Saturday, October 12, 2013

Starktober 11: The Green Eagle Score

Parker looked at them, Fusco scared, Devers confident, Ellen angry. He considered, and finally shrugged, letting it go. For now he'd take their word for it, and just keep his eyes open. Over the years he'd come to accept the fact that the people involved in every heist were never as solid as you wanted them. They always had hang-ups one way or another, always had personal problems or quirks from their private lives that they couldn't keep from intruding into the job they were supposed to be doing. The only way to handle it was to watch them, know that the problems were, be ready for them to start screwing up. If he sat around and waited for the perfect string, cold and solid and professional, he'd never get anything done.

I've said it before, but it's still true: there's a surprising amount of management theory and analysis of small-group behavior in the Parker novels; Parker himself is a precise observer of human behavior, for all that he has very little patience for most of it. Parker views people as tools to get what he wants -- large sums of money one or two times a year, and peace and quiet the rest of the time, and, perhaps even more so, the intellectual and physical challenge of working out a tough heist and then seeing it through -- but he's a thoughtful workman, careful with his tools. He doesn't want to break them unnecessarily, so keeping them focused and working towards his ends is of vital importance. (And sometimes that's "shut up and don't go for the alarm," and sometimes it's a more complicated process of sounding out and calming down a shaky crew of heisters.)

The Green Eagle Score is another job with a set-up Parker isn't happy with: his old compatriot Fusco comes to visit him on a beach in Puerto Rico, with a plan to rob the payroll of an Air Force base in New York state, up near the Canadian border. (It's in a small town named Monequois, which otherwise seems to have nothing in common with the Ivy League college of the same name from The Seventh -- the towns have very different layouts and feels, to begin with.) Fusco's ex-wife, Ellen, is now living with Devers, who works in that base's finance office, and knows the payroll routine.

So this is yet another job full of the cardinal sins: set up by an amateur, with a hungry ex-con in the string and a woman smack in the middle. And yet that payroll is over four hundred thousand dollars, twice a month, just asking to be stolen. And no matter how much Parker protests, and insists to himself that he only wants to work a few times a year, he always craves a heist: the cool intellectual work of setting it up just right and the quick physical work of executing it. Who can say whether Parker keeps getting involved with these tricky, complicated, misshapen jobs despite their dangers, or because he likes the danger, likes thinking that he's smart and tough and quick enough to get away with anything?

As usual, Stark finds a new way to screw things up for Parker this time out -- it is related to those cardinal sins, but it's a new idea, one the book lays out carefully for the suspicious reader but which a more action-oriented browser might not notice until everything goes to hell in the aftermath of the heist. And, as usual, the joys of Green Eagle Score are equally in seeing Parker in control of his careful plot and in watching him recover from calamity and find a way to make it out (and back to Claire, on that Puerto Rico beach) with as much of the money as he can.

Five years and ten books into the series, Stark is still taking the very same ingredients -- the problems with this heist are almost exactly parallel to those in the previous book, The Rare Coin Score -- and mixing them up into a different souffle of danger, larceny, and excitement each time. It's a thrill to read one of these books, but reading them en bloc is even more enthralling: it's easy to overlook Stark's skill and craft when you only read one. And, since most of the books are so short and precisely pointed, why not read a bunch if you're going to read one?

Starktober Introduction and Index

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