Monday, February 16, 2015

Reviewed by James L. Thane
Five out of five stars

This is a classic hard-boiled novel, the first book in a series that would ultimately run to twenty-four books published between 1962 and 2008. The series featured a brutal, smart, amoral professional criminal known only as Parker who worked with crews of other professional criminals and usually focused on robbing banks, armored cars or other such targets. Parker was not a professional killer, although he never balked at killing anyone who got in the way of the job at hand.

He also never hesitated to kill anyone who double-crossed him, and as the book and the series open, Parker has been double-crossed in the worst possible way, shot by his wife at the end of a job and left for dead. The wife then ran off with one of Parker's partners from the job, along with Parker's share of the loot. Needless to say, Parker, who luckily survived the attempt on his life, is not in a good mood when we first meet him, and Stark's introduction of his protagonist ranks as one of the best in crime fiction.

Pissed at the world and determined to get revenge, Parker is stalking across the George Washington Bridge into New York City, a "big and shaggy" man, with "flat square shoulders and arms too long in sleeves too short....His face was a chipped chunk of concrete, with eyes of flawed onyx. His mouth was a quick stroke, bloodless."

"Office women in passing cars looked at him and felt vibrations above their nylons....They knew he was a bastard, they knew his big hands were born to slap with, they knew his face would never break into a smile when he looked at a woman. They knew what he was, they thanked God for their husbands, and still they shivered. Because they knew how he would fall on a woman in the night. Like a tree."

Parker has traced his wife to New York and arrived there virtually penniless. He's determined to deal with her and, through her, to find the partner who betrayed him and stole the money that was Parker's share of the job they had pulled.

It won't be easy, and complications ensue, one after the other. But Parker will not be deterred, even when he learns that the man who betrayed him has used his money to repay a debt to the Outfit and is now protected by them. To get his revenge, Parker will have to take on the Outfit all by himself. But what the hell does he care; he won't rest until he gets what he's owed.

Richard Stark is the pen name of Donald Westlake, a prolific writer who is otherwise best known for the comedic Dortmunder crime novels that he wrote under his own name. But the Parker novels are really his crowing achievement. They are taut, spare stories cut close to the bone and without a wasted word. And there's absolutely nothing funny or redemptive about them. Parker's is a tough, brutal and dangerous world; there's no room for any sentimental nonsense and watching him make his way through that world is one of the most enjoyable experiences in the world of crime fiction.

As a side note, this book was ultimately filmed twice, once as "Point Blank," in 1967, starring Lee Marvin as Parker, and again in 1999, as "The Hunter," with Mel Gibson in the role. The Lee Marvin Version is much the better of the two, and Marvin captures the character about as well as anyone could.

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