Addendum: D. Kingsley Hahn on the Parker Timeline, circa 1983

As promised, here are scans of three pages from The ParkerPhile, February-March 1983, Volume I, Number 2, edited (and mostly written) by D. Kingsley Hahn.  This was a shortlived fanzine devoted to Westlake, that published once every two months and ran for five issues (this issue opens with a letter Hahn had received from Westlake himself, thanking him for his efforts) .

The issue at hand is composed of two folded sheets of good quality paper, eight pages in all.  I’ve finally gotten around to ordering the other four issues, haven’t received them yet.  I have only received his kind permission to post this particular article here, which I’m doing because I think it’s a first-rate bit of literary sleuthing, that does admirable legwork regarding the various bits and pieces of chronological information provided in the Stark novels (which as you will see, do not always match up).

As I said last time, we don’t want to get to obsessed with dates.  Parker is not meant to be taken that literally, but Westlake didn’t have to provide any dates at all, so obviously he did want us to have some sense of time passing in Parker’s world, as it was passing in his.

I agree fully with Mr. Hahn’s observation that the first sixteen Parker novels take place over a period stretching from 1962 to 1972 (Butcher’s Moon was most likely completed in 1972, based on comments Westlake made about trying and failing to write another Parker novel in 1973).  It’s 1962 when Parker crosses the George Washington Bridge, and 1972 when he drives out of Tyler in that ambulance.  They do not all take place the same year each was published in, and there’s a bit of authorly legerdemain regarding the dates, but it seems safe to say Parker has aged roughly ten years from the time we first meet him until the events of Butcher’s Moon.  And the books after that–well, that’s a bit more complicated, as I was discussing last time.

If you want to read more of The ParkerPhile, Mr. Hahn has some remaining copies for sale on eBay.  Now let me see if I can get these scans posted at a legible size.  I used to know how to do that.  Oh well, each era of amateur publishing has its own crosses to bear…..

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If these are too hard to read, try these links–

Page One

Page Two

Page Three

Thanks to Greg Tulonen for the technical assist.

 

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27 Comments

Filed under Parker Novels, Richard Stark

27 responses to “Addendum: D. Kingsley Hahn on the Parker Timeline, circa 1983

  1. Thank you for posting this, and to Mr. Hahn for his deep dive into the weeds (or perhaps in amongst the windmills). This is not the first time I’ve seen it postulated that The Sour Lemon Score is out of sequence chronologically, but for the life of me I can’t recall where I first encountered that theory. The most likely candidate is violentworldofparker.com, but that site remains MIA.

  2. I’m not sure if WordPress has changed something, or I’m not scanning them right, but for the life of me I can’t seem to get the images any larger, or figure out how to make them clickable (so that the image can be magnified). If anybody can tell me what I’m doing wrong, I’d be most grateful. I can read them on my screen–barely. They were quite a nice size when I was editing the post, but they didn’t stay that way.

  3. ADD

    I had to download them to read them, but it was worth the minor hassle, don’t sweat it. This is one of the most wonderful and fascinating pieces of Parker-related scholarship I have ever seen. Thank you so much for posting it.

    • I felt like it was crying out for a larger readership. There’s been almost nothing like this, before or since, when in fact (as DKH points out at the end of his piece) it’s been commonplace for many famous series characters in the mystery field, most notably The Great Detective himself.

      Now, I wouldn’t want Parker to get the full Holmes treatment, you understand. That comes with a lot of tacky pastiches and ridiculous theories, for one thing (Did you know Dr. Watson was a woman, and Holmes was secretly married to her? Well yes, I suppose that does solve some problems, but it creates a whole bunch of others, not to mention a really lamentable network series. I mean, if you’re going to switch the genders around, why not make Holmes the woman, hmm?)

      For another, the Parker novels aren’t about all that stuff. They are most of all about the brilliant writing and subtle characterization, things you don’t tend to find much in genre-based series fiction. They are, above all, about identity, about Westlake’s eternal obsession with selfhood. Too much geeking out over the fine details can get in the way of appreciating how good these books really are, how much they have to say.

      But to me, this piece has just the right amount of geek in it. We learn something about the writing process–about how Westlake wanted to root the stories in time, refer back to earlier incidents in Parker’s life, but wasn’t concerned much with making every reference to dates match up with every other, because again–that ain’t what it’s all about. And there are no dating errors that can’t be pretty easily explained away. It’s not like Parker was keeping a diary, or an appointment calendar. That would be pretty stupid.

      • “Is you taking notes on a criminal &^%&ing conspiracy?”

