Thursday, August 22, 2013

David Handler

David Handler’s first book in the Berger and Mitry series, The Cold Blue Blood, was a Dilys Award finalist and BookSense Top Ten pick. Handler is also the author of eight novels about the witty and dapper celebrity ghostwriter Stewart Hoag and his faithful, neurotic basset hound, Lulu, including Edgar and American Mystery Award winner The Man Who Would Be F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Handler's new novel is Runaway Man.

A week or so ago I asked the author about what he was reading.  Handler's reply:
It never fails. Whenever I start to get all tangled up in the maddening little plot threads and character details of one of my own books I find myself reaching for The Hunter. I’m reading a dog-eared paperback copy of it right now for what must be the tenth time. The Hunter was the very first of the lean, mean, hard-boiled Parker novels that the masterful Donald Westlake took to writing in 1962 under the name of Richard Stark. He wrote 16 Parker novels in quick succession before he took 23 years off and then started up again with eight more.

The Parker series is one of the most remarkable in all of crime fiction. I think of the books as no frills police procedurals that just happen to be told from the point of the view of the criminal. Parker is not your typical hero. He’s a professional heist artist who is amoral, asocial, ruthless and downright brutal. He is also a man who is so devoid of personality that that’s his personality. Only a writer as breathtakingly gifted as Westlake could make hay with a lead character who has no wit, warmth or humanity to offer. And yet Parker is strangely likeable in his own ice cold way. He’s a man of his word. He’s loyal to his business associates. He simply chooses to live by a different set of rules than you and I do.

When we first encounter him in The Hunter – which, by the way, was turned into the great Lee Marvin movie Point Blank -- Parker has just broken out of a prison farm and is hell bent on revenge. He’s been betrayed and left for dead by his wife, Lynn, and by Mal, the scheming louse who stole Parker’s share of the take on their last heist. Parker vows to a) get his money back b) get even. How he goes about doing that is what The Hunter is all about.

Why do I reach for The Hunter whenever I’m lost in the middle of one of my own books? Because, for me, reading it is like a therapeutic smack in the face. Westlake’s terse, propulsive prose always reminds me that my single most important job as a crime writer is to just tell the damned story. Keep it simple. Keep it moving. Don’t get lost in all of the character flourishes. Just focus on the story. The rest will take care of itself.

Trust me, even though I’ve just published my 21st book I still need a master like Westlake to remind me of these things.

Despite the fact that I know exactly how The Hunter is going to turn out I always read it to the very last page. And then I immediately start in on book two, The Man With the Getaway Face. Before I know it I’m on to The Outfit and then I end up reading the whole series all over again. Once I start reading the Parker series I can’t stop. Don’t want to. I think it may be the most thoroughly addictive series anyone has ever written. That’s because Donald Westlake was the best of the best.

And it all starts with The Hunter.
Visit David Handler's website and blog.

Writers Read: David Handler (October 2011).

Writers Read: David Handler (October 2012).

--Marshal Zeringue