I decided to reread The Black Ice Score, a relatively crappy Parker novel, in the wake of having read the first Dortmunder novel, The Hot Rock. According to author Donald E. Westlake, The Hot Rock came about when a Parker novel went awry: Parker is anything but a comedic character, and Westlake found that he was writing Parker into a comedy. Thus, he rewrote the novel with a new protagonist, Dortmunder, and that novel became The Hot Rock. I repeated this oft-told story in my review of The Hot Rock, prompting a friend to ask what I made of the existence of The Black Ice Score, whose premise is eerily similar to The Hot Rock. So I decided to reread The Black Ice Score and think it over.
The Black Ice Score was first published in 1968; The Hot Rock was first published in 1970. Both novels are set in New York. Both novels center around factions from small African nations who compete for ownership of valuable jewels—an emerald and diamonds, respectively. In both novels, and African faction hires professional American criminals to wrest the jewel(s) from the competing faction. So what led Westlake to publish such similar novels so close together? If Westlake’s story of converting the botched Parker novel into the first Dortmunder novel is true, then this would seem to be the logical sequence of events:
1. Westlake begins writing a Parker novel, but he realizes that the tone is hopelessly wrong, so he stops.
2. Westlake starts the Parker novel over again, maintaining the proper tone this time, and the result is The Black Ice Score, published in 1968.
3. Westlake, a highly efficient professional writer, hates to waste anything. He still has the partially (how much?) completed manuscript from #1, and he wants to do something with it. Therefore, he reworks it into The Hot Rock, published in 1970.
Westlake probably thought it unlikely readers would notice (or care) about the similarities between Richard Stark’s The Black Ice Score and Donald E. Westlake’s The Hot Rock, so why not? It’s hard to imagine, however, that he wasn’t asked about this at some point, so if anyone knows anything more, I would be delighted to hear it.
A footnote: For a Parker fan, the most remarkable moment in The Hot Rock comes in passing, when one of the professional American thieves, Alan Greenwood, mentions that his current assumed name is “Grofield.” Alan Grofield, of course, is one of Parker’s sometime partners, first appearing in The Score in 1964. So maybe when the abandoned Parker novel became The Hot Rock, Alan Grofield was transformed into Alan Greenwood? I didn’t pay attention to the initials of the other thieves in The Hot Rock, but perhaps they correspond to characters in the Parker novels as well?