Friday, February 3, 2012

The Sour Lemon Score - Under the Microscope

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I'd been hearing about Richard Stark among crime afficionados for a while. It seemed like, among people in the know, that Richard Stark was thought of as maybe the best crime writer on the continent

Richard Stark, though, is just a pseudonym. The writer's actual name is Donald E. Westlake, a prolific writer in the genre best known for his humorous caper novels and for writing the screenplay for The Grifters. But he's a writer with many pseudonyms, and he's used those pseudonyms to allow him to explore different styles (and genres). And "Richard Stark," as the pseudonym might suggest, does not write humorous caper novels: he writes stark and hard crime novels. Short, sharp, and brutal is more the order, though there is always a dark humor to "Stark's" writing. If you want a bit of a feel for his work, Mel Gibson's Payback was a remake of a movie that was based on a Stark novel of the same name.

The Sour Lemon Score is crisply written, tight, and sharp, and yet somehow full of life - the dialogue, in particular, is full of character (and characters). The protagonist Parker, is an efficient and unrepentant criminal; not evil or cruel, but generally aware of his own self-interest and accepting of what that entails. Which makes him better than many of the other criminals haunting the societal underbelly, but not a man to cross. And in the Sour Lemon Score, one of the men on a score does just that. Which, needless to say, does not make Parker happy. What ensues is a game of cat and mouse - between two cats. And the mouse? A large pile of money. Money that Parker feels is his.


maine character said...

I've had him recommended, too. He's sort of like Peckinpah, someone not too well known, but highly regarded for clear, brutal work.

Thanks for the reminder.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Sounds like a great read! I think using pseudonyms is something that was fairly common in the past, but I wonder (erotica aside) how many authors starting today would choose different names for different genres. Or use initials, like J.K. Rowling. Hm...

Matthew MacNish said...

Sounds delicious.

Bryan Russell said...

@ Susan

I wonder if it would actually be helpful, at times, in this day and age of branding - creating a different brand for different kinds of books. I suppose the problem for self-publishing would be the need to "start over" in terms of platform for each pseudonym.

I kind of wonder if we might see more open "name branding" in the future, where it's less about anonymity and more about genre streaming. So, a writer's site would have directions to different streams, following each pseudonym/persona and the genre it promotes. I think branding is so common now that people would be more open to it, less bothered by any sense of stigma.

mooderino said...

I've been working my way through the series. It really is phenomenally well written.

Moody Writing
The Funnily Enough

Marsha Sigman said...

You had me at short, sharp, and brutal.

Checking him out!

Trent said...

I found this post through a saved Google search--I run a website devoted to the Parker novels and Donald Westlake. Thought I'd chime in.

The Sour Lemon Score is a good one to start with, as is The Hunter, which is the actual name of the first book in the series, although it has been published as both Payback and Point Blank after the movies based on it.

For those of you with e-readers, The Hunter is only $3.99 for Kindle at the moment if you'd like to dip your toe in inexpensively.

Also worth looking out for are Darwyn Cooke's graphic novels based on the series, which are fantastic and have won a ton of awards.

Hope you like the books (I'm pretty sure you will).

Bryan Russell said...

Thanks for stopping in, Trent.

And, yeah, I think the reprint edition I want to get is called The Hunter. I'll definitely come check out your site.