Sunday, October 27, 2013

Starktober 25: Breakout

For all of Richard Stark's laconic style and taut plotting, there's a depth of detail about Parker and his world stated or implied -- usually implied, so Stark can allow his readers to figure it out for themselves. For example: before the great hiatus, Parker and his fellow heisters were finding it harder and harder to find jobs with a large amount of money in one place. And, clearly, the twenty years in between only made that worse -- not only are there no payrolls, but even banks and stores don't have the piles of cash that they used to.

But there are still valuables: paintings, jewels, gold plumbing fittings. And so Parker's later adventures increasingly see him turning to stealing valuable things instead of money. That always adds additional complications, of course -- money you can just spend, but valuables need to have a buyer to launder them back into society, and that's one more way for a job to go wrong or for someone to decide he'd rather not split the take. In the first dozen or so novels, Parker avoided non-cash jobs whenever he could, but, as times change, men must change with them or perish.

And if we know only one thing about Parker, it's that he's not going to simply perish.

But that's all undercurrent; Parker never talks about things like that, and Stark doesn't dwell on the details of his world. So there's a jewel heist in Breakout, but it's almost beside the point: Breakout is a novel about escape. In the twenty prior books in the series, the only time Parker has been in police custody more than momentarily was a California prison farm, as part of the backstory of The Hunter. Perhaps Stark realized that string of good luck was unrealistic, or perhaps he just thought this was one more complication he could throw at Parker. Either way, Breakout begins with a heist going wrong, and Parker is behind bars in a local jail -- in an unnamed city in a flat, square Midwestern state -- within ten pages. (Again, Stark doesn't waste time or space -- every word is precisely chosen, and events move forward at speed.)

Parker then spends the rest of the novel breaking out -- three of the novel's four sections (all but the second, the obligatory part from other points of view) involve Stark trying to get someone out of somewhere. First, he has to get himself out of prison. Later, three men need to get out of another heist gone wrong -- gone wrong in a new and dangerous way Stark hadn't used before. And then, at last, Stark has to get someone else out of police custody, before he can finally get out of that flat, bland state himself and get back to his regular existence.

Stark also nods in the direction of racial tensions, this time out: in prison, the color of your skin is more important than it is outside -- or, perhaps, just more obviously a sorting mechanism. So the fact that one of Parker's string in that jail is black is notable -- to the rest of the prisoners, to the jailers, to the job they immediately dive into on the outside to get some money to get away. But once things start going wrong -- and it wouldn't be a Parker novel if a lot of things didn't go badly wrong very quickly -- how reliable or compromised a man is is much more important than his race. And Parker has made a long career of ignoring human dimensions as long as they don't impinge on the current job -- it's what he does best, even more than violence.

Starktober Introduction and Index

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