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on May 5, 2012
When the phone rang, Parker was in the garage, killing a man.

This is how this book starts. The novel is volume 20 of a series of 24, written over a span of 4 decades since the 1960s. All of them start with a similar sentence. When that happened, Parker was just doing this...

That opening habit is the only such mannerism in Stark. The rest is always original, even when each book is about a robbery or more than one.
Crime goes with time. Parker finds it more and more difficult to fill short term small cash needs... Cash has largely gone out of use. More and more cyber crime happens, and 'normal' heists need to add know how of the cyber world to stay ahead of security. The need to involve people with such special knowhow doesn't please Parker. These nerds are risk factors.
In the process, Parker must change his style. He must become more patient with fools and amateurs. That is not good for his perfectionism. He is the planner, the strategist, but mastery of the universe escapes him now.

The subject in Firebreak is a break into the hunting lodge of an Internet mogul... Why go there at all? Not for the golden appliances, those would just cause logistics trouble, but for the hidden vault with art treasures below the lodge, in a basement. Actually, there are paintings that some of the gang had stolen before already, a few years ago from a museum. But how will they sell the goods?
That heist is disturbed by interference from the malevolent past, brought on by hackers. Parker has to force his way of life on a new world. Brave.

This is maybe not Stark's most entertaining Parker, but the first in the lot that reveals doubt about the world as Parker knows it.
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VINE VOICEon November 8, 2011

Firebreak starts with Parker being hunted by professional assassins. Parker is contacted by his friend Elkins about a possible job, but must first get himself free of the threat.

Getting free of the hunt is complicated. Parker must first learn who is after him, neutralize them and them discover who paid them to hunt him. This is a long and detailed process full of action and intrigue. Parker encounters major opposition and the result is brutal.

Second, one of the people involved in the new job is hindered by being on bail and needing to wear an electronic "cuff". Lloyd had been betrayed by a partner in a previous job and must be cleared before he can help (he is the electronic genius needed for the new job.

Finally, the new job is to break into a fortified mansion in the wilds of northern Montana. The mansion property contains a lodge with millions of dollars of paintings secured in a heavily fortified vault area. Parker and his crew must break thru the outside security (electronic and armed guards). They must also overcome the protective alarms and break the security codes that keep the artwork in a three room vault with a steel door. The vault is built in the solid rock side of a mountain.

Firebreak is full of action and violence. There are several sub-plots involving the owner of the art, the police forces, and two competing criminal groups - one seeking revenge and the other trying to steal the art from Parker's team. This fast paced crime novel is entertaining and I highly recommend it.
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VINE VOICEon December 2, 2014
Richard Stark (an alias for Donald Westlake) compiled a terrific series of noire crime drama, with the no-first-name Parker as the protagonist, set in the mid-60's. Parker is an unusual character: he's a criminal, but no sociopath. He steals to make a living. He kills only when necessary (and sometimes doesn't when it really is necessary). Stark's writing is elegant and spare, compelling and fabulous. After compiling a list of a dozen or so books, He returned to the character in the late 1990's, a wonderful opportunity fior his fans.

But the world had changed. Cash - Parker's usual goal in the earlier books - is much less available. Credit cards and ATMs mean that payroll trucks are mostly gone, and the police are using new methods to catch crooks. Parker adapts, and in this book, turns his attention to artwork being hidden in a billionaire's "hunting lodge" in Montana. An unusual caper for him, but carefully thought out. Parker remains the epitome of his kind. I read this particular story in one sitting because it was a real page-turner, but I've saved it and will re-read it to enjoy thye prose of the fabulous author.
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on August 10, 2014
"Firebreak" is the 20th of the 24 Parker novels written by Westlake disguised as Richard Stark. It brings Parker into the modern age of the internet. An internet tycoon has a collection of rare Masters hidden in a secret vault under a hunting lodge in Montana. There's some real money there if you can break through all the electronic protections.

But to get there, Parker has to contend with teams of would-be assassins, one of whom makes it into Parker's home on the lake, the one he shares with Claire. He has to contend with a partner who is a computer genius but is hellbent on getting even with those who betrayed him. And, the guys who brought him into this caper, they tried and failed and the guys who were working with them got caught and are thinking of turning State's evidence. By the time all this is resolved, the resolution of the actual caper doesn't seem so important.

It's a typical Parker novel, taut, sardonic, tough-nosed, gripping. Not the best of the lot as there's a little too much going on, but still a Parker novel and this series has no peers.
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VINE VOICEon May 17, 2013
FIREBREAK by Richard Stark.

There seemed to be more characters than normal in this book. Toward the end I was confused about some of them. Maybe because a lot was going on in my personal life. Or maybe the book wasn't as good as others in the series.

