Saturday, May 27, 2017

Doppelgänger : Peter Rozovsky & Ali Karim discuss Donald Westlake & Richard Stark

Doppelgänger from the German [literally "double-goer"] is a look-alike or double of a living person, sometimes portrayed as a paranormal phenomenon, and is usually seen as a harbinger of bad luck.
Ever since I witnessed some mysterious and frightening incidents as a child; something I still cannot explain, something that I still think of from time to time – the role of the Doppelgänger has always fascinated me, as well as acting as a warning to me, about personality, and the dangers of existence.

Like many writers, I use pen names and enjoy traversing the edges of personality, be it my own or that of others. The reasoning is that most people are not who they present themselves as; for we have facets of character that remain hidden - often to survive.
As the 1980s were closing Stephen King's pen name Richard Bachman was exposed as he battled the last stages of his alcohol and pharmaceutical misuse.

The novel THE DARK HALF is from that time though rarely mentioned; with its surreal story of Author Thad Beaumont a writer of literary fiction battling his Pen Name George Stark's creation the disfigured and dangerously malevolent Alexis Machine. George Stark wrote two ultra-violent and renowned pulp thrillers MACHINE'S WAY and STEEL MACHINE that were far more popular commercially than Thad Beaumont’s literary output.
This underrated King novel THE DARK HALF is a thinly disguised homage to Donald Westlake and it would be filmed later by George A Romero starring Timothy Hutton.
I recall King’s THE DARK HALF because like Donald Westlake, some of us have a little Richard Stark in us, to help traverse the dangers in this world; but like Nietzsche's abyss, when the inner Parker is revealed to others, the abyss that is Parker looks back into you. The dark side of human nature is an evolutionary necessity; but also a danger - one we keep locked away.
“The office women looked at him and shivered. They knew he was a bastard; his big hands were born to slap with, they knew his face would never break into a smile when he looked at a woman. They knew what he was, they thanked God for their husbands, and still they shivered. Because they knew how he would fall on a woman in the night. Like a tree".” ― Richard Stark, The Hunter
Here's a few words I wrote for Jeff Pierce's THE RAP SHEET when Quercus Publishing brought back Parker to the UK in 2007. Jeff featured a staggering outpouring in 2009 when Donald Westlake passed away, and here's some thoughts from the Crime / Thriller Community from The Rap Sheet Part One and Part Two
I wrote at the time in 2009 when hearing of the passing of Donald Westlake -
"I first discovered Donald Westlake thanks to the movie version of The Hot Rock with Robert Redford, which led me to explore more of the Dortmunder books, as well as muttering “Afghanistan, Bananistan” to strangers from time to time. But my true love was the Richard Stark series featuring Parker. I loved the spartan style of Stark, and was overjoyed when I read Stephen King’s tribute to Stark in his brilliant novel about split personalities, The Dark Half. (“Anyway, for reasons you’d have to ask Westlake about, he eventually stopped writing novels about Parker, but I never forgot something Westlake said after the pen name was blown. He said he wrote books on sunny days and Stark took over on the rainy ones ...”) It was an apt tribute to a great man.
I only met Westlake once when we came to the CrimeScene convention in London in 2005. I was humbled in his presence, despite his modesty and gentle nature. I find it surreal that when I heard of the awful news [of Westlake’s death], the first words that came into my head were “Afghanistan, Bananistan,” which echoed as a lament for our loss. I miss his words already, as the world just darkened a tad, knowing that he is no longer with us.
Watch Detectives Beyond Borders Peter Rozovsky and I discuss Donald Westlake and Richard Stark in an amusing and unscripted post-Crimefest 2017 Sunday afternoon.

In memory of the late Donald Westlake and Darwyn Cooke

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Doppelgänger Tales

Some of my friends and colleagues know of my interest in the “Doppelgänger” [a ghostly duplicate of a living person, derived from the German term Doppelgänger, literally: double-goer].

