Monday, November 10, 2008

Dirty Money by Richard Stark

If you don't know by now that Richard Stark is a pseudonym for Donald E. Westlake...well, you just haven't been paying attention. But where Westlake is clever and sprightly -- even funny, a lot of the time -- Stark is stripped-down and straightforward.

Westlake writes comic crime novels; Stark writes serious, old-fashioned crime novels -- the kind that would have come out in garish paperback fifty years ago. (And some of them did -- the series started in paperback, with 1962's The Hunter.) They both do excellent work, but expecting one and picking up the other isn't recommended.

Dirty Money is the finale of a trilogy of novels about Stark's main series character, Parker, after Nobody Runs Forever and Ask the Parrot. (Parker is a professional thief: amoral and almost completely unflappable. He's close to the Platonic ideal of a crime-novel hero; nothing distracts him from what he wants to do.)

In Nobody Runs Forever, Parker was part of a bank robbery that went wrong, and left him on the run. Ask the Parrot was set in the immediate aftermath of that failure, and included a second, smaller, heist -- which also had its problems. As Dirty Money starts, Parker has gotten away for the scene, but it's still only about a week since the beginning of Nobody. The money is still stashed, but the local law -- Massachusetts state troopers, as it happens -- are still manning roadblocks all through that area.

Parker works up a plan to get to the money and get it out, working with one of his original two partners on that deal. But the third partner is still in the area -- angry and desperate after being captured and killing a cop during an escape -- and the police cordon is tightening. And a female bounty hunter is pushing her way into the situation.

Parker's plans are always smart and cover contingencies, but things never go easily in a Parker novel. For instance, that third partner? You know that he's going to show up, at the worst possible time. And so will the cops.

Does Parker get out with the money? And what else happens along the way? Well, those are the things you read a Richard Stark novel to find out. If you haven't read him before, drop back to Nobody Runs Forever and start there. (Or get the recent reprint of the first novel in the series, The Hunter.)

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