Thursday, October 24, 2013

Starktober 22: Backflash

Comeback proved that Parker was back, after his long hiatus. And then, a year later, Backflash showed that he wasn't alone: many of his former associates and fellow heisters were still on the job, not a step slower or a bit less ruthless than they were the last time we saw them. So the grumpy Sternberg, who lives in London between jobs in the US, returns here to impersonate an even grumpier state assemblyman. And the wrestler Wycza is back to provide muscle, though he seems to have swapped some DNA with Dortmunder's friend Tiny Bulcher over the past two decades. Also back are Carlow, part of the gang in Butcher's Moon, and Noelle Braselle, who was a distraction in Plunder Squad but has quietly gotten a feminist upgrade since then, and is now an equal member of the crew.

The job this time is one of Parker's least favorite places: a boat. It's another casino -- like The Handle -- but this one is completely aboveboard, run by the state of New York for an easy revenue increase and plying its slow way up and down the Hudson every evening from Albany to Poughkeepsie and back. Because of political infighting, all of the gambling activities have to be paid for by cash, which means a rich money room by the end of each trip. As usual, Parker doesn't like it up until he figures out a way to do the job, and then he stops complaining.

The finger is another amateur with obscure motives, named Cathman, a former mid-level Albany government functionary who hated and fought against legalizing gambling, and whose post-retirement consulting business seems to be dying on the vine. Parker believes Cathman wants to see the robbery happen to give bad press to the casino boat, and to save his own financial hide -- but unreliable fingers are never that simple in a Parker novel.

And, like Comeback before it, this is a job that should be secret but isn't -- word gets out two separate ways to the kind of men who think a big robbery is a fine excuse for killing a few people and taking their hard-stolen money. So the job itself goes well -- a rarity, in a Parker novel -- but the novel begins in the aftermath of one bad job, and the aftermath of this one is messy for Parker, as well, with that finger showing exactly how unreliable he is and those two outsiders each making their separate play for the money. 

It's all in a day's work for Parker, though -- this is what he does. He thinks through all of the things that can go wrong on a job, and works out ways to avoid or minimize or control them, and then rolls out his plan. The true test of a consummate professional is how he deals with stress, after all.

Oh, and Backflash is the novel where Parker's little hidey-hole in the northwest corner of New Jersey -- where he lives between jobs, and his woman Claire lives all the time -- gets a name: Colliver Pond. I'm half-surprised Stark didn't decide to call that "Monequois," as well -- he hasn't used that name for a while, and I'm beginning to miss it.

Starktober Introduction and Index

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