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Breakout Hardcover – November 20, 2002

4.3 out of 5 stars 41 customer reviews
Book 21 of 24 in the Parker Series

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Tired of do-gooder heroes saving the day? Meet Parker--just Parker to you, bub--a one-man wrecking crew, cunning, fearless, and more than just a little cold-blooded. Writing again under hard-boiled alter-ego Richard Stark, Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Donald E. Westlake returns to the violent world of his legendary criminal creation with Breakout.

This time around Parker has picked certain members of his crew wrong and the job goes south right into the county lockup. Alone and isolated, the antihero finds himself without much wiggle room. But experienced Stark readers know, wiggling is what the slippery Parker does best. In Breakout, he wiggles himself out of jail and right into an even more dangerous situation involving an armory, a tunnel, and a jewelry wholesaler.

While there are rough spots here and there, Breakout is simply another fun-to-read Parker novel, taking readers again to the flip side where the bad guys win and the good guys are never as good as they should be. Call it a great escape because, with this Parker novel in particular, that's just what it is. --Jeremy Pugh

From Publishers Weekly

This fifth book about master criminal Parker since his welcome return from a 20-year hiatus is packed so tightly with the painstaking details of everything from the dank tedium of prison life to the architecture and construction of a Midwestern shopping complex that it comes as a shock to realize the volume isn't bigger than it is. Stark, the nom de crime adopted for this series by MWA Grand Master Donald Westlake, is an artist of compression, with the ability to create a complex, frightening character in very few words. Of an Asian lawyer visiting Parker in prison, he writes, "Li was amused, not by Parker in particular but by his own entire life; it made him easy to be around, but suggested there were circumstances when he might not be completely reliable." But Stark is also remarkable because he seems to know how everything works and can explain it without slowing down the story. Stuck in a fortress-like holding prison "on the outskirts of the only large city in this big empty midwestern state" after a robbery goes bad, Parker links up with two other prisoners in a totally logical way, then plans a breakout (the first of several in the book) so credible that we're swept up in its mechanics. But before he can return to his haven in rural New Jersey, Parker has to pay off the help he received by taking part in another robbery that falls apart in a different way that's just as exhilarating. Watching artists like Stark and Parker at work is a great pleasure, which an increasing audience will be delighted to share.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Mysterious Press; First Edition edition (November 20, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 089296779X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0892967797
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #506,053 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This is another quick and simple Parker adventure by Donald E Westlake writing under his pen name Richard Stark. Whilst there are certainly better Parker adventures where the reader gets to see Parker's skills in action, in Breakout the reader gets to see just how intelligent this criminal is. If you haven't checked out Westlake's novels under his own name definitely do so as well. His masterpiece The Ax as well as Corkscrew and the Scared Stiff are all great places to start. Short chapters make putting down Breakout when you have to a breeze.

In Breakout Parker is behind bars in the overcrowded Stoneveldt, a transit prison for those awaiting trial and the probable outcome of an even worse actual jail. Although the authorities can't work out who he actually is they do know one of his alter egos killed a prison guard and escaped from a California prison so it won't be long before he's extradited there. This is not a place Parker wants to go so he must escape Stoneveldt, where no one else has ever done so before. Stoneveldt isn't the only place he will have to escape from before leaving town.

If you like Westlake as Richard Stark or himself also check out James Pattinson (Pattinson not Patterson), a British author who writes very similar novels.
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Format: Hardcover
One of the other customer reviews made the point that the Stark / Parker and Westlake / Dortmunder books are in fact the same books. I think that's a little over simplified, but I have to admit that there's more than a little truth in that suggestion. Toward the end of BREAKOUT, I thought, "Good grief, this is THE HOT ROCK!" That's also over simplified, but you get the idea.
In THE HUNTER, Stark mentioned in passing that Parker was once arrested as a vagrant, and escaped from a work farm by killing a guard. This is the record, as Ronald Kasper, but with Parker's own prints, that dogs him, although it's by no means his last killing, on or off record.
This time out, Parker participates in a pharmaceutical heist that goes wrong. Unlike so many other times, he isn't allowed to disappear into the woods or down a convenient, unwatched alley. He goes, not strictly to jail, but to a "detention center", where suspected felons wait before and during trail. This is essentially the same kind of less-structured environment that Dortmunder wrestles with in THE HOT ROCK.
Parker is visited by a court-appointed lawyer, and manages to get a message to his long-time squeeze, Claire. Presto, a more clued-in attorney shows up, and things begin to roll. Ed Mackey, previously involved in Parker escapades, drops in to show his gratitude for past favors, and assists Parker in identifying fellow prisoners who might be useful in an escape.
They escape, and then Parker becomes involved with outsiders who assisted in the escape, who have a jewelry heist to pull. The heist goes down, and goes bad; Parker survives with his two fellow escapees, but must then break out of the converted armory that the jewels were stored in.
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Format: Paperback
Summary: Parker's wiles take center stage as he gets busted and thrown in jail when a job goes bad. A different character might spend the bulk of a novel in jail, but ultimate pragmatist Parker doesn't tarry in planning and executing a daring escape. Author Stark throws a series of breakout situations at Parker, as he struggles for the room to operate within the confines of an ever-shrinking police search. As always, there is a seedy citizenry to take advantage of, and a division between thieves with honor and those without.

The Good and the Bad:

This is only my third Parker novel, but I thought it was the best one of those I've read. There's something innately exciting about a prison break, and Stark treats it with a master's touch. The writing is lean and evocative, as always, and the relentless action keeps the pages turning. Stark has a way of throwing interesting problems at the characters, and then having them solve those problems in ingenious and yet believable ways. The combination of the fantastic elements of Parker's glamorous life and the realistic manner in which he moves through the world is one of the things that makes this series so enjoyable. The body count in this book was very low as compared to the other Parker novels I've read, which points to the variety of skills that he must employ to think his way out of trouble.

On the down side, Parker puts his faith in others far too often in this book. At least three times in the book, he relies entirely on the ability of others to navigate trouble, and in two of the instances, he's relying on non-criminals with whom he's had very little contact. This seems unlike the paranoid Parker, and I suppose I just didn't like seeing him so vulnerable.
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Format: Paperback
Parker, the antihero thief of Richard Stark (AKA Donald Westlake) is one of my favorite creations. The books are always written with one caper or problem to be solved. This usually includes a set up of a robbery then problems develop. The fun is to see how Parker solves the problems and keeps out of jail.
BREAKOUT is a bit of a departure from this formula in that Parker is arrested and jailed in the first chapter. He must try to figure out a way out of, not only jail, but out of town. He is paired with the usual miscreants in which it is difficult to determine who is trustworthy.
The book is, as usual, relatively brief, yet always compelling. It can be read in one lengthy sitting. Parker is a cold-blooded thief and killer, yet, Stark breathes such life into him that the reader cannot fail to root for his success. A truly fun read.
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