Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Signal Watch Reads: Firebreak - a Parker Novel (by Richard Stark)

While I'm glad that Stark came back to try Parker again in the 90's, and then, with this novel released around 2001 (and a few more afterward), there's no question that the tone had changed.  The first two books back were nearly comedies.  Firebreak (2001), has moments of delving back into the Parker of The Green Eagle Score, and, especially, The Sour Lemon Score, but Stark was no longer able to tap into near nihilism that drove the first third of the series again until Slayground and Butcher's Moon.

Here, you can feel Stark doing some hand waving as he deals with the fact that the world of heists has changed since Parker was pulling armored car heists and knocking over rare coin shows.  By 2000, security systems were everywhere, surveillance was commonplace, and the internet was still called "The Information Superhighway" by dopey newscasters.

Stark wants to deal with these modern touches, but when he does, it's half-satisfying.  Every once in a while he states how something works, and you want to say "well, no...  Not even in 2001.".  And he's saddled the heisters with a character he's concocted to bridge the books into this new age of technology (which was already well underway when this book was released).

The book is a bridge between the old stories, particularly The Sour Lemon Score, which is a curiously tough read with some of the most up-close, brutal content of the series - and looking toward the future.  Unlike the prior books, someone actually uses the word "firebreak" in context numerous times, and it's eventually applied to Larry Lloyd, the series' newest edition, a character meant to be a standard issue "hacker" gone rogue and drifted into Parker's world.  And one wonders if Lloyd isn't also a firebreak for Stark, keeping him from feeling obsolete with his mid-century tough-guy stories.

Parker find an assassin coming for him, and can't figure who would have sent him.  A job comes along, and he does double duty, working on the job and tracking down who sent the assassin, unable to really complete either task as they keep getting in the way of each other.

The heist is to be a secret collection of stolen paintings by name-brand artists, collected by an obnoxious dot-com billionaire.  The cache was accidentally discovered by a different group of heisters when they went in looking for gold toilet seats and whatnot, stumbling upon the collection.

Parker gets a lead on his assassin, and old name surface.

Really, the book works best when it's Parker at work, as always.  The scenes of Parker tracking down his assassin's patron are the best in the book, followed closely by that 4th section of multiple other viewpoints.  But Parker takes a back seat in his own book during much of the heist, to the point where it's tough to see why he's actually been asked to join in, leading to a somewhat unsatisfying and somewhat unnecessarily convoluted conclusion.

But, of the books after the return, this is the best I've read so far.  Stark feels like he's re-read his own work and has a taste for it again.  He may put too many words in Parker's mouth from time to time, and Parker's ability to project manage a heist is nowhere in sight here, but it feels in the same spirit of the pre-break books.

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