The three "latest" Richard Stark/Parker novels are out from University of Chicago Press and as always, they don't disappoint. If you're like me and reading Donald Westlake's seminal crime series for the first go-round as they're released again--most unavailable for many years--you're in for a treat each time another trio comes out. Sadly, we're nearing the end of the line with only six more Parker books to go. Westlake--who wrote the entire series of 24 under the pen name Richard Stark--died in 2008.
This trio of novels features the last of the original Parker series, Butcher's Moon, originally published in 1974, before Stark--and Parker--took 22 years off to return with the aptly-titled Comeback in 1997. Westlake intimated that Parker spent part of that time in prison (I'm not sure were "author" Richard Stark was), but the series continues as if it never stopped. The only obvious references to more modern times reflect how the world had changed in those two-plus decades: the Internet, ATMs, different car manufacturers, etc. Parker's Comeback was as if he never left.
Butcher's Moon is a great book, one of the best in the entire series. It reunites Parker with a number of his old cronies who have worked in other books with him and even takes them back to do battle with the bad guys from Slayground, the novel which features the thief trapped in a closed amusement park. Seems that Parker hid the money he was escaping with somewhere in the park and now he wants it back. Only problem is, someone else has found it. Parker and company once again stage an elaborate heist that not only takes down the people who took his original money, but the whole organized crime syndicate in the town where the park is located. Stark/Westlake must have known it was time for Parker to go away, and he heads out with a bang.
When we next visit Parker, he's involved with knocking over a television evangelist who stages profitable stadium shows. Comeback is the first Parker novel in 22 years, but it's as if he never left. No reference is made to where he was or what he's been doing. It's just another heist, except it's told in Stark's inimitable fashion. The fact that the author just started up again with the character, just like a couple of months have passed between jobs, speaks volumes on Westlake's comfort and familiarity with Parker.
The next novel in the series (#18) is Backflash and Parker and company (again, Stark brings back a number of old "friends" that we've met before in previous novels) rip off a floating casino on the Hudson River in New York state. This is the first Parker novel I had a bit of a problem with. It's a very slow starter, and the ramp-up to the actual heist takes forever (it doesn't start until halfway through the book) and Stark keeps throwing characters at us. The back half of the book, though, is pure Parker as the heist goes off without a hitch. It's when Parker and friends make shore that it all goes in the crapper.
There is something very different about these three novels: Parker gets away with the money in all of them. One of the ironic points of Stark's earlier books in the series is that many times life--or human nature--interfere with Parker's best-laid plans and he ends up without the money at the end of the heist. He always comes out whole and intact, but without the prize. I liked that about the books, that human factor, that one final monkey wrench thrown into the well-oiled machine of Parker's meticulous plans. But these three novels--not without their own last-minute complications--at least allow Parker and his crew to get away with the cash.
This series also features new introductions by noted crime/mystery writer Lawrence Block, and for once University of Chicago Press gets it right: Block writes a new intro for each book, giving us the background on his friend Donald Westlake and how Parker went away and then came back. Previous intros in the series were placed in all three currently-released books, which was annoying. I kind of suspect that this was Block's doing more than the publishers. Given the chance to praise his old friend, the author stepped up to the plate and hit three home runs.