Thursday, December 28, 2006

Book-A-Day #165 (12/28): Ask the Parrot by Richard Stark

This is the new "Parker" book, about a tough criminal (although he spends most of this book trying not to kill people, and off-and-on explaining to them why he isn't doing so) in a tough world. Stark is, as most people who care know by now, a pseudonym for Donald E. Westlake, one of the greatest (and, usually, funniest) mystery writers in the world. Stark's books are not funny, though Ask the Parrot has a plot that could easily have turned into a Dortmunder book if Westlake had felt like writing it under his other hat.

One interesting thing (he said, trying not to spoil the plot of this or earlier books) about the series at the moment is how one book is running into the next -- almost in the way an epic fantasy umptology will. The previous book, Nobody Runs Forever, told the story of Parker's involvement in a bank robbery in Massachusetts (which did not end well). Nobody ended at an emotionally satisfying moment -- and at a point where the story of the robbery was clearly over -- but it didn't get Parker home and out of danger, as recent previous books had.

Ask the Parrot opens about a minute after the end of Nobody, sees Parker caught up in a new scheme (and some old troubles), and ends much like Nobody did. It's an interesting strategy, but, as a reader -- and particularly as an editor who has often complained that epic fantasy could learn something from mysteries about making series books more self-contained -- I'm not sure I approve of it in theory. Sure, it works well when Stark/Westlake does it, but I'm afraid it will encourage other, less skilled writers to do something similar. Worst of all, it makes me wish Stark/Westlake published these books more often than every two years -- and that he was younger than seventy-three (though he seems to be healthy, and I certainly hope he's got twenty or so more good years in him).

The Fabulous Book-A-Day Index!

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