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Literature / Parker

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Parker is a fictional character created by Donald E. Westlake. He is the main protagonist of 24 of the 28 novels Westlake wrote under the pseudonym Richard Stark.

A ruthless career criminal, Parker has almost no traditional redeeming qualities, aside from efficiency and professionalism. Parker is cold, methodical, and perfectly willing to commit murder to get what he wants. His first name is never mentioned in the novels, and there are many details about him which remain unknown. Four of the novels were adapted into comics by Darwyn Cooke for IDW Publishing before his untimely death.

The novels in the Parker series are:

  • The Hunter (1962, aka Point Blank, Payback)
  • The Man With the Getaway Face (1963, aka The Steel Hit)
  • The Outfit (1963)
  • The Mourner (1963)
  • The Score (1964, aka Killtown)
  • The Jugger (1965)
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  • The Seventh (1966, aka The Split)
  • The Handle (1966, aka Run Lethal)
  • The Rare Coin Score (1967)
  • The Green Eagle Score (1967)
  • The Black Ice Score (1968)
  • The Sour Lemon Score (1969)
  • Deadly Edge (1971)
  • Slayground (1971 — First chapter shared with The Blackbird, a novel in Westlake's Alan Grofield series)
  • Plunder Squad (1972)
  • Butcher's Moon (1974)
  • Comeback (1997)
  • Backflash (1998)
  • Flashfire (2000, aka Parker)
  • Firebreak (2001)
  • Breakout (2002)
  • Nobody Runs Forever (2004)
  • Ask the Parrot (2006)
  • Dirty Money (2008)


The Parker novels contain examples of:

