Donald Westlake sure knew how to open a story with a bang.
Writing under his pseudonym Richard Stark, one of his most enjoyable exercises in hard-boiled crime fiction were the series of novels featuring his one-man-army of a protagonist, Parker, which are now being lovingly brought back to life as graphic novels for a new contemporary readership by artist Darwyn Cooke.
The second book in the series "The Outfit" is one of my favorites, and was also the basis of an excellent but hard-to-see screen adaptation in the early 70's by underrated director John Flynn, with Robert Duvall giving a defining performance as Parker, and Joe Don Baker as his sidekick.
Holed up and bedded down under an alias in a Miami Beach hotel room circa 1963, the first images of Cooke's graphic treatment have a hit man's bullets strike the pillow where Parker's head must have laid only moments before, as quick-as-a-cat he rolls off the bed, reaches for the gat he has tucked up under the bed frame, gets a clean shot off at his assailant from an impossible angle under the bed, and emerges to find his female companion neither frightened nor alarmed, but excited by all of the action, and, when asked, even willing to get her hands a bit dirty herself...
What a gal!
You've got to love a story in which a criminal has had face-altering plastic surgery to reinvent his identity, allowing him to escape from the mob that is after him, and to strike anonymously and with impunity himself - those kind of narrative devices were the stock in trade of craftsmen like Westlake and Spillane, and was perhaps most famously used by David Goodis in his novel "Dark Passage", which became the Humphrey Bogart movie written and directed by Delmer Daves.
I love the way Cooke lovingly presents Westlake's epigrammatic dialogue on a full page of its own, opposite his duo-tone full panel portrait of the avenging Parker.
My only complaint with Cooke's design work is that at my age I need a flashlight to read the black-on-dark-blue text layout he sometimes employs throughout the book, but perhaps making me work hard to decipher and detect the meaning of the dark prose on the page is part of the effect of engagement that he is after - his drawings and depiction of this period world sure pull you in.
I can't wait to see Cooke's next adaptation of Westlake aka Stark's Parker series, and plan to collect them all.
You should to.