Plunder Squad by Richard Stark

Parker needs money and agrees to an art heist, but backs out when he loses confidence in his fellow crooks. Then the chance to pull another art heist comes along. It’s mostly successful until it’s time to exchange the paintings for cash. The middleman is extremely unreliable and things deteriorate from there.

Slayground by Richard Stark

Parker and associates knock over an armored car, but the driver of the getaway car screws up. Parker grabs the loot and runs into an amusement park that’s closed for the season. He stashes the money and then tries to avoid being caught by a gang of local criminals and two crooked cops who know he’s in there with all that cash. Parker escapes but has to leave the money behind (for now).

Deadly Edge by Richard Stark

This time, tough guy Parker steals the cash from a rock concert. He and his colleagues get away with the loot, but there’s a loose end and two bad guys find out about the job. They go after Parker and the rest of his gang. As usual, they should have stopped before they got to Parker: “If someone double-crossed him in a job, tried to take Parker’s share of the split or betray him to the law, everything else became unimportant until he had evened the score”.

This is a typical Parker novel, more plausible than some. The author (real name: Donald Westlake) builds suspense by shifting between Parker’s perspective and his girlfriend’s. She gets into a serious jam and is left hanging while we backtrack to Parker, who can’t immediately come to her aid.

Parker is the perfect guy to have on your side if you have a problem with a couple of dangerous, greedy malcontents. The foreword to the novel says that “in some ways, Parker is the embodiment of the Protestant work ethic, the consummate hard-toiling craftsman whose craft just happens to be robbery” — and the mayhem that’s part of the craft in Parker’s universe.

The Score by Richard Stark

Published in 1964, this is the fifth in Donald Westlake’s series of hard-boiled crime novels. This time Parker agrees to join a dozen or so other thieves in taking as much as they can get from a small town in North Dakota. They plan to knock over a mining company, some banks, a loan company and some jewelry stores all in one night.

This is one of the best Parker novels I’ve read. It’s fast moving and relatively plausible, although Parker breaks some of his own rules, which leads to the usual complications. 

Parker only speaks when necessary and only says enough to get his point across:

“I don’t kill as the easy way out of something. If I kill, it’s because I don’t have any choice”.

“You mean self-defense”. 

“Wrong. I mean it’s the only way to get what I want”.  (7/8/12)

Ask the Parrot by Richard Stark

For someone who makes his living as a thief, Parker doesn’t pull off many easy jobs. Something, or more than one thing, usually goes wrong. 

In this episode, Parker is on the run after a big bank job and conveniently meets a civilian who wants to pull off a different job, robbing a racetrack where he used to work. Instead of lying low and then pulling off the racetrack job, Parker and his new pal join a posse that is hunting Parker. Nothing goes smoothly after that. People get killed. Other crimes are committed. There’s a chapter written from the point of view of the parrot (it doesn’t end well). 

Parker is still a professional tough guy, but he does an awful lot of talking in this one. He shouldn’t have joined that posse.  (5/23/12)

Butcher’s Moon by Richard Stark

Butcher’s Moon, published in 1974, is the 16th entry in the Parker series of hard-boiled crime novels. This one is a kind of summing up, since Parker recruits many of the guys he’s worked with on previous jobs to help him destroy a criminal organization in a Midwestern city. And the next Parker novel wasn’t published for 23 years. 

The situation in this one is that Parker and his fellow thieves stole $73,000 a few years ago, but had to leave the money behind. He goes back to get the money where he hid it, but it’s not there anymore. He figures it was the local crooks who took his money, so he tells them he wants it back. They don’t cooperate. Obviously a mistake. 

Butcher’s Moon has too many characters, too many corpses and too many implausibilities, but it’s worth reading if you like this kind of thing. In the last chapter, Parker doesn’t say a word. Other people do the talking. That’s a fitting ending, since Parker only talks when he has something to say, using as few words as possible.  (3/30/12)

The Outfit by Richard Stark

Richard Stark (whose real name is Donald Westlake) has written twenty novels about Parker, a very tough guy who steals for a living. The Outfit is the third novel in the series. In this one, the Outfit (aka the Organization or the Syndicate) wants Parker dead, but Parker isn’t easy to get rid of. 

Parker quickly disposes of the guy sent to kill him and then comes up with a plan to get the Outfit off his back. The plan has two parts: (1) Parker and his fellow thieves will steal a lot of money from the Outfit and (2) Parker will replace the head of the Outfit with somebody who will agree to leave Parker alone if Parker and his pals stop stealing from the Outfit. The plan works.  (2/15/12)