It was a bad sign when a man like Handy started owning things and started thinking he could afford friendships. Possessions tie a man down and friendships blind him. Parker owned nothing, then men he knew were just that, the men he knew, not his friends and they owned nothing. Sure, under the name Charles Willis he had pieces of a few businesses here and there, but that was for tax reasons. He stayed away from those places, had nothing to do with them, didn't try to get a nickel out of them. What Handy was doing was something else again -- buying things to have them. And working with a man, not for a profit, but because he liked him.
When a man like Handy started craving possessions and friendships, it meant he was losing the leanness. It was a bad sign. (pp.167-168)
As The Man With the Getaway Face dealt with the aftermath of The Hunter, so The Outfit deals with the aftermath of Getaway Face: Parker is running from one fire to another, putting them out as quickly as he can, trying to find a way back to his old, organized, regimented life. And he's not happy when the pieces of that old life don't work the way he expects them to.
Outfit opens with a failed hit: a syndicate man tries and fails to kill Parker, in bed with a new woman down in Miami -- one of Parker's favorite places to relax after a job. Parker knows that this means his new face isn't doing its job anymore -- the Outfit knows what he looks like, and intends to keep coming after him until they get him.
But Parker has a plan, because Parker always has a plan: what he does is to coldly assess a situation and find ways out of it. This time, his plan has two parts: first, to hurt the Outfit as much as he can, mostly to show that he can. And then, to do a favor for someone high up in the Outfit, so that as a return favor he'll be left alone afterward.
Hurting the Outfit will be the easy part; all he has to do is write to the men he knows, all of the heisters and drivers and other criminals, to tell them to take on an Outfit operation if they have an easy opportunity, because the Outfit will blame it all on Parker. And he writes dozens of such letters, on his way north from Miami, and stops in to see nearly a dozen men in person. Not all of them will do anything, of course -- but more than a few will have a heist in mind, one that they've only held off committing for fear of reprisal from the Outfit. That's a machine that Parker can aim, but not control: he just points those men in that direction and lets them do what they will.
The second piece is trickier, but Parker has thought it through: he'll kill the man who ordered the hit on him, the current head of the Outfit, Bronson, where he's hiding out in his wife's house in Buffalo. But, before that, he wants to get in touch with the man who will take over if that happens -- who he learns is Walter Karns, of Los Angeles -- to tell Karns of his plans, set Karns up for the takeover, and get Karns's word that Parker will be left alone afterward.
(Of course, if Parker hadn't so mule-headedly demanded to get his money back from the Outfit in The Hunter, none of this needed to happen -- the Outfit wouldn't have cared about him, and he could have gone back to his old life much more easily. But Parker, for all of his straight-ahead bluntness and lack of emotion, doesn't just do things because they're the easiest path -- he's clearly got an unbreakable sense of what he should do, and he follows that.)
So The Outfit is a book like The Hunter: Parker is on his own, working for his own ends rather than for money, with the hope of a decent score from Bronson's mansion but nothing guaranteed. And that's why he's worried about his co-conspirator Handy in the quote up front: Parker wouldn't go along with himself on a job like this under the terms Handy does, and that unnerves him.
Parker does get in touch with Karns, and he does learn where Bronson is holed up. And Parker finishes the jobs he starts, always. He's not usually an assassin -- there's a point in this book where he specifically thinks about how he doesn't like to kill, since that leads to killing too easily, and getting too lazy -- but this is one killing he needs to do.
Along the way, Stark breaks away from Parker's viewpoint for extended periods of time -- to detail several of the heists committed by his not-friends, with great energy and verve, and to follow Bronson directly on the days before the assassination. Stark uses Parker as his main window onto this world, but he's not limited to that window -- he's as interested in the mindset of the Outfit, and the tricky details of the other jobs, as he is in Parker's headlong determination. The Outfit is a short book, and a quick one, full of energy, but it still describes a whole world -- Stark is expansive in his tautness, all-encompassing as he tells one swift story of revenge and reprisal.
And then The Outfit ends, with Parker thinking he's finally gotten back to his old life: back to doing a few jobs a year, back to resting in resort towns most of the time, back to building up his nest egg, bit by bit, in a hundred small accounts in banks across the country. We'll see if it turns out that way.
Starktober Introduction and Index