by Mike Knowles
Pi is defined to be the ratio of the circumference c of any circle divided by its diameter. You can take any circle and divide it by its diameter and you will always come up with the same number: 3.14 and a huge line of digits going on and on. Equations are everywhere whether you can see it or not. They’re even in books— sort of.
My favourite writer is Richard Stark and most of his books are pretty loyal to a standard equation that I call the Stark Equation.
Stark Novel (SN) = P + N + C + O +N (M) - R
To understand the formula you must first understand the variables.
Every Stark novel revolves around Parker. He is the prototypical anti-hero. Parker is a remorseless, resourceful, thief who supports himself by doing big jobs like armored car heists and bank robberies. He is a bad guy who does bad things, but he doesn’t ever feel remorse about it and for some reason that transfers to the reader who doesn’t ever hold anything against the character for being a bastard. If anything the reader loves Parker for what he is. But the Stark Equation needs more than just Parker.
N— Need for Money
Almost every Stark book begins with Parker running out of cash. Loyal fans always know when Parker's coffers are low because his sex drive takes a nosedive. Soon, he becomes completely focused on the task of making money. This focus usually upsets a lady or two. Stark never lets the reader in on how a mean dude, with a fake name, no job, no interests, no conversational skills, who is living in a hotel for months at a time attracts such a bevy of beautiful women, but I always let it slide.
So Parker needs money and the only way he knows how to get it is the wrong kind of way. Parker is a robber and every book centers around a caper. The Caper is usually, initially, not a good one and is often poorly orchestrated. Parker will take over said job and refine the plan until it is sure to be a success. Well it would be if it weren’t for the next two variables.
O— Old Allies
Parker always aligns himself with at least one or two old allies he has worked with before. They are men like him who supplement their lives with the money they make stealing things. The usual suspects are often: gigolos, pro-wrestlers, race car drivers, diner owners, etc. Parker signs on for the job because he knows he can trust the men he has worked with before. But these men always bring along a complication.
N (M)— The new guy who’s inexperience is multiplied by some sort of mental defect.
Almost every Parker novel has a new guy who is the one behind the crime. It is usually some cousin’s sister’s brother’s roommate who has a perfect idea for a heist. Most people know someone like this. A guy who works somewhere and swears he could walk off with a pile of money without getting caught if he felt like it (On a side note, I got a few plans like this if anyone is interested). Other times, the new guy is another robber who is new to Parker. The new guy is always screwed up and has some issues that will definitely end up in a classic Stark double cross. The double cross usually goes like this: Men steal money, men evade cops, men get to hideout, new guy kills men (just not Parker) and runs away with the money. You would think Parker would learn to be suspicious of idiots, but most people accept others based on a friend vouching for them. When I was twelve, one of my buddies brought a friend over to a friend’s house. The kid seemed creepy, but we let it slide because his references checked out. It took ten minutes for the afternoon to go off the tracks. The creepy kid found the collection of artistic photos my friend’s dad owned (that somehow took us years to find) and the kid spent the next few hours in the middle of the area rug staring at the nudes (male and female) in the book and freaking us out. Never trust the new guy.
Parker overcomes the double cross and usually must deal with a setback. The setbacks vary in intensity; they can be as mundane as a head start by the new guy, or as serious as several bullet wounds. Usually, Parker overcomes the setback in forty pages or so and ends up with less money than he thought he would get.
It took way longer for the weird kid to stop coming around. We had to hide the photo books and stop playing outside.
It all works out every time: (SN) = P + N + C + O +N (M) - R
The equation is never good for Parker. In his world, his job is a lot like everyone else's: He has to do all the planning himself, his job is physically intense, he ends up having to do the work over because the new guy screwed it up, and in the end he somehow makes less than he was supposed to.
But for Stark, the equation is literary alchemy that turns words into gold. The equation seems relatively simple to follow, but it cannot be properly applied by anyone but a master. Stark used a similar equation over and over again, but somehow managed to create something new and cool each time. His skill defies the laws of nature. Somehow, his 2+2 never equalled 4. If Stark added a literary 2+2 it would always end up equaling 100% badass.