This is the 9th Parker novel, and while I enjoyed the 8th novel, The Handle, it didn't feel as strong as prior efforts. With a dozen more Parker books to go, I was a bit nervous that at some point, possibly due to the prolific nature of dimestore writing, if Stark had found his pattern and was sticking to it. While The Seventh had its moments, I was definitely feeling a pattern (and I loved the ending of The Seventh).
This book breaks the mold a bit as its the first book in a while to deal not just with Parker's internal working as an operator, but The Rare Coin Score (1967) introduces Claire, who I understand is Parker's romantic partner in future books - and thus a bit of character development we haven't seen before. That said: Romance being a relative term in the Parker novels.
As a collector myself, the idea of someone taking advantage of a "Con", to pull a heist of rare and valuable items all in one place, definitely resonated. Not to mention that the insider, Billy, is an excellent stand-in for some of the collector population of man-boys that find a home in a collector community but can't help but want to exploit what he sees around him. Of course, once he's dealing with pros, he's terribly out of his league.
In the novel, Parker is clearly at an odd spot in the wake of losing the Willis identity in The Jugger, the trouble caused by the events of The Seventh and The Handle, and we get more of a glimpse of Parker as something other than a machine. He's been vaguely uncertain of his processes since the end of The Score, and what had become a problem professionally may have found its source in his issue with other people. Something he seems to vaguely click to in meeting Claire, the fatale of this book.
The heist itself is a bit perfunctory, and the book feels like a bridge between the prior Parker novels and where Stark seems like he wants to take Parker. Moreover, he's spun off Grofield to his own series at this point, and places Parker back above the Mason-Dixon line in scrappy urban settings where he seems to fit best - rather than getting wrapped up in international thievery with a government bent that felt out of touch with what had come before at the conclusion of The Handle. Parker can get about his business and Grofield can fill other writing needs Stark (aka: Westlake) may have had.
The book has a strange wrap-up, as its hard to know exactly what happened with the fence and cashing out from the heist, but, again, that's not the point of this book. Its making the connection to Parker as a more fully realized character, and I look forward to the next books.