Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A few Richard Stark Books - The Dame, The Black Ice Score and The Sour Lemon Score

I've been plowing through more of the Parker and Allan Grofield novels by Richard Stark.  As much as I write here, I can't imagine how much time that guy must have spent in front of the typewriter.  Keep in mind, Richard Stark was just one pen name of Donald Westlake, who was usually out writing kind of wacky crime and mystery stories.  The three books I just finished, originally pulpy paperbacks, all came out between 1968 and 1969, and the next one I'm going to pick up also was released in 1969.

But in writing that much, it's interesting to see Stark second guess himself, realize maybe he went a little off formula and come back to correct himself, especially with Parker.  It makes me wonder if he'd gone back and re-read the first Parker novels and seen how far afield The Black Ice Score truly was from The Hunter and The Man with the Getaway Face (still a great book title), and that, maybe The Black Ice Score felt a little, almost, cozy for Parker.

The Dame took the chauvinistic streak of The Damsel and blew it up to Grofield's full-blown misogyny, the charming bon vivant revealing a darker streak than maybe he'd previously let on when really, truly cornered as the primary suspect in a closed-room murder mystery.  Stark doesn't ask you to like his protagonists, and, in Parker, it's not like the character is someone you'd want to really even have a drink with, but Stark does a great job of making you at least get the perspective of the SOBs that populate his novels as they go about their business.

The Black Ice Score sees Parker entangled in a complicated political battle between factions vying for control of a young African nation, and the power a fortune in diamonds would wield.  Parker is asked to show one side how to pull off a caper, but only after things have gotten complicated.

Perhaps a sign of the lifestyle Stark led in the 60's in bohemian quarters of New York City, but in places where I'd expect some of the casual racism that leaks into fiction reflecting the era, Stark's presentation shows no signs of mid-century racism or a strained attempt at political correctness.  It's a heist story with a background of post-colonial Africans, white and black, in NYC, but there's no agenda to the writing.

This is, however, the book where Claire is tried out as a primary player, and it doesn't really fly.  You've given Parker a liability and a point of worry, and it feels off.

The Sour Lemon Score echoes back to earlier books, nothing fancy about the heist which only takes up a small portion of the book, and instead harkens back to The Hunter, exploring Parker's drive and maybe showing how he's developed since that first volume.  Despite the mayhem of the past few books, this one feels the darkest since The Seventh, which also took Parker down a dark alley and into bleak territory.

Perhaps because the first few books were more about a guy getting pay back who happened to be a thief, the milieu works very well for me as a reader.  I can know that Parker is a master thief (something that every bungled heist in the series might lead me to believe isn't actually true, by the way.  It's a weird conceit.), but it seems in these books he's the most on point and we can see less of the planner and more of the drive that fuels the character.

It's something Grofield hasn't had clearly defined, his two books about accidental life-and-death situations.  I do look forward to picking up The Blackbird next week and seeing what's next.

In fact, I've kind of given up on reading much else til I get worn out from the series of Grofield and Parker novels as I'm always curious what's next in the line-up.

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