Friday, October 04, 2013

Starktober 4: The Mourner

With the fourth Parker novel, Richard Stark almost lets his series character get back to his usual life: he goes from his usual between-jobs life as a man of leisure lounging on beaches attached to resort hotels and having his way with women attracted to dangerous men to a well-paid, well-organized job stealing a large sum of money from a man who can't report the theft, along with other professionals he knows and trusts.

Of course, it's never that easy for Parker: the money is just the sweetener, and he's being forced to do the job by Bett Harrow -- one of those women he had his way with, and who stole away a gun that could put him in serious danger -- and her rich, romantic father. Bett wants a tough man who will do whatever she says; old man Harrow wants a unique, priceless French statue looted from a fifteenth-century tomb several revolutions ago and now in the collection of the larcenous Washington emissary of a minor Communist country. Bett will bribe and blackmail Parker; her father will agree to pay more than he expected. But, still, Parker is forced into a job he might have walked away from otherwise.

On the other side, that emissary, Lepas Kapor, has been planning to disappear for a while, and has been slowly siphoning off as much of his country's money as he could -- with as much as $100,000 in 1963 currency stashed in his Washington, DC home when Parker heads north from Miami to steal it. But Harrow isn't the only one with an eye on Kapor; his masters back on the other side of the Iron Curtain have realized his theft and sent a man of impeccable record, Auguste Menlo, to liquidate Kapor and retrieve the money. And that plan would be as foolproof as Parker's, but for two things: first, the competing plan of Parker's, and second, that Menlo, like all men, can only be trusted so far -- and $100,000 of cash in the wide-open capitalist USA is well over that line.

Menlo's and Parker's plans collide from the first page of The Mourner, though the reader doesn't know that yet -- as he does so often, Stark leads with action and fills in the background later, slipping back from the immediate danger to Parker and his partner Handy McKay to the set-up of the job and then sideways to Menlo and his temptations. And the heist is only the middle of the novel, and only the mid-point of the schemes, double-crosses, and deals the characters engage in.

Stark, as is becoming common in this series, tells entire sections away from Parker's point of view -- and even his presence -- to give more life to the minor and passing characters and to place Parker more solidly in a larger world. Stark isn't satisfied with telling the same story over again; The Mourner is more than slightly a novel of international intrigue -- as seen from the viewpoints of outsiders like Parker and Menlo -- not all that far away from Fleming and Le Carre.

But that's the strength of Parker as a character: he's so pure, so much himself, that he can move into any American milieu -- I don't believe Stark ever sent him outside the country, and for good reason -- and be entirely true to his nature, as cold-blooded and precise and clear-eyed no matter what's going on around him. And that makes these books live, even fifty years later -- the world is different, but Parker is as iconic and individual as ever, moving through American society like a shark.

Starktober Introduction and Index

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