Sunday, October 20, 2013

Starktober 18: Lemons Never Lie

In his three previous novels, Alan Grofield traveled to exotic locations like Acalpulco, Puerto Rico, and Quebec City, but Lemons Never Lie sees the sometime stage actor, sometime large-robbery man visiting such exciting locations as St. Louis; Mead Grove, Indiana; and Stark's favorite fictional town, Monequois, New York. OK, he does start off in Las Vegas, which is mildly glitzy, but it's got to be a comedown from his previous adventures.

Lemons Never Lie is also a very different kind of book than the previous three, a heist thriller along the lines of the Parker books, just with a different protagonist. Grofield is more personable and quirky than Parker is, but, in the end, he can be just as cold and professional and merciless when he has to be.

The subtext of the early-'70s Stark books is that it's getting tough out there for a heister: payrolls are going to checks, and the large quantities of cash that used to roll around the country are few and far between. Deadly Edge and Slayground had dialogue bemoaning that fact, and the reality is hitting Grofield hard in Lemons: the big heist from The Handle is a long time ago, and his last job (in The Blackbird and Slayground) ended without bringing him a penny. Worse, Grofield's acting day-job not only doesn't bring in any income, it actively eats into his capital: running his small repertory theater every summer for half-full audiences of Indiana farmers costs him ten thousand or so a year, and it's now run him down close to empty.

So Grofield needs a score, and he's hoping this meet in Las Vegas will be the one. Unfortunately, it's a bad scheme -- set up by yet another one of Stark's dangerously deluded amateurs, named Myers, with plenty of things wrong with it, starting with Myers's bad planning (he's already cut the local mob in for ten percent, just to not bother the heisters) and delusions of grandeur. Grofield walks out midway through the meeting with Dan Leach, a man he's worked with before, and watches Leach then win a big bundle at the craps table.

And when the two of them are beaten and robbed later that night, who could be responsible?

Grofield travels across the country, chasing Myers and the next job, in a plot structure Stark would duplicate nearly exactly in the next year's Parker novel Plunder Squad. Along the way, he nearly joins a few heists, and sees the marvelous sights of St. Louis and Monequois. And if he doesn't come out at the end with as much money as he'd hoped, at least he does come out in the end -- plenty of the men he meets along the way don't.

Lemons Never Lie is the oddest Stark novel: a Grofield story unlike the other Grofield stories, with a plot that Stark immediately adapted for his very next book. It's also in part an early '70s revenge thriller, like one of the many bastard sons of Straw Dogs -- though the timing might be too tight for that to be actually true. So it comes out of nowhere and leads to nowhere -- it's yet another failed pilot for Grofield, the actor who would never stoop to movies or TV and whose printed adventures never quite made it to series. From this point on, every book by Stark would be about Parker, and Parker alone.

Starktober Introduction and Index

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