The frighteningly prolific mystery writer Donald E. Westlake
, a.k.a. Richard Stark, ended his legendary series of books about a career criminal known only as Parker with 1974's Butcher's Moon
. He cited too much competition from copycats in print, on film, and on television. Persuaded by fans and family, Westlake has resurrected Parker with a welcome burst of energy and imagination. The felon and his long-time lady friend Claire are enjoying the quiet life in their New Jersey lakeside home when Parker's invited to become part of a plan to remove a large sum of cash from a glossy TV-preacher named William Archibald. It's a heist that goes wrong from the start and turns into a tense, chaotic ballet of betrayal and death. One of Parker's partners is a weak babbler, another a cold traitor. Archibald's security chief is a tenacious pursuer, intent on retrieving his employer's money. Along the way, we learn how to hide crooks, cars, and cash in a small city with an efficient police force; how to escape from a variety of traps and sealed rooms; and most of all how Parker has managed to stay alive--in readers' minds as well as in the brain of his creator--for all these years.
This novel represents a kind of star turn for Donald E. Westlake, kind of like in 1968, when Wilt Chamberlain decided to lead the NBA in assists instead of scoring, just to demonstrate total mastery of his world. Writing as Richard Stark, Westlake has rested his immensely popular, hilariously star-crossed thief, Dortmunder, to resurrect Parker, one of the coldest, hardest, most resolute SOBs ever to appear in noir. In Comeback
, Parker teams up with two men and a woman to steal $400,000 in small bills from a sleazy televangelist's "Christian Crusade." The heist goes off perfectly--until one of the crew attempts to eliminate his partners to claim the whole score. Parker's innate calculation and mistrust save his life. His sense of criminal realpolitik requires him to hunt down and kill his traitorous former partner. Structurally, the novel resembles a Dortmunder caper; the well-laid plans of a highly professional criminal go awry, and the crook-hero must improvise a bookful of stratagems to finally possess what he set out to steal. But the similarity ends there. The voice, feel, and characterizations here are gritty and chillingly noir, as different from Westlake's comic novels as Miss Marple is from Mike Hammer. Wilt startled the NBA with his turn, and Westlake/Stark is likely to do the same--at least for those who know only the Dortmunder books. For the rest of us, he succeeds in demonstrating his total mastery of crime fiction. Thomas Gaughan