Slayground (Richard Stark)

This is the fourteenth entry in Richard Stark’s (the writer’s real name Was Donald E Westlake) excellent series about Parker, the amoral criminal whose carefully-laid plans almost always come undone because of some unforeseen accident or because of an act of carelessness by one of the other crooks involved in the plan. In this case, it’s the getaway driver who screws everything up. This is not the driver that Parker would have preferred, but it’s the driver that Parker had to settle for. And it’s Parker who will now have to pay the price.

Slayground is top notch. By maxing out creativity and fun in this entry, Richard Stark hits a home run as this book is by far one of the most unique offerings in the series.  The author crafts the story into a suspenseful and entertaining adventure. Imagine a very adult Home Alone where the booby traps are more deadly and the thugs are scarier than Marv and Harry. The park’s attractions come alive in Stark’s writing and you will find yourself smiling throughout the book. Parker and two accomplices hit an armoured car for $70,000.

(This is back in 1969, when $70,000 was still a lot of money.) The overconfident driver loses control of the getaway car and rolls it only a couple of blocks from the scene of the crime. With the cops hot on his tail, Parker grabs the loot and escapes into an amusement park across the street that is closed for the winter. He runs from one section of the park to the other–from New York Island to Alcatraz to Treasure Island and Voodoo Island and so on and so on–setting up traps (it doesn’t say so, but it’s pretty obvious that’s what he’s doing) in the funhouse the various boat rides and the submarine ride and so on and so on.

Parker fully expects an army of cops to surround the park and flush him out, but then several hours pass and nothing happens. It turns out that the two patrolmen who saw Parker go over the fence are corrupt cops in league with local mobsters. Rather than bringing Parker to justice, they intend to hunt him down, kill him and keep the cash for themselves. The result is a great cat-and-mouse chase in which Parker, out-manned and out-gunned, must use every trick in the bag to save himself. He’s even more inventive and resourceful than usual, and mister Stark produces a taut, gripping story with a great climax.

Fans of this series will be very grateful to the University of Chicago Press for resurrecting this title, which has been unavailable for a good number of years. This book was so much fun that I envy those reading it for the first time. Get ready for some surprises and thrills. Parker really hasn’t much personality to speak of though. He is a man of few words. He is so thoroughly a man of strategy and action. Without those attributes he’d be as colourless as the invisible man.

 I enjoyed connecting with the cadence of description and the level of detail as Parker plays cat-and-mouse with the Mob. This is an example of how rich a story can be when you don’t use the first person, as the reader needs to be in the heads of everyone here. Enjoy!

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