        • In his autobiography, Malcolm X told Alex Hailey about this numbers runner he’d known in Harlem, West Indian Archie, who he said was a mathematical genius, with an eidetic memory–could keep it all in his head. Huge advantage, because crime of all kinds (but particularly gambling) mainly does involve a lot of numbers, and writing those numbers down means leaving a trail for the cops. If you can remember who owes who what without referring to a ledger, you’re going to be a lot harder to catch. He made all the guys working for him do it the same way. Write nothing down (he still had to keep betting slips). Then they ended up having a nearly fatal face-off because Malcolm claimed to have won big on a number when he hadn’t. Attacking his memory, to West Indian Archie, was almost worse than pulling a gun on him–his memory was his livelihood.

          Most of the time, Parker doesn’t need to know exactly how long it’s been since such and such job happened. He only needs to know approximately. The numbers that matter are related to his share of the score, and once that’s settled, he doesn’t need to remember it anymore.

          Does he really know how old he is? Has he ever seen his birth certificate? Was there a birth certificate to start with? Does he know what name he was given at birth? Does he know his mother’s name? Does he care?

          Probably not, so why should he care about getting a few dates right over a ten year period of his life? He remembers what matters to him, what’s useful to him, and the rest can go to hell.

          And Stark isn’t an omniscient narrator. I’m increasingly realizing this. He only knows what his characters know–and not all of that. There are things about Parker he can never know, because even to him, Parker is an enigma, that he keeps trying to solve, to pin down. So if Parker’s memory of some dates is a little cloudy, or Grofield’s recollection doesn’t quite match Parker’s–he’s going to report what they know, or think they know, and nothing more.

          And honestly, the dates don’t matter so much to Stark either. Just a series of milestones. If you’re going down a highway for a long piece, and some highway worker happened to put this or that mile marker a few yards away from where it’s supposed to be, does that matter to you? You’d neither notice nor care. Just keep driving. Until the road ends.

  4. Fascinating! Thanks so much for posting this! And thanks to Mr. Hahn for working it out (in the ’80s, no less) and allowing you to post it.

    I tried to work out a chronology a couple of years back. I put Getaway Face in ’63, which pushed everything out by a year (so Butcher’s Moon is ’73), which had the advantage of giving me a little more room to move with some of the minor issues.

    I also, curiously, put The Seventh and The Handle as happening in ’66 or possibly ’67, the latter of which would place them after their publication date. Which I knew at the time, since my spreadsheet has a column for the publication date. I didn’t list a reason for this.

    I noticed the problem with Sour Lemon Score, but rather than suggesting it was out of sequence, I just cheated and didn’t assign it a specific year. However, I did wonder if Lemons Never Lie was slightly out of sequence, taking place before Slayground/Blackbird, (yes, I tried to fit in the Grofields, too) though there really wasn’t a way to make the problems there reconcile regardless.

    At any rate, I need to look in my budget and see if I can fit in at least one of those other issues of The ParkerPhile.

    • The Man With the Getaway Face (or The Mask, if you want to go with Westlake’s preferred title, also courtesy of The ParkerPhile) would pretty much have to take place immediately after The Hunter, since Parker needs that new face immediately.

      But of course he has to pull that final score on The Outfit first, to bankroll the new face. Wouldn’t take him that long to put a string together and come up with a plan, when he’s motivated enough. He’s thinking Miami should be fine this time of year, or maybe the Keys, as the book closes–meaning it’s not summer, or even late spring. But first he’s going west for the surgery. And then of course he has to put off Florida for a while. If Hahn is right, and the second book takes place in August of 1962, he’d have good reason to shelve that plan a while. Florida’s no place to be in August. Trust me on that.

      It’s a complicated set of books to balance, any way you juggle it. My own feeling is that Westlake always wanted the story to be taking place as close as possible to when he wrote it. Which wasn’t always that close, but that was his preference. Publication dates do not tell us when he wrote the books–he probably wrote some of them in spurts, several at a time, and the publisher spaced them out (it is also far from inconceivable that Gold Medal might have decided to publish The Sour Lemon Score out of sequence from when it was handed in, since it doesn’t tie directly into any other book–a characteristic of the Gold Medal novels, though obviously The Rare Coin Score had to be the first in that succession). You particularly look for books written close together, I’d say, when the events of one book follow close on the heels of the previous one. When he was on a streak, he’d stay on it.

      In many ways, I think of The First Sixteen as One Big Epic. Not a novel, exactly. Tolstoy always said, regarding his most famous work, that it was not a novel, historical or otherwise. “War and Peace is what the author wanted and was able to express, in the form in which it is expressed.” I think you could make that case for the Stark novels, at least the ones covered in this timeline. Only when Parker goes to war, everybody he’s mad at ends up in pieces.

  5. Adi Kiescher

    I couldn’t believe it when I first read this article. It’s so fascinating to see that it’s not only me who is obsessed with Parker. Thank you so much for your efforts in finding / scanning / delivering.

