Tuesday 9 March 2010

(Parker Progress Report) The Man with the Getaway Face

This is the second of Richard Stark/Donald Westlake's Parker novels, and I polished it off at the weekend (although the edition I was reading was actually a Coronet paperback from 1972, which bears the alternative title The Steel Hit). It's a great book, but what really struck me about it was Westlake's deadly dry prose – much more so than with Point Blank/The Hunter. The methodical planning of the heist and subsequent double-cross(es) and the occasional bursts of violence are laid out in such a matter-of-fact, unfussy manner that it's almost like reading a police transcript of events.

That's not to say it isn't gripping; it is. It's just that Westlake doesn't feel the need to over-elaborate. At one point a bar is described as an oblong, and that's almost as much detail as you get. And of course you don't really need much more than that. The characters are briefly sketched, but they still manage to come alive. Parker himself is utterly focused on the job in hand to the exclusion of everything else, so that when a wrinkle arises in the shape of a character from elsewhere in his life, he simply locks them away until the job is done.

After all the planning and build-up, the heist itself takes only a few pages, and the double-cross even less. That's all they need, however, and are all the more effective for it, particularly one killing, which basically takes place while our heads are turned. Brutal, perfunctory, perfect. And once again there's a nice twist at the end, a final, stinging slap in the face after all Parker's efforts.

Next up it's The Outfit, which apparently is where the series really gets going.

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