  • Adaptation Distillation: The Parker graphic novels. The Outfit opens with the heist from The Man With The Getaway Face before swinging into the plot of the book it's titled after, and Slayground features a short story adapted from the finale of The Seventh.
  • The Alcatraz: Stoneveldt in Breakout has this reputation. Parker is told multiple times that no one has ever escaped from there. Played with in the sense that it's not due to the overall defenses but rather that no one's there long enough to formulate a plan.
  • Amusement Park of Doom: Slayground features an amusement park closed for the winter where Parker is hiding from pursuit. It's when Parker starts MacGyvering the rides into traps for his enemies that it enters this trope, in a rare example of the protagonist being the one to create the park.
  • And Now for Someone Completely Different: Fairly consistently, the books will spend the third of four sections being told from the perspective of somebody else in the story before reverting back to Parker.
    • Got to the point where Alan Grofield got his own series of books, one of which crosses over with Parker's.
  • Anyone Can Die: Parker himself obviously always makes it out. The series is not shy about bumping off anybody else, though.
  • Armed Blag: Several. They never quite go as smoothly as Parker would like.
  • Back-Alley Doctor: In The Man With the Getaway Face, Parker attends a clinic run by a highly skilled plastic surgeon who was blacklisted in Hollywood due to his former membership of the Communist Party. These days he specializes in providing new faces to members of the underworld.
  • Bad Habits: Parker dons clerical garb when he opens a series of bank accounts in Flashfire.
  • Ballistic Discount: The Outfit contains a story about what happened to a young thug who attempted to pull this on an armourer who provides guns to the underworld. He boasted about what he was planning so much that word got back to the armourer. He handed the thug a gun that was rigged to blow up in his hand when he fired it.
  • Bare-Fisted Monk: Parker is perfectly willing to use guns, knives, clubs and booby trapped amusement parks as weapons, but he prefers to work with his hands.
    Stegman: I don't see no gun on you. I don't see no weapon!
    Parker: (cracks knuckles) You see two of them. They're all I need.
  • Big Damn Heroes: By Parker of all people, in Butcher's Moon.
  • Black and Grey Morality: Parker can and will kill with dispassion, but generally prefers a minimum of violence in his heists and won't kill somebody unless they're trying to kill him directly or indirectly. He also won't take more than his share from a heist unless he's been double-crossed or otherwise screwed over.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Parker.
  • Comic-Book Time: The Parker novels span 46 years and are usually set at around the time they were published; Parker himself remains a grizzled fortyish throughout. There were some references to his military service (and bad conduct discharge) in World War II in the first few novels, which are later ignored. It helps that he is given very little backstory, so there's not much to retcon.
  • The Corpse Stops Here: Happens to Parker in The Seventh, when he arrives at his hideout to find his Girl of the Week murdered, and the loot from the most recent heist stolen. A few minutes later, two cops walk in and Parker realizes the killer had waited around until he returned and then called the police.
  • Criminal Procedural
  • Dashing Hispanic: Salsa.
  • Death by Adaptation: Darwyn Cooke made a few changes in his retelling of the events of The Outfit. In the original, accountant/troubleshooter Quill is given a message by Parker, and thereby survives the events at Bronson's mansion. In the graphic novel, Parker decides to eliminate the middleman and deliver the message himself.
  • Decapitation Presentation: At the end of The Man With the Getaway Face, Parker unzips a travel bag to show May the severed head of Wells: proving that he has upheld his end of the bargain and Wells is dead.
  • Determinator: Nothing will stop Parker once he puts his mind to accomplishing something (usually vengeance). In The Hunter, he goes to war against The Mafia in order to regain money he believes he is owed. In The Outfit, he is such a thorn in their side that they decide it is easier to make peace with him than keep fighting him despite him having killed several of their bosses.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: In the first installment The Hunter, Parker planned to kill Mal Resnick and take his share as well. Something he'd never do later books.
    • Parker's somewhat different characterization in The Hunter is mainly due to the fact that the story was originally a stand-alone. In both the original and final versions, the end has Parker confronted by some cops who believe he's guilty of one of the few crimes he didn't actually commit in the novel. In the original version, though, the cops shoot and kill him. Editor Bucklin Moon found this ending unsatisfactory but agreed to buy the novel if Westlake would change the ending, have Parker survive and escape, and provide more Parker novels. Westlake changed the ending, but not some of the other events that make Parker's character even darker in this story than in the future ones.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: For all his sociopathy, Parker clearly adores Claire. He also seems to have genuinely cared for his wife before she double-crossed him.
  • False Rape Accusation: In The Outfit, Parker turns down an offer of sex from the wife of one his cronies. She later claims that Parker raped her in an attempt to goad her husband into killing him.
  • Fiery Coverup: George Uhl does this in The Sour Lemon Score after he murders his two co-conspirators: burning down the farmhouse where the murders took place. He knocks the teeth out of the corpses before setting the fire to make identification of the bodies almost impossible.
  • Finagle's Law: Especially in the later books, almost inevitably something no amount of planning could anticipate hits Parker from the side.
