One of the reasons that the master heister Parker is still with us fifty years after pulling his first job is that he’s very good at keeping quiet. He knows better than to plan a job in the town where he’s going to pull it, and he certainly doesn’t encourage advance attention.
That’s too bad, because the job he’s pulling this weekend is getting a lot of publicity. Tomorrow night sees the premiere of Parker, a new movie starring Jason Statham and Jennifer Lopez—the first adaptation to actually use Parker’s name—and that’s brought a spate of attention to Parker in all his incarnations.
In the Village Voice, Nick Pinkerton runs through the long (and, let’s be honest, checkered) history of adaptations of Parker. Statham’s English accent is a first for Parker, but Pinkerton points out that the movies have always found him mutable:
[H]e has been black—Jim Brown, too gentle in 1968’s wasted opportunity The Split [based on The Seventh]—and (sort of) a 25-year-old Danish girl. Made in U.S.A. (1966), with a trench-coated Anna Karina in the lead, is ostensibly based on Stark’s The Jugger, though it’s really but one element in Jean-Luc Godard’s mulligan stew of American pulp references.
Donald Westlake loved pointing out the variety of the movie Parkers. He liked to joke,
A friend of mine said, “So far, Parker’s been played by a white guy, a black guy and a woman. I think the character lacks definition.”
You can find that line, along with insight from some of Westlake’s fans and peers (including Elmore Leonard and Otto Penzler) in an article from the Los Angeles Times from 2009, just after Westlake’s death, that looked at the difficulties filmmakers have faced bringing his books to the screen.
This time around, things seem more promising—if for no other reason than that the director himself is the one acknowledging Westlake’s importance and writing about the challenges of adapting Parker. Last week’s Los Angeles Times featured a piece by Taylor Hackford that nodded to the film’s forebears and wrestled with the question of “why should audiences want to spend time with this sociopath?”—as well as the tough job of finding an actor who can embody Parker’s quiet, capable menace.
Parker’s ferocious work ethic has infected us here at Chicago, too, and this week we’re proud to debut a new site for Parker fans, in honor of the fiftieth anniversary and the film. We’ve totted up the take (in dollars and blood) from each book, assembled a list of Parker’s Rules to Heist By, and, biggest and best of all, built a sortable character guide that covers every single one of the 498 people to cross Parker’s path in the twenty-four novels. Who lives? Who dies? Who gets away with the swag? We’ve got it all for you at www.parkerseries.com.
The Internet loves lists, so we’ll close with one that seems like it might be of a bit more practical value than Parker’s maxims. After all, while we’re not all heisters, we might all be targets. So herewith, our advice to you on how not to get robbed by Parker:
1 Get a custom burglar alarm. Oh, Parker and his guys will get through it regardless, but a custom one rather than an off-the-shelf number will be the difference between them getting in like, say, a hot knife through butter and a knife through cheese. Semi-soft cheese.
2 Make sure your staff is happy. Disgruntled employees complain to their girlfriends and boyfriends, talk to strangers, and even sell their inside knowledge to heisters. You keep your people satisfied, you keep Parker away.
3 Don’t run your business as a front for the Outfit. If you do, Parker will likely stay away—until, that is, he has a beef with the Outfit. And you really don’t want to be the middleman there.
4 Don’t have anything he wants. We recommend possessing only books. He’s not much of a reader, that Parker.
5 Finally, and most important: don’t try to cheat him out of his share. Just don’t. Look up regret in the dictionary and you’ll find a stipple portrait of Parker, silently staring you down.