    Cheers from good ole Germany

    Adi

    • I’m obsessed in a somewhat different way–looking for the hidden meaning, the correct interpretation, the relevant comparison, the overriding theme. I would never have been able to do anything like this. Hahn, a fan of many talents, seems to have done it all, in embryonic form, in just five short issues–with Westlake himself helping out. And he did it, I might add, with a disgusting absence of typographical errors. Haven’t found one yet. He didn’t even have an edit button! Show-off. :\

  6. You know, this timeline stuff can be catching–I just found a rather significant datum while rereading Backflash. It has to do with a certain character’s age, relative to an earlier book.

    Only if we take this seriously, that means Backflash happened years before Comeback. It’s a prequel. Not something Westlake is known for, under any name. I’ll save it for the review, but some of you may figure out what I’m talking about yourselves. The age of a character–and the age of a public utility. Maybe that’ll put you on the right track.

    • I haven’t caught your reference, exactly, I don’t think, but your “right track” clue leads me to believe you’re talking about Amtrak, which formed in 1971. But I don’t recall a reference in Backflash to Amtrak and a character’s age, so maybe not. At one point Stark writes, “Amtrak was new, but the station at Rhinecliff was old.” So, is this set in the early ’70s, when Amtrak was new? Nope. Cathman name-checks Foxwoods, which didn’t have full-blown casino gambling until 1992. I’m missing something, though, because neither of those clues fit with what you’ve written. Still, the Foxwoods reference points me towards Backflash being a sequel to Comeback.

  7. Ray Garraty

    In the approach it reminds me an academic article. I don’t mean academic in a bad sense.

    • Well, in one sense of the word, all our speculations about Parker and time are academic. In that no definitive answers shall ever be forthcoming.

      That’s true of many more serious academic studies as well, of course. But I believe what you mean is that the article is strong evidence of a methodical and erudite mind. The type of fellow who does crosswords in pen. I do mine in pixels. And I google. Shameless.

      • Ray Garraty

        Very thorough work, impartial. Nobody would invest that much effort and time in a writer he doesn’t love.

        • Possibly for academic tenure, but good luck trying to get that writing about these books.

          The university I work at has a huge mystery collection. A fair few Westlakes. Exactly four Parker novels. All from the Final Eight.

  8. DKingsley Hahn

    Thanks for all the very kind words — THE PARKERPHILE was a labor of love, and quite laborious to construct in 1983, without the aid of computers or internet. I used Brothers electric typewriter with a 12 inch roller, and each page was written 3 times — the first handwritten; the second, typed with “m” and “n” hash marks; and the final draft typewritten, with justification spaces — and each page was typed separately. A further complication was the simultaneous typing of each line in opposite columns, rather than typing one column at a time, then rewinding the roller back to the beginning, since the lines would never have matched up properly. And, yes, there were LOTS of typing errors, necessitating starting over with a new sheet. The progress of word processing in 30 years is amazing.

    If not for some serious health problems in late 1983, THE PARKERPHILE would have continued for many more issues, as I had a backlog of articles which I had written about DEW, Richard Stark, Tucker Coe, and all the rest of the boys. But I’m glad that I was able to complete the 5 issues, and that the Parker series, as well as the other books by Donald E. Westlake, have taken their rightful place in contemporary thriller literature. As we near the anniversary of his death, let’s give solemn thanks for this unprepossessing writer, who just wanted to write ONE good novel, worthy of being published by Gold Medal paperbacks: I think he succeeded, far beyond his greatest dreams.

    • Very glad you made it here, Mr. H. I was hoping you’d see what a chord your work struck in my little crew of Monequois Irregulars. Thanks so much for letting me use it. Just reading your description of how much you had to do to prepare one issue for publication–exhausting.

      I think one of the pleasures of Westlake–by any name–is that you know you’ve found something very special, that has somehow flown just under the radar all these years. Sure, he wasn’t a near-complete unknown like Willeford for most of his career (and existence), but Willeford has a whole book about him now. There are scholarly biographies of Jim Thompson, Patricia Highsmith, Chester Himes. There’s even a rather nifty little book on David Goodis, by a French writer. Dan J. Marlowe has a biography! No doubt Al Nussbaum is next. And I want to read all of them. (Nussbaum mainly for the verite, you understand.)

      Westlake was, as you say, unprepossessing–he didn’t stick out from the crowd in his personal life, about which we know next to nothing. He wasn’t an Okie, he never went to prison, he didn’t ride the rails as a teenaged hobo, or fight in a war–he never even got amnesia (never robbed any banks in reality either). He surely wasn’t a glamorous iconoclastic lesbian, though he wrote about a fair few in his early days. So the quality of his writing, the depth of his vision, his unique insights–never fully appreciated by the literary establishment. Who thought he was just a fun writer to relax with.

      Well I’m sure having fun with him, and I know you did too.

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