Saturday, October 19, 2013

Starktober 17: Slayground

Every good series needs at least one tour de force, to give the creator room to show off. For the Parker novels, that's Slayground: the fourteenth book (and the second one published in 1971, after Deadly Edge), which takes place almost entirely during one twenty-four hour period in one place.

Further underlining Stark's love for formal experimentation, Slayground also shares a first chapter -- the two are nearly identical, except for details of viewpoint -- with the Grofield novel The Blackbird, published two years before. That chapter sets up the armored-car heist that goes wrong when their driver panics, and sets Parker on the run in a deserted section of some unnamed town. (Grofield, by the way, was knocked unconscious, and The Blackbird follows his very different subsequent adventures.)

The only plausible place to go to ground is the Fun Island amusement park, closed up for the winter, around which their escape route looped. And it's just Parker's continued bad luck that he leaps over the fence into Fun Island's entrance plaza just in time to see two hoods giving a payoff to two cops. They learn quickly that Parker's the one who took the loot from the car, just as he quickly learns that there's only one way in or out of Fun Island: past those four men with guns.

So Parker searches, and fortifies, and sets traps, and prepares. He knows they'll come in after him, under cover of dark if not before. There may be more than just the four of them -- mobsters tend to run in packs, even if the crooked cops aren't likely to report him or call in reinforcements -- but he thinks he can be sneakier and smarter and quieter and more vicious than they are, and get away in the end. And he's ready when they do come into the park that evening.

He doesn't count on losing his gun. He doesn't count on getting wet and chilled. He doesn't count on falling asleep, even in a relatively safe, secure place, and waking up to find the local mob boss with overwhelming reinforcements in the middle of the park. But he does count on getting out alive, and never bet against Parker doing what he sets out to do.

Slayground is a great novel to introduce new readers to Parker: it stands alone, as all of his novels do, but it's easier to describe than most of his heists and has a unique cinematic power from its location and condensed time-frame. If you don't want to just hand someone the first book, The Hunter, this would be a great choice.

Starktober Introduction and Index

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