Summer Reading. "When a fresh-faced guy in a Chevy offered him a lift, Parker told him to go to hell. The guy said, 'Screw you, buddy,' yanked his Chevy back into the stream of traffic, and roared on down to the tollbooths. Parker spat in the right-hand lane, lit his last cigarette, and walked across the George Washington Bridge."
The first three sentences of a book by Richard Stark called 'The Hunter,'* published early in 1962 when I was 16. I found it in among a box of used books I bought for 50 cents at a neighborhood auction that summer. I was hooked. I didn't know books could do that! The schools had me totally brainwashed, blinkered, and blinded. Books were 'The Great Gatsby,' 'Moby Dick,' 'Oliver Twist.' Those are the books I was given, so those were the books I read, and I had never read a book that started even remotely like 'The Hunter.'
Even as a tender youth, I knew that Parker hadn't really said "go to hell" and that the other guy didn't say, "Screw you, buddy." As an up-and-coming hitchhiker myself, I had a pretty good guess what a "fresh-faced guy" might be. Wow!
Last night I read a book that starts: "When he saw that the one called Harbin was wearing a wire, Parker said, 'Deal me out a hand,' and got to his feet."
Yes, more than 40 years and two dozen novels later, Parker is still at it. By the end of graf two, he's garroting the hapless Harbin. A delightful summer read!
I've changed, but my reading tastes apparently haven't. Nowadays Stark can let his characters use the real words, but the whole rest of his shtik is there unchanged in all its glory. Parker is one mean sonofagun (if you know what I mean.)
Sometimes I imagine teaching a course in Noir Crime Fiction, starting with 'The Hunter' where it all started for me, but my inner snob recoils and reminds me that 'The Hunter' is not a real book. 'The Great Gatsby' is a real book; 'Moby Dick' is a real book. Serious people do not read 'The Hunter' and they certainly do not pay college tuition to find out what happened when Parker got to the Manhattan end of the George Washington Bridge. And if you don't like that, why then you can just go to hell, buddy.
* also published at different times as 'Point Blank' and 'Payback'