Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Signal Watch Reads: The Jugger by Richard Stark

I've never been a book series guy before, but I guess between the John Carter books and now finishing my sixth Parker novel, I'm a book series guy.

I'm totally in the bag for the Parker books by Richard Stark (aka:  Donald Westlake).

The Jugger (1965) picks up finding Parker in small town Nebraska to check on his contact and the closest thing to a friend he's got (not that he's sentimental about it), Joe Sheer.  Only to to find that the panicky letters he'd been getting from Sherer were on the money, and by the time he's arrived, Sheer has died rather suddenly.

But since his arrival, local law has been keeping an eye on Parker, and now a twerp from the criminal underground has shown up insisting Parker must be there for some reason other than to say adios to Joe Sheer.  And he's just smalltime and dumb enough to think he can play ball with Parker.

Looking at the reviews, I noticed that the folks who didn't seem to like the book mostly didn't like Parker himself, our lead character.  And that's fair.  Parker, by this sixth book, is more or less what we'd call in 2012 a "sociopath".  He's all about the job at hand, and he moves through the world like a shark, looking for the angles, making sure nobody has the drop on him, and that he can get out of any situation with as few holes shot in him as possible.

I'm not one to read a book just because I find the characters admirable, but I do want to find them interesting, and despite the pulpy dimestore provenance of the Parker books, the low page count and rapid-fire pacing, I think 6 stories is a pretty good way to go as far as still finding the character worth following.  I also admire Stark's punchy prose, a sort of post Hammett "just the facts" approach to the proceedings.

This book isn't a caper book or a revenge story, and asks Parker to solve a mystery, which isn't really where he's at, but with a small cast of characters, its mostly Parker figuring the criminal angles.  It's also possibly the least violent and almost tilts toward funny in many places.  Parker plus small town cop is a pretty good mix.

There's a decision Parker makes that's just so classic Parker you can see coming from two pages out, but when it does, you just sort of shake your head and remember Stark never wrote Parker as gritty guy with a heart of gold.  He's writing a career criminal with a code that isn't exactly based on the Golden Rule.

A "jugger" btw is an old term for a safecracker.  Just FYI.

Anyhow, Jamie won't like it, but I just ordered the next two in the series as I don't see local book vendors carrying anything past the first in the series.  It's fun, fast summer reading.


Fantomenos said...

I may get onboard with this.

I've enjoyed the two Darwyn Cooke adaptations, and am interested in how they read as prose.

The League said...

See if there's a Kindle option. The books are slightly pricey for a single book at about $11.50 per pop, but I figure that's a lot better than the value of your typical graphic novel in minutes spent reading.

Oddly, I think the 2nd book is the weakest, which is why Cooke skipped it and jumped to the third book.