There are two stories. The better story is about a hit man after Parker. It's a continuation with Paul and Max who Parker met in Bk 12 "The Sour Lemon Score." I loved the scene where Parker gets to them. It reminded me of feelings of fear in the movie "Jaws."

The second story is about stealing art from a hunting lodge in Montana. An interesting part of that story was Parker interacting with a young-computer-hacker-genius. But the rest of the story about the heist was muddled. It might be better read than listened to. Not sure.

I was disappointed that the 2011 Forward by Terry Teachout was in the physical book but not in this audiobook. I've enjoyed all the forwards in this series.

The narrator Stephen R. Thorne was good, but I wish he had a rougher, darker, more menacing voice for Parker. His Parker voice was too clean cut and normal sounding.

This is book 20 in the 24 book series. These stories are about bad guys. They rob. They kill. They're smart. Most don't go to jail. Parker is the main bad guy, a brilliant strategist. He partners with different guys for different jobs in each book.

If you are new to the series, I suggest reading the first three and then choose among the rest. A few should be read in order since characters continue in a sequel fashion. Those are listed below (with my star ratings). The rest can be read as stand alones.

The first three books in order:
4 stars. The Hunter (Point Blank movie with Lee Marvin 1967) (Payback movie with Mel Gibson)
3 ½ stars. The Man with the Getaway Face (The Steel Hit)
4 stars. The Outfit.

Read these two in order:
5 stars. Slayground (Bk #14)
5 stars. Butcher's Moon (Bk #16)

Read these four in order:
4 ½ stars. The Sour Lemon Score (Bk #12)
2 ½ stars. Firebreak (Bk #20)
(not read) Nobody Runs Forever (Bk #22)
2 ½ stars. Dirty Money (Bk #24)

Others that I gave 4 or more stars to:
The Jugger (Bk #6), The Seventh (Bk#7), The Handle (Bk #8), Deadly Edge (Bk#13), Flashfire (Bk#19)

Narrative mode: 3rd person. Unabridged audiobook length: 6 hrs and 6 mins. Swearing language: strong words used four times. Sexual content: none. Setting: around 2001 mostly east coast and Montana. Book copyright: 2001. Genre: noir crime fiction.
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on February 19, 2014
Parker is a career criminal who is essentially amoral The book follows him through the planning and execution of a crime as well as his interactions with his fellow criminals. We are not used to having as the protagonist a thief who kills those who cross him without remorse. It is unusual but induced me to read all of Stark's books. A very different read.
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on August 17, 2011
Flashfire is one of the Parker novels of Richard Stark the alter ego of famed and prolific mystery writer Donald Westlake. It is currently being made into a feature film starring Jason Statham. Each Parker novel is like a priceless gem to be read and re-read and then read again. The only "true crime" is that Mr. Westlake has passed on so there will be no new ones.

The Parker novels are of a genre of their own. No other character is as pleasurably amoral as Parker. He is all business until the job is over and once the job is on anyone and anything is expendable that stands in the way of his goal. He is not a psychopath, not by a long shot but a person with his own code, a code by which he lives every day. Kill only if necessary because it complicates things but definitely kill if necessary.

In Flashfire there is the nearly epic quest by Parker to catch up with the guys from his last job who did not give him his share when he refused to go in with them on their next job...a gaudy jewelry heist in Palm Beach...something Parker wanted no part of. His singlemindedness in this pursuit only serves to make the reader truly understand the depth of this character...It is about the money but, then again, it is. There is a rule that Parker will not let himself be victimized in any way...and the motivation is not revenge. It is just business.

Flashfire is a great choice for a first Parker read. It is expansive and complicated and Parker suffers more setbacks then usual including almost dying
from a bullet in the back. Try it; you'll like it and then you'll want another.
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on October 4, 2013
Interesting side story of hit men going after Mr. P at the Lake House. As tough as Parker is he still applies "half measures" when, as they say in Breaking Bad, "full measures" are called for.
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on January 4, 2013
I don't read this kind of thing often, but I soon realized that the 'good guys" must emerge from all the mayhem completely unscathed at the end - all ready for the next novel. I liked the way the author described his cast of characters, and the complex action is easy to follow, but ..... OK - so this is how the genre is meant to be.
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on February 9, 2014
Firebreak is a Parker novel that stops and starts and zig-zags and requires knowledge of previous books in the series. Despite all this, Firebreak works and entertains brilliantly. As in other novels, the focus moves from Parker to secondary characters; one of these, Larry Lloyd, technology expert and novice to crime, is deftly drawn as we watch his emergence from jittery associate to bold and self-assured thief.
I'm liking these autumnal Parker novels and am so happy that Richard Stark (Westlake) chose to favor readers with some final Parker books.
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