Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Man with the Getaway Face: Richard Stark

Under the pseudonym of Richard Stark, Donald E. Westlake wrote a 24-book series featuring Parker, a thief and hardened criminal. Almost all of the books center around a heist.

In the first Parker novel, The Hunter, the focus is on revenge. Parker's wife and his partner betrayed him; after a heist, he was shot and left for dead. Parker goes after them, trying to get his share of the money back. Thus the second novel, The Man with the Getaway Face, is the first real heist novel in the series.

This book gives the reader a picture of the mechanics of setting up a heist, in this case, an armored car robbery. There is a "finger" who finds the opportunity for the heist. There is a person who provides the bank roll, the money to carry out the heist. Obviously there is the planning.

This time Parker is partnered with a guy called Skimm. A quote from the book describes the differences between them:
Skimm, like most men on the bum, lived from job to job; he spent more in one year than most make in five and was always broke, dressing and looking like a bum. How he did it, where it all went, Parker didn’t know. 
He [Parker] worked it differently, spending the money and time between jobs living at the best resort hotels and dressing himself in the best clothes. There was no overlap between people he knew on and off the job. He owned a couple of parking lots and gas stations around the country to satisfy the curiosity of the Internal Revenue beagles, but never went near them. He let the managers siphon off the profits in return for not asking him to take an active part in the business.
One of the givens in a heist story is there will be hitches in the plan. In this one, there are two hitches (at least) and one of them Parker is expecting. The other is a surprise to Parker and to the reader. The entertaining part is seeing how the story plays out when Parker runs into the problems.

In this book, even though Parker sees the problems early on, he is committed to the heist because he needs money dearly. He just paid a small fortune to have his face restructured, because people in the Outfit (the organization that is his nemesis) know what he looks like. So now he needs to build up his capital.

My thoughts:

In my review of The Hunter, I described Parker as having no redeeming qualities, and I said that there was "nothing admirable or likable about him." That is not far from the truth, but if so, what does pique my interest in these books? I do find Parker fascinating as a character study and I am sure that is due to Westlake's writing, which is very plain and unadorned. Parker is a professional. He is pragmatic; he makes his decisions related to completing a job in an intelligent way. He does not kill unnecessarily although this is mostly because he realizes that this is not in his best interests.

This book is like "the anatomy of a crime" (or in this case, a robbery or heist). It does not glorify the crime or the criminal, but treats it more like a job. There is no back story for Parker, no discussion of how or why did he come to this point in his life. We learn that he did care for his wife and misses his relationship with her, but that seems to be the only thing in his life that he has any emotional thoughts about. And even that is only a one-paragraph digression. The book is a non-emotional, straightforward story about a crime and the fallout from the crime.

I also see comparisons here with some spy novels I read. It seems like espionage appeals to the type of person who is good at thieving and killing, but in that case they get to do it for a cause. Sometimes they enjoy it, sometimes they are conflicted. In Parker's case, he is never conflicted about his job. This isn't everyone's type of book, but I am continuing on through the series for a while.

Some other resources:


Publisher:  Univ. of Chicago Press, 2008 (orig. publ. 1963)
Length:     213 pages
Format:     Trade paperback
Series:      Parker #2
Setting:     New Jersey, mainly
Genre:      Hard-boiled
Source:     I purchased my copy


n@ncy said...

Well, I have discovered a new writer....Donald E. Westlake!
It seems I've met him movies (screenplay by him or based on his novels) The Hot Rock and Payback! I have a lot of catching up to do...reading his book! PS The Westlake Review website is amazing....thanks for the link!

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you like Westlake/Stark's writing, Tracy. I agree that it takes a lot to pique interest in an unsympathetic character. But, as you say, that's the sort of writer Westlake/Stark was. This series is different to the style of his Dortmunder series, too, which adds to my respect for Westlake. He was able to write different sorts of series.

Clothes In Books said...

I haven't loved the Westlake books I have read, under any name, so will resist - it doesn't do to be finding new authors to read anyway, too many already on the go! But found your review interesting.

TracyK said...

Westlake is a good writer to try, Nancy. Lots of variety in his books, some humorous, not very serious. I am starting all over again, which is fun. I have no idea what I read before, but most of them were humorous books.

TracyK said...

I just recently read that the Dortmunder novels grew out of the Parker series, when Westlake was writing a novel that kept being funny and he could not make Parker funny. I loved the Dortmunder novels when I read them earlier, I will have to try them again.

TracyK said...

I can sympathize about not adding a new author to the list, Moira. I just started another Westlake book, BROTHERS KEEPERS, about a third of the way in and loving it. It is humorous and fun. This one I know I read because the topic is so distinctive, a monk in a very small order that eschews travel of any type.

Mathew Paust said...

I think after reading The Ax, I might not take to Parker, Tracy, altho I should read more Westlake.

TracyK said...

As I mentioned in the comment above, Mathew, the book I was reading, and just finished today, is a humorous story, not even much of a mystery and very different from the Parker books or The Ax. And the Dortmunder series is also humorous, although it has been years since I have read any of those. Maybe you started with the wrong book by him. But there are plenty of other great authors out there. I will never get to all the good authors I would like to read.

Sergio (Tipping My fedora) said...

Apologies if I end up poisting more than once but blogge ris really putting up a fight at the moment (or rather, the 'captcha' verification system). Hope you next read THE OUTFIT, it rounds out a basic trology that launched the series.

TracyK said...

I am sorry you are having problems with commenting, Sergio. I do have The Outfit, and plan to read it soonish. Then I am hoping to find less expensive copies of the next few. I love the U. of Chicago editions but I can't continue to spend that much on each book.

col2910 said...

My kind of book! I read this one years ago and need to get back into this series.

TracyK said...

I am hoping to stock up on some inexpensive copies at the book sale, Col, then fill in. The books are a very quick read.

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Seems much better today (fingers crossed) :) I agree - I got their edition of BUTCHER'S MOON (the last and longest of the original series) as it was so hard to find, but the original Stark paperbacks really should be mostly easy to find darn it!

TracyK said...

I think you are right, Sergio, it looks easy to find the original paperbacks. I checked out The Mourner and The Score at ABEbooks. I do prefer older paperback editions as long as the print isn't too tiny, but I also like to support publishers who do reprint editions.

Ryan said...

I think I'm intrigued, but not sure I would enjoy it in the end. I'll have to ponder this a bit.

TracyK said...

I know, Ryan, a hard decision. I don't really recommend the series one way or the other because so many readers would not like it.