Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Starktober 13: The Black Ice Score

Parker does not take well to being told what to do. He always claims to be a cool professional, but, like so many other people, he has a contrary streak, and demanding he abandon a job is the fastest way to make him commit to it.

The Black Ice Score is one of those jobs; the novel opens, as a a couple of previous books have, with someone trying to scare Parker off a job when he doesn't even know what the job is yet. He's in New York, not even expecting a meeting, traveling under his current peace-time alias Matthew Walker and chaperoning his woman Claire while she does some serious shopping. He had no intention of doing any job while in town this time -- until men with guns try to drive him away.

It takes Parker a while to unravel the whole complicated scenario, but this is what it comes down to: one of the many new nations of the previous anti-colonial decade is the small African country Dhaba, which has been ruled in the usual corrupt manner by Colonel Joseph Lubudi. The Colonel's position is very shaky, and everyone knows he will be forced out soon. He has smuggled a quantity of diamonds -- not quite a million dollars worth -- into the US, using his brother-in-law, Patrick Kasempa, to guard it with a few men at the little-used Museum of African Arts and Artifacts, on 38th Street just off Park Avenue. The Colonel is traveling to New York in a few weeks, to make a speech to the UN, during which he will abdicate his position and allow free elections back in Dhaba. His plan is to take his diamonds and live as a rich retired dictator somewhere amenable.

There are other plans, of course.

Major Indindu, who is guaranteed to succeed the Colonel once he falls, controls the UN staff, knows where the diamonds are, and wants to retrieve them for cash-poor Dhaba -- but is willing to cut in a local professional on the take in return for a fool-proof plan. The white men who ran Dhaba before independence have a front candidate, General Goma, and those white men know the diamonds exist but not where they are: so they're nosing around, looking for the money that will fuel their planned insurgency. And the Major's team first sought out a local expert, and found instead Hoskins, who is much more of a con artist than a planner of major robberies -- but now he knows about the diamonds as well, and he won't go away.

Parker agrees to plan the robbery for the Major's team, less because they're the vaguely legitimate owners than because they have the best plan and organization. They want to execute the job themselves, which suits Parker fine. So he examines the location, and works out a plan, and hands it over to the Major's men.

It all goes to hell, of course. Because Parker's everyday identity was mixed in from the beginning, the opposition knows about Claire, and she's placed in danger. The attack on the museum goes reasonably well, but complications multiply from that point, and Parker must personally try to save the job, Claire, and himself. Since there have been thirteen more books in this series since then, I don't think I'm giving anything away to say that he succeeds.

As a side note, for a forty-five-year-old book about African revolutionaries, The Black Ice Score is amazingly non-racist; I didn't even notice a single instance of white teeth gleaming in a dark face, and the white African ex-colonial leaders are the clear villains. (Well, antagonists; it's not fair to talk of heroes and villains when discussing Parker books.) At least half of the cast of this book is black, and they're all individuals -- like every other Stark character -- and do not run to stereotype or raise cringes. They're not necessarily good people -- even the ones working for their country are willing to commit murder and mayhem -- but they're particular people, which is vastly more important for fiction. The Black Ice Score also somewhat prefigures the Donald Westlake book Kahawa, another take on African corruption and bloodshed from nearly twenty years later.

Starktober Introduction and Index

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