Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Starktober 14: The Sour Lemon Score

It was stupid. There was no sense in it, and things without sense in them irritated him. Uhl was too docile, too easy. Somehow he was too much like a trusting child. Today or tomorrow he would wake up with a blinding headache, and he would be again the guy who had twice tried to kill Parker, who had turned a very sweet job sour, who had killed his partners and stolen money that belonged to Parker, who had caused him trouble and discomfort of all kinds for five days in a row That's who he'd been yesterday and that's who he'd be tomorrow, and Parker wouldn't think twice about exing that George Uhl out of the human race. But that wasn't who George Uhl was today. Today he was a docile child, and with angry irritation Parker realized that today he wasn't going to kill George Uhl.

But neither was he going to leave Uhl capable of getting back into the action. Nothing could make him quite that stupid. He put his pistol away and bent over Uhl and broke three bones, all fairly important. Uhl groaned once and frowned, but that was all.

Parker walked back to the car and set off for Philadelphia.
A lot of commentators call Parker a sociopath, or even a psychopath, assuming that he has no human feelings towards others. That's simply untrue. Parker doesn't like most other people -- and I'm sure I'm not the only person who shares that attitude with Parker -- but he has no problem understanding them, or seeing the world from their point of view. It's that ability that makes him so good during a heist: he plans carefully to control the victims' range of action and fright, to keep them quiet and docile and eliminate the opportunity for stupid heroics. A sociopathic Parker wouldn't be able to do any of that.

Parker, as Stark actually depicts him, is actually quite good at empathy, when it suits him. But he almost never cares what other people think of him, and has very little patience for social niceties. He's a misanthrope, not a sociopath: he lives outside of society and disdains the strictures of that society, but he understands every one of those strictures, and he can work within them when it's worthwhile for him.

Parker has repeatedly said that he doesn't like to kill people because that makes a job messy and complicated -- but he's also said that he doesn't kill people because heisters who kill people get sloppy. The trigger-happy heister finds it easier to keep killing people and goes on to make other mistakes. Parker knows that road; he knows what kind of a person he could turn into, and he doesn't want to become that man. Perhaps he mostly doesn't want to because that man always quickly ends up in jail or dead -- the sloppy heister doesn't stay on the job long -- but it's still a line he doesn't want to cross.

The Sour Lemon Score is the fourth of a cluster of Parker novels, all ending in the word "Score," and all about jobs going horribly wrong. It's also the twelfth Parker novel to be published in seven years; there would be four more books before the big gap, spaced over the next five years, but never again would Parker appear at such a furious pace.

Stark always liked to get right into the action, and Sour Lemon is yet another Parker novel that begins at the moment right before the heist starts. But unlike many of its predecessors, Sour Lemon doesn't spend any sizable time on flashbacks: this is a book all about consequences and aftermath. George Uhl, the driver, tries to double-cross the other three during the split of a bank job, less than twenty pages into the book. But he shoots the wrong guy first, and Parker has a moment to dive out the window and get away.

Uhl kills the other two and gets away with the money, rigging the old farmhouse to blow up right after he leaves. But Parker got away into the woods, and he's soon on Uhl's trail -- hampered slightly by the fact that he's never worked with Uhl before, and the man that vouched for Uhl is one of the two dead back at the farmhouse. Parker follows his leads -- including the name Uhl kept throwing around, Matt Rosenstein -- but Uhl is ahead of him, trying to cover his tracks.

It gets more complicated from there, as Rosenstein learns of the heist from Parker's inquiries and decides to grab the money himself. And so Parker and Uhl and Rosenstein race around the same cities spread out on the eastern seaboard, chasing each other and the money, "talking to" the same few friends and girlfriends and cut-outs of Uhl's, getting closer and closer to each other.

The Parker novels were always dark, but they found ways to get even darker as they went along; most of the early books kept the mayhem purely among the professionals, but by this point civilians were often in the crossfire, and there's some particularly nasty moments, both depicted in this book and implied by it. Stark, as always, doesn't dwell on that, but it's part of the world he's building, and he certainly doesn't flinch, either.

If you're looking for flinching, the Parker books are the wrong place to go.

Starktober Introduction and Index

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