My interest is both of times that I have been mistaken for someone else; as well as encountering Doppelgängers of other people that I know.

My current interest in the Doppelgänger stems from something I am writing, something that takes over much of my current thinking.

I have a few Doppelgänger tales, some that are seriously disconcerting [as anyone who has shared a late evening in a bar with me will attest to]. I will share one of my Doppelgänger tales here; but this one is an amusing anecdote from my recollections of days now passed.

It was early/mid 1980s, England. I’d just returned back from the American Midwest where I had been studying for a Doctorate in Chemistry. On my return, my Father had been livid with me [as I had given up a good job at ICI, Runcorn to further my studies in America]. He told me in strong terms that I had to get a job after ‘fucking around academia’ and messing up a career in Imperial Chemicals Industries [ICI].

The first job I applied for I got an interview straightway and headed to London, as they needed me to start immediately. I worked as a young Industrial Chemist, for a Chemicals Storage and Logistics company on the Thames [London and Coastal Oil Wharves Ltd], which I helped get into chemical processing with Automotive Antifreeze manufacture as well as Chemical blending.

The company had taken a stand at The European Chemical Trade Fair, hosted at Heathrow’s Penta Hotel. The Managing Director asked me to ‘man the stand’ over the three-day trade fair [as I was cheap, and he wanted to show off his young Chemist to his customers as well as attract new customers].

I enjoyed the few days having a superb room in the Penta; and as I was single it meant I got all my meals and drinks on account. Various managers from the company drifted in and out of the Chemical Trade Fair, helping me man our company stand.

On the final night Martin Wells, our MD had organised a celebratory dinner in the Penta, with three of our managers and a dozen or so of his top customers. The affair was a long and enjoyable evening. I drank rather a lot of wine, followed by generous quantities of Gin. I needed very little encouragement as our long table was in celebratory mode after the Chemical trade fair. So after a few hours in the bar, it was time to say goodnight and farewell to my colleagues and our guests. I stumbled up to my room which was a feat in itself, due to the amount of Gin I consumed.

On entering my room, I was way too drunk to function correctly, so I just fell asleep on the bed in my suit, only loosening my tie. I noted that the red LED on the bedside clock-radio said it was past three AM. The next thing I recall was that I was dreaming about a ringing phone; or so I thought. The dream woke me up, and I realised that I was not dreaming at all, but the phone by my bedside was ringing, and ringing and ringing. I grabbed the receiver and as I pushed it to my ear, the clock-radio informed me it was coming to five thirty in the morning.

It’s reception. Mr Karim, your taxi is here” said the voice on the line.
“I’ll be right down” I replied in my drunken fugue. Looking back, I don’t know why I hadn’t queried the call about an early morning cab. I knew Martin Wells and the other managers were staying in the Penta too; and we were leaving in the morning, but not at this fucking early hour.

Somehow I managed to navigate myself down to reception, where a perplexed Night Porter and Cab Driver [who was leaning on the reception counter] stared back at me; this dishevelled young Asian bloke staggering in a crumpled suit obviously as drunk as a skunk.
The Night Porter quickly swivelled his chair back to his computer and looked back at me and said “You are Abdul Karim of Egyptian Airlines?”

“No, I’m Ali Karim of London and Coastal Oil Wharves” I replied hiccuping and then running to the nearby toilet, as I felt my stomach heave in my drunken state as reality started to spin around me.

As I ran, I remember hearing the Cab Driver laughing “thank fuck for that, as I thought that cunt is flying the 0700 hrs to Cairo.”

Though strictly not a true Doppelgänger Tale; I have two more about a person, persons or thing that may be a true Doppelgänger of mine; but that’s for when I am in a bar late at night and someone wants me to follow Peter Straub’s gathering of old men, when one asks “tell us all the scariest thing that has ever happened to you.”

Until then, back to my writing, and the issue of coming face to face with your Doppelgänger.