Monday, October 21, 2013

Starktober 19: Plunder Squad

The '70s were a tough time for Parker -- he only had four novels, and all of them were grinding uphill struggles, where he fought to survive rather than for reward. And Plunder Squad, the third of those four novels, may be the most exhausting for Parker.

Like the Grofield novel Lemons Never Lie, published at about the same time, this is the story of a heister who needs to find his next big score but can't find any job worth doing -- and, at the same time, he's dogged by a man from his past. In both cases, that man isn't really someone done wrong -- Grofield just declined to join a string with Meyer, and Parker gave George Uhl the gift of his life when there was no damn reason to do so -- but both of those men are bull-headed and stupid in the worst ways, unable to see the smart way out right in front of their faces.

Yes, that George Uhl: the man who caused Parker so much trouble in The Sour Lemon Score, who ruined a good job and tried to kill Parker and stole his money, the man Parker didn't kill when he had the chance because Uhl was drugged at the time. And he's only one of the complications in Plunder Squad, a novel that feels like Stark's trying to pile every possible complication and problem on Parker's back, just to see if it's possible to grind that hard bastard down.

From the evidence here, it isn't. You can shoot at Parker, steal his money, ruin his jobs, fail him deliberately or through incompetence. But Parker just keeps going, and comes out the end -- with the money if that's possible, just alive and free if that's all he can salvage. By the end of Plunder Squad, the reader is sure that if there's only one heist worth doing in the entire United States, Parker will find that heist and he will pull it off.

There is a heist in the middle of Plunder Squad -- not the one being organized in the first chapter, before Uhl pops up and takes a shot at Parker, but one along similar lines -- but it goes badly in a dozen ways almost immediately. It was too complicated for its own good -- even more complicated that Parker and the other heisters knew -- and soon some of them are assisting the police with their inquiries and the path to selling the very un-fluid assets they've stolen has completely disappeared.

Stark's plotting has always been complicated and recursive, with a four-part structure that returns regularly to Parker but moves both through other points of view and through flashbacks to give more depth to the story, but Plunder Squad gets even knottier and less predictable, with Uhl dealt with by the half-way mark and the final complication coming almost out of nowhere. Stark had clearly run all of the changes on his basic plot, and now was trying trickier moves -- and they all work in Plunder Squad just as Stark intended.

As the Parker books went on, they picked up a theme, and that theme was Parker's bad luck. On every heist, at least one thing goes wrong, and sometimes -- as in Plunder Squad -- every single thing goes wrong, one after the other, before and during and after the job. But Parker, by definition, is the man who comes out at the end of the complications, who fights through the bad luck and survives. We first met him after the betrayal of his wife, his near-murder, and the loss of all his carefully-saved wealth -- and nothing else that's hit him since those first page of The Hunter have managed to get worse than that.

Starktober Introduction and Index

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