  • From Camouflage to Criminal: Parker served in the army in Europe during World War II before being dishonorably discharged for black marketeering. Although he was probably a criminal before he enlisted (or was drafted), it is implied his time in the service is part of why he is so good with firearms. Due to Comic-Book Time, his military service is not mentioned in the later novels.
  • Great Escape: The first third of Breakout is dedicated to Parker organising a Great Escape from Stoneveldt.
  • Hall of Mirrors: In Slayground, Parker, cornered by rival criminals in a closed up amusement park, takes a precaution to assure that he will not end up confused by the Hall of Mirrors. He spraypaints a white line across the mirrors in the Hall of Mirrors. That way, when he does not see the white line, he knows he has the actual person in his sights.
  • Hypocrite: The Hunter has a pretty egregious example. Parker is pretty damn pissed that Mal nearly killed him and took his cut (not to mention his wife). Of course a few seconds before his wife shot him, he was off to kill Mal off and take his cut.
  • The Heist: Most of the novels revolve around some kind of heist.
  • Honor Among Thieves: Parker has a rigid code of honour, in that A) he will absolutely not double-cross another professional criminal with whom he is working, unless B) if anyone tries to double-cross him, Parker will unhesitatingly undertake to exact a thorough and brutal revenge.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: The Seventh opens with Parker arriving back at the apartment he is using as a hideout to find the girl he was sharing it with stabbed with a sword that has gone through her and the headboard of the bed to pin her to the wall.
  • It Works Better with Bullets:
    • In Comeback, Parker unloads Liss's shotgun while Liss is sleeping. This saves his life when Liss double-crosses him.
    • In Flashfire, Parker breakers into Melander's hideout and misaligns all the firing pins in the gang's automatics, and drains all of the powder from their shotgun shells. This ends badly for Melander and his gang when they pull these weapons when the police storm their hideout.
  • Karma Houdini: If Parker is just stealing something, he'll generally get away clean with no repercussions, although not without trouble. If Parker commits murder, it comes back to bite him.
  • Lawful Evil: Parker is methodical, self disciplined and performs some pretty unsavory tasks. He has more of a sense of honor than the miscreants he works with. Averted in The Hunter where his character was somewhat irrational and used brutality more than necessary. Somewhat justified in that he might be suffering from PTSD from his near death experience.
  • A Lighter Shade of Black: Parker, a Villain Protagonist, is an amoral thief. However, he is pragmatic. He would kill to get what he wants, but he would not do it if it was unnecessary because he knows that the police put more effort in hunting murderers than thieves. Some books like The Sour Lemon Score or Deadly Edge, put him against complete psychos who rape and kill on a whim.
  • Left for Dead: Parker is left for dead when he is betrayed by his wife and his partner after The Heist in The Hunter. He wakes up inside a burning house. Managing to escape, he goes on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
  • Loose Lips: The undoing of more than one of Parker's carefully planned heists.
  • The Mafia: Called "The Outfit" in the books; Parker deals with them so effectively they begin referring work to him.
  • Molotov Cocktail: Parker uses a Molotov cocktail to firebomb a gas station to create a distraction for a bank robbery at the start of Flashfire.
  • The Napoleon: Little Bob Zelig in The Seventh. Less than five feet tall, Zelig has a serious case of 'small man's syndrome', and Parker notes that he deliberately says things that no taller man could ever get away with. He even picks fights with Parker which, as his boyfriend points out, is tantamount to suicide. After he finally snaps and starts trying to kill Parker, Parker dispassionately shoots him in the back of the head.
  • Never Bring a Knife to a Fist Fight: Parker is arguably more dangerous without a weapon than with one.
  • Nobody Here but Us Statues: In Slayground, Parker sits in a wax museum display and his pursuers fail to notice him.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Parker's not a hero and he doesn't do good deeds, but in The Jugger he is not setting out with the intent to commit any crimes in particular and actually ends up ridding a small town of a corrupt sheriff. These actions result in blowing his legitimate cover identity, which leaves him broke and in a very bad spot for some time.
  • No Honor Among Thieves: Many of Parker's heists go astray when one of his partners decides to betray the crew and take the loot for themselves.
  • One-Word Title: Also a Protagonist Title for the series, but also the books which are this trope are also Portmantitles for being compound words:
    • The Hunter with its alternate title of Payback.
    • The Score with its alternate title of Killtown.
    • Slayground
    • Comeback
    • Backflash
    • Flashfire, which is also a Protagonist Title for its alternate title of Parker.
    • Firebreak
    • Breakout
  • Only One Name: Parker's first name is never revealed. It's an open question as to whether "Parker" is even his real name.
  • Pinned to the Wall: The Seventh opens with Parker arriving back at the apartment he is using as a hideout to find the girl he was sharing it with stabbed with a sword that has gone through her and the headboard of the bed to pin her to the wall.
  • Pistol-Whipping: In The Sour Lemon Score, Parker's opening move in the bank heist is to cold cock the bank guard with his pistol hard enough to knock him out when he turns to look at the distraction.
  • Plethora of Mistakes: Parker's carefully planned heists seldom go according to plan; usually due to either the greed of his partners or the interference of other criminals.
  • Pocket Protector: Parker survives his wife's attempt to kill in The Hunter because her first shot hits his belt buckle. This knocks him down and causes her remaining five wild shots to pass over the top of him.
  • Portmantitle: All of which are One Word Titles as well:
    • The Hunter with its alternate title of Payback.
