BACKFLASH ( Richard Stark)

backflash-parker-18“The best place to hide money is in somebody else’s house.” Apart from some banking tips like this, it’s the sheer simplicity of the Parker character, and his shenanigans, that keep me riveted from the first page to the last. As always, I imagine an unsmiling, impatient Lee Marvin as Mr P. Though there are a few mentions of the passage of time, these novels exist somewhat outside the present: not stuck in the past but also not too aware of the present.

Another classic Parker from Richard Stark (aka Donald Westlake.) In this episode, Parker is approached by Cathman, a disgruntled ex-state employee who ostensibly has it in for gambling and the state wants to increase its revenue stream by allowing riverboat gambling. Cathman has blueprints of the boat and additional details, so Parker checks him out and decides it’s possible to pull a heist. As with all the Parker stories, you know there will be a glitch, there always is, so the suspense and interest come less from the planning and details of the heist (and this one is quite complicated), but as much from watching and enjoying how Parker manages to deal with the unexpected and odd difficulties.

As Parker heists go, this is a relatively smooth one, meaning: there are a few character-based complications and a betrayal or two, but they are relatively minor — this translates into a lighter-in-tone-than-usual Parker novel. The writing is still sharp, concise and ruthless, of course, because this is a Stark work. Joining Parker this time around are a few series-familiar, distinctive faces: Lou Sternberg and Noelle Braselle from The Mourner, and Dan Wycza and Mike Carlow from Butcher’s Moon. These returning characters add an almost-chummy feel to Backflash‘s thievery as well as its trifling post-heist bumps. Parker again takes no prisoners. If he does, he regrets it.

If there’s a theme to this book it’s to be found in watching the struggle between Parker and some terrible empathy he seems to have acquired during his twenty-three year vacation.  Here it appears as a quality of mercy that makes his casual indifference to human suffering seem even more psychopathic than it already is. All of which is to say that when, at the end of the book, Parker does something to someone without bothering to think of him as a person first, its scary…and thrilling and screwed up, but also comforting. This is what you come to expect from the character. He’s not going to act like the Pope and kiss any babies. Like all the preceding Parker novels, this is worth owning.



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