Saturday, October 05, 2013

Starktober 5: The Score

Grofield liked to watch Parker work. See him before a job, or after, you'd think he was just a silent heavy, quick-tempered and mean, about as subtle as a gorilla. But on a job, dealing with any people that might be in the way, he was all psychology.

Terrify them first. Terrify them in such a way that they'll freeze. Not so they'll make noise, or run, or jump you, or anything like that, just so they'll freeze. Then talk to them, calm and gentle. Get their first names, and use the first names. When a man uses your first name, calmly and without sarcasm, he's accepting your individuality, your worthiness to live. The use of your first name implies that this man really doesn't want to harm you.

The fright to freeze them, and then the reassurance to keep the frozen, And it worked almost every time. (pp.130-131) 

The Score might not be the ultimate caper novel; it's not just pretty early in this series (fifth, of an eventual twenty-four), but it's almost fifty years old, and caper stories have not been uncommon since. But it stacks up very well against any of the potential competition, telling the taut, whip-quick story of a band of men who decide to rob an entire town.

That town is Copper Canyon, North Dakota -- a mining town stuck into a blind box canyon, with only one road and one parallel train track leading in or out. There are enough people to make it worth while -- enough to support a few banks, a few jewelry stores, and of course the payroll at that mine. There's enough money there to make it worth while for a dozen men to plan the heist -- and that's good, because knocking over a whole town will take a dozen men.

The Score is one of the most linear Parker novels, mostly sticking to its main story, as if Stark realized he had something particularly juicy here, and he didn't need to play around with flashbacks and sections from different viewpoints, as he did with many of the other novels in the series. It opens with Parker on the way to the meet to learn about this particular job, and, once he hears the pitch, he's in -- despite his misgivings, despite being sure that no job that big could go off easily, despite everything that tells him this is too big and too flashy and too complicated to work right. Because Parker also believes he's the best planner and troubleshooter in the business -- so who else but Parker could lead the crew that knocks over an entire town?

The plot unfolds beautifully from there, as Stark lavishes his usual loving attention on all of the details of the setup -- guns and cars and trucks, state police substations and firemen and everyone that might be awake at midnight - making it all fascinating and compelling. Of course, once the heist gets started, it doesn't go entirely as planned -- the finger has ulterior motives, as so often in the Parker books, and one of the crew comes away with a different kind of loot than expected -- but that's what makes it so thrilling and gripping. Once again, Parker plans a crime brilliantly, and his chilly, utterly focused facility for larceny is displayed to best effect. The details may be dated -- payrolls don't come in on trucks, and phone calls don't run through a group of women at a switchboard -- but that doesn't hurt Dickens and Hemingway and Fleming, and it doesn't hurt Stark, either.

Starktober Introduction and Index

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