Sunday 1 August 2010

Parker Progress Report: The Black Ice Score by Richard Stark

This one I finished off just before going away nearly two weeks ago, which'll give you some idea of how behind I am with blogging (not that anyone other than me cares, I'm sure). It's the eleventh of Richard Stark/Donald Westlake's Parker novels, and it's a strange one. There's a heist, and there are the usual twists and turns, but Parker himself feels kind of absent from the book, for the most part acting merely as adviser and planner for the score, which is actually carried out by agents of an African nation.

I'd read somewhere that the African robbers were portrayed comically by Westlake, but in fact they aren't, not really: they're inexperienced at taking scores, which is why they bring in Parker, to help them retrieve their country's stolen diamonds (shades of Westlake's The Hot Rock from a couple of years later there). But they're quite well drawn by Westlake, particularly during the Stark Cutaway in Part Three, where we witness the score (during which the Africans acquit themselves admirably for first-timers) and get filled in on some of the characters' backgrounds. Manado and Formutesca in particular are well realised, and there's some nice switching of expectations with those two, culminating in a scene where another character completely misreads them and as a result seals their own fate.

And I think that's the book's only real problem: Westlake seems a lot more interested in his African protagonists than in Parker, so Parker ends up a slightly spectral presence. By the end of the novel I kind of wanted to follow Formutesca's next adventure more than Parker's. So, not as engrossing or kinetic as the likes of The Score or The Split, and not quite so good on character as The Man with the Getaway Face, but better than I'd been led to believe. Oh, and our Stark Stooge here is Hoskins, a con man whose only purpose in the novel seems to be as an occasional irritant. Not one of the more interesting Stooges.

Next up was going to be The Sour Lemon Score... but I'll hopefully be able to make a slight Parker detour before then, depending on the postman. More on that soon. And also I've got lots of Stark/Westlake book scores to blog about, both from my recent bookshop jaunt and from... elsewhere...

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, this was always my least favourite. It should have been a Grofield or even one of his stand-alone international adventure novels (like Kawaha or High Adventure). Dudes are constantly "grinning" in The Black Ice Score, which is just not appropriate behaviour in Stark's world unless you are grinning bleakly, a muzzle pressed against your forehead, knowing you are already dead...