Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Jugger

With the realization that the next set of Stark reprints are imminent, I figure I'd better say something about the latest batch if I'm going to say anything, and I am, so here it goes.

Earlier, I touched on what it is about Parker that makes him such an enduring character. I concluded that a large part of his appeal was due to his persistence and determination. Parker soldiers on relentlessly know matter what sort of setbacks he runs into. Now, it would be possible to base an entire series on an underworld ubermensch who is constantly overcoming working to overcome the treachery and incompetence of others, but Westlake is more skillful than that. Parker isn't a superthief. He's just a thief, and he sometimes, despite his best efforts, makes mistakes.

The Jugger, which is certaintly the strongest of the reprints yet, is the story of a mistake. When Parker receives correspondence from an acquaintence that makes him wonder if his cover is about to be blown, Parker decided to take action. When Parker arrives in town, he finds his acquaintance dead under suspicious circumstances, so he feels obligated to investigate to make sure his identity is protected. Little does he know that every action he takes is actually bringing him closer to being exposed to the authorities.

The Jugger, like The Hunter, shows Parker as a man of stone with feet of clay, and it is that added depth which, along with Westlake's remarkable prose and storytelling ability, that allow the character and the series to endure. Parker is at the mercy of a set of rules that make it impossible for him to to trust anyone, and yet he must trust them, and this tension results in much flailing about in an information vacuum where bad intentions must be assumed by everyone. In a situation like that, everyone is going to make mistakes. It's a long way from Raffles, Gentleman Thief, that's for sure.

(Image shamelessly ripped off from The Violent World of Parker).


Cullen Gallagher said...

"Parker isn't a superthief. He's just a thief, and he sometimes, despite his best efforts, makes mistakes."

I completely agree - and this is what I think is missing in all of the film adaptations of the Parker novels. They make him out to be this robotic, inhuman force (Point Blank), or "cool but sensitive" (Payback), or else just a plain hardboiled caricature (Made in U.S.A., the one based off The Jugger).

None of this stops me from liking "Point Blank" - though the other two I don't very much care for - but I still wonder if there's been a good Parker movie adaptation. I've never seen Slayground, and I know there are a couple more out there.

Gerard Saylor said...

I disagree on the "superthief" idea. I think Parker is a superthief but I suppose we may have two opposing definitions of superthief.

Parker does not plan intricate and exciting capers with everyone going home scott-free. But, because of his tenacity and drive, Parker overcomes or bypasses obstacles and succeeds. Parker can be diverted but he always comes back around to what he needs to do.

His sociopathic personality, self-interest, and professionalism always win out. He is the uber-thief.

Nathan Cain said...


I was using "super thief" in the way that one might say that James Bond is a "super spy." He always knows what he's doing, always wins, always get the girl. Parker's not like that. He's often grasping in the dark, and the Jugger is a prime example. He screws up and loses almost everything he has to lose. I see where you're coming from with your definition, though. I don't know that that qualifies him as "super" though. A professional's professional, yes.