    • The Score with its alternate title of Killtown.
    • Slayground
    • Comeback
    • Backflash
    • Flashfire
    • Firebreak
    • Breakout
  • Pragmatic Villainy: In The Handle, Parker is faced with two Mexican thieves who happened to hit his target first, and hidden a portion of the proceeds. Being short on time, he lets them go, noting that an interrogation would be useless since he doesn't know any Spanish and assumes that they don't understand English.
    • The Outfit decides it is simply easier to make peace with Parker than to risk further losses fighting him, making a business decision to write off the money and personnel Parker has claimed to that point.
  • Protagonist Title: Also a One-Word Title, for the title of the series, and the alternate title for Flashfire, which is Parker.
  • Ransacked Room: Parker does this to Brock's apartment in The Sour Lemon Score; emptying every drawer, cutting open every pillow and cushion, and breaking open every stick of furniture where something could be concealed. Brock is shocked that someone could be destructive, and regards the apartment as having been raped.
  • Red Shirt: At least one per book.
  • Refuge in Audacity: The Score features Parker and a team robbing an entire town in one night.
    • The Green Eagle Score features Parker heisting a payroll from an Air Force base.
    • Butcher's Moon has a team of thieves Parker assembles strike multiple Outfit targets in one night before assaulting their headquarters.
  • Right-Wing Militia Fanatic: In Flashfire, Parker is saved from a pair of hitmen when they run across the Christian Renewal Defense Force on maneuvers in the Everglades. The hitmen try to kill the CRDF to eliminate the witnesses and get gunned down.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: The Hunter is about Parker going after his wife and partner who double-crossed him and left him for dead.
    • Butcher's Moon features Parker assembling an army and ruthlessly killing most of the criminal infrastructure of a small city.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Several of Parker's targets.
  • Robbing the Mob Bank: In The Outfit, Parker gets sick of the contract The Mafia has placed on him. He contacts all of his independent operator associates and asks them to put into effect any plans they might have had for robbing outfit operations (which is something he had threatened to do at the end of the first novel The Hunter). The third section of the novel details several of these robberies being carried out. The result is so costly to the outfit that they are willing to make peace with Parker and call off the contract.
  • Senseless Violins: In The Outfit, two of the gang who knock over the Outfit's number-running operation are dressed as musicians and carrying burp guns hidden in trombone cases.
  • Shoot the Builder: In The Man With the Getaway Face, a criminal on the run returns to the underworld plastic surgeon who changed his face and murders him, as the surgeon was the only one to know what his new face looks like. This causes problems for Parker, who is another client of the surgeon, as the surgeon's staff start hunting down past clients for revenge.
  • Slipping a Mickey: Parker gets slipped a mickey by the middleman Brock when he shows up asking questions about Rosenstein and Uhl in The Sour Lemon Score.
  • Spoiler Title: The title of The Seventh makes it pretty clear what's going to happen when you discover it involves a seven-man job.
  • Super Window Jump: In The Sour Lemon Score, Parker escapes from George Uhl's ambush by diving through the farmhouse window when Uhl shoots Bernie Weiss. The house is so dilapidated that he takes most of the most of the window frame with him.
  • Swiss Cheese Security: In The Outfit, Parker is incredulous about how easy it is to break in the mansion of Bronson: a mob boss he has come to kill. He eventually theorizes that Bronson must be so confident in his cover in Buffalo that he doesn't feel the need to have obvious (or efficient) security.
  • Take Off Your Clothes: In Flashfire, Lesley tells Parker that she is not interested in him sexually and has no desire to get naked in front of him. He then tells her that she has to. He is checking to see if she is wearing a wire.
  • Taking Over the Town: In The Score, Parker is recruited to lead a crew to take over and loot a small copper mining town. The town has a curfew, which makes things easier, as the crew only has to take over the police station, the fire station, and the telephone exchange—the only places manned all night—before launching their assault.
  • The "The" Title:
    • The Hunter
    • The Man With the Getaway Face
    • The Outfit
    • The Mourner
    • The Score
    • The Jugger
    • The Seventh
    • The Handle
    • The Rare Coin Score
    • The Green Eagle Score
    • The Black Ice Score
    • The Sour Lemon Score
  • Throw-Away Guns: In The Outfit, Parker knocks out a hitman by throwing his revolver into his face because he doesn't want to risk shooting in a crowded hotel where the gunshot is likely to attract the attention of the law.
  • Truth Serums: In The Sour Lemon Score, Rosenstein and Brock use a truth serum on Parker to find out what he knows about George Uhl. Parker later uses the same serum (which he discovered when her searched Brock's apartment) to interrogate Uhl about the location of the money.
  • The Un-Reveal: The name of the amateur who soured Parker's score in The Seventh. The police discover his identity, and at several points the reader almost learns his name, but something always interrupts the action before it is revealed on the page. The novel ends without the reader (or Parker) ever learning who he actually was.
  • Villain Protagonist
  • What a Piece of Junk: In The Outfit, Parker visits a mechanic who specialises in supplying cars to the underworld. One of the vehicles he shows Parker is a Volkswagen Bug that he has been modifying into a getaway car, with a souped-up engine, reinforced chassis, ballast to allow it to corner properly, etc. The one problem he is having is that he cannot make it sound like a VW. Later in the novel, the reader gets to see the car in action, and he has solved the sound problem, at least at low speed.


Example of: