weston, emailed me with her recollections of George's suicide, and granted me permission to update this post on George accordingly.

Thank you to all of those folks, and to everyone else who's commented and emailed; when – as is its occasional wont – the Black Dog pays a visit and I feel like abandoning Existential Ennui altogether, messages like these act as a useful reminder of why I persist in this foolish endeavour.


  1. The Parker graphic novels are interesting, but I need to actually read some of the novels first. I could have read some years and years ago, but I don't think so.

    Andrew Mackenzie is new to me, I missed your post earlier. His books look very hard to find at a reasonable price (for me), but I can always hope.

  2. I'd definitely give the Parker novels a go first, Tracy. Good as Cooke's adaptations are, the novels are better. Let me know if you manage to find any MacKenzie – I'd be interested to read your thoughts.

  3. Stephen King fans will rejoice. (I am only partly one because I believe he is a douche for his political beliefs). There are a few disturbing scenes in the book but King does not flinch and sugar coat evil.

    However, contrary to what the book declares repeatedly, you need to have seen and/or read King's book "The Shining" to really appreciate the story line.

  4. I don't know if you really need to have seen and/or read The Shining, Arvind; it maybe helps a little with the character of Dan, but even there, to my mind, King relates enough about him as a boy and his experiences at the Overlook for Doctor Sleep to work.

    Thanks for the comment. I'm intrigued by your remark about King's political beliefs; I don't think I know what they are tbh. Care to elucidate?