Friday, October 11, 2013

Starktober 10: The Rare Coin Score

The Parker novels, read closely, start to look like Richard Stark giving himself very specific plot triggers and then trying to get through them: The Score is the one where Parker's crew knocks over an entire town, The Jugger is the one where he's trapped by a corrupt cop, The Seventh is set entirely in the aftermath of a job that went wrong in a completely random moment, The Handle is the one where he's working for the mob and the Feds. And then The Rare Coin Score is the one that forces Parker to go against two of his rules of self-preservation: never bring an amateur into the job and never work with a woman.

The woman and the amateur -- Claire, who Parker fans will recognize from later novels, and Billy Lebatard, the overgrown boy who thinks he can buy her with enough money -- are part of the job from the beginning; she's the widow of a man distantly related to Lebatard, hanging around Indianapolis until something better comes along, and he's a major local coin dealer with a plan to rob a major coin convention coming to town in a few weeks and the weak man's need to have a woman he knows will never come across.

Parker arrives in Indianapolis to learn about the job from an old compatriot named Lempke, who just got out of prison and may be a little too eager to get that next big score. Along for the briefing is Jack French, who Parker's never met before but respects immediately: French is another Parker, basically, perhaps a little less cold or not quite as good at planning. Neither Parker nor French likes the job: they set Parker up in the hotel where the job will be (strike one), the take will be illiquid until Lebatard can turn it into cash over the next month (strike two), and then there's Lempke's obvious hunger, Claire's place in the middle of it, and the central role of the clearly unreliable Lebatard (strikes three and up). Parker and French both walk out, agreeing to work together someday on something better, and French leaves town -- he's nearly as hungry as Lempke is, though not as desperate.

Parker goes back to his hotel, though, and Claire meets him there later that night. And Claire is the first woman since Parker's dead wife -- the one who double-crossed him back in The Hunter -- to be more than a distraction for him, for reasons he's no good at thinking about or articulating. She half-convinces him that the job is worth doing for its own sake, but what finishes the convincing is Claire herself; Parker just doesn't want to walk away, for once in his career.

And then the job goes forward, with a couple of new men brought in to replace French, and it's as smooth and as rough as every other Parker job -- made up of men (and, this time, one woman) whose flaws he thinks he can plan around, and a physical set-up that he's thought through as entirely as possible, so that nothing can go wrong...until the one moment something unexpected happens, and it all goes to hell.

As it always does; the Parker novels are a catalog of the ways that things can go to hell: ulterior motives, bad luck, betrayal from inside, betrayal from outside, people smarter or stupider or just less predictable than Parker expected. Every good heist is the same, but every bad heist goes bad in a different way. And The Rare Coin Score goes bad in a very pleasing way -- at least, it does so, in the end, for Parker and Claire, who begin a relationship that would be unusual for most people.

But what's really unusual for a heister and his girl? Like any job, what matters is that you get out at the end with your hands on the valuable stuff -- and they do.

Starktober Introduction and Index

No comments:

Post a Comment