Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Starktober 21: Comeback

...and then twenty-three years passed, in the wink of an eye.

Parker skipped Carter and Reagan and the first Bush to land deep in Clinton's second term, as hard and tough and professional as ever, in a world where even payrolls by check were quaint and antique, and the biggest, headline-grabbing thefts would be done by the click of a mouse. But, even in a world of credit cards and, there are still operations that have a lot of cash on hand, and Parker and his fellow heisters specialize in finding those operations and relieving them of that cash.

The first sixteen Parker novels form an unbroken sequence, from The Hunter to Butcher's Moon, telling the story of one man and around sixteen heists (depending on how you count things like The Outfit and the aborted heists in books like Plunder Squad). The Hunter gave Parker a history that was never mentioned again -- that he was just shy of forty in 1962, eighteen years into that career after leaving the Army under bad circumstances (for theft, naturally) in 1944. In those books, Parker aged in real time -- or, rather, those books happened in real time, and Parker was basically the same man all through his early middle age. By Butcher's Moon he was about fifty, and still good at his work and fine for another decade on the job. Over the course of the first sequence we saw plenty of older heisters -- usually safe men or "utility infielders" rather than muscle. And we know that it's more shakiness and mental slowness that trip up an old heister, not age itself -- Joe Sheer got old, got retired, got weak, and got dead in The Jugger, but Handy McCay came back from retirement just fine in Butcher's Moon.

Comeback begins the second sequence of Parker novels, which are linked much like the first set -- they do refer back to the older novels, but without any specific time put to them, as if two years or so passed between Butcher's Moon and Comeback. And Parker is still the same tough character from The Seventh or Slayground, even if Stark doesn't set those past stories into any sequence any more. Parker goes to the heist in Comeback from the New Jersey house where Claire lives -- the one she bought in Deadly Edge -- but she and he are clearly not twenty-plus years older. Parker is still about fifty, let's say, and he'll stay about fifty for the remainder of the series. And he may still have killed a mob boss a decade before, or knocked over an offshore casino, or robbed an entire mining town in North Dakota, even if we suspect the exact details of those heists would have had to be different in the '80s and '90s. It doesn't matter: Parker is the epitome of the big-robbery man, and since there's never a perfect security system, Parker will always be able to find the weakness and get in.

This time around, Parker and his temporary associates are hitting a stadium show: one night of a popular evangelist's traveling revivial, where all of the gate receipts and "love offerings" are in cash. As happens so often with Parker's jobs, the inside man is shaky, a close associate of the Reverend who recently has started feeling guilty about all of that accumulating money, and wants to get it away so it can "do good." Parker wants to be sure he won't fall completely apart after the heist, since he could lead the police to at least one of the gang, but he figures that will be his worst problem.

But, of course, it isn't.

The inside man told his girlfriend about the plan, and she told her brother, who told a couple of friends. And those friends are just a bit too violent, and a bit too dumb, to do anything good with the knowledge.

And one of the heisters, as so often happens, decides that he'd really rather not split the take three ways; it would be so much nicer to walk off with all of it himself.

And the Reverend's own head of security is pretty smart and savvy himself, while the cop in charge of the investigation is nearly as violent, if slightly less dumb, than those outside friends lurking around.

It all adds up to complications, and confusions, with Parker separated from his remaining partners -- and, much more importantly, the money -- one the run at night in a strange city, with several known and unknown groups chasing each other and that money around until someone comes away with it and heads out of town at high speed.

Comeback has a slightly wider canvas than most of the earlier Parker novels, and doesn't entirely close off all of its side-stories by the end -- as usual, the four-part structure widens out to other viewpoints in the third section, and the Reverend and his entourage don't get a satisfying ending, there or later -- but it's very much the same kind of book as the earlier Parker novels. Parker himself is exactly the same sort of man as he was in the '60s and '70s books -- remembering that in Butcher's Moon one important scene hinged on his associates seriously questioning his motives and actions. Parker isn't a cartoon, which is what makes his novels re-readable and deeply enjoyable: he's a real man, with personality quirks and obsessions only partially masked by his cold professional laconic air. And he's capable of doing things that surprise us, things that seem absolutely right for him after that moment of surprise.

So this is not really a comeback -- for that, you have to go away. Parker never went anywhere; we just stopped hearing stories about him for a while. But he was still out there, running jobs, even when Stark wasn't telling those stories. And the new stories are just as crisp and taut and sudden and sharp as they ever were.

Starktober Introduction and Index

No comments:

Post a Comment