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4.5 out of 5 stars
Flashfire: A Parker Novel (Parker Novels)
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
This was my introduction to the work of Richard Stark (aka Donald Westlake) and I just loved Parker. The character is a compelling blend of bad guy with good reason that reminded me powerfully of Patricia Highsmith's Ripley. It's quite a feat to put the reader squarely on the side of someone who, basically, is not a nice person. Highsmith did it; Stark/Westlake has done it, too. The man is a fine writer, with the gift of economy; no unnecessary descriptions, just pure driving narrative and vivid characterizations. I plan to get all the previous Parker books just as soon as I finish writing this review. Highly recommended.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on August 8, 2011
Richard Stark (pseudonym of Donald Westlake) wrote a series of novels concerning the anti-hero Parker. Unlike the typical anti-hero, Parker not only doesn't play by society's rules, he consciously breaks them. He is a professional criminal - a heister in his parlance. He plans and executes complex robberies: banks, jewelry stores, armored cars, and such. Parker is tough, ruthless but professional. He follows very few rules: never let anyone double cross you, kill only if you have to, but when you have to kill do it quickly and move on. The series is notable for the gritty realism, clever schemes and explanations of heists and of course, why they go wrong.

The novels are in two bunches. The group started in the USA of the late 1950's and early 1960's (The Hunter)and ended with Butcher's Moon in 1974. Stark returned to the character with Comeback in 1997. This novel was first published in 2000 and is the third in the second bunch.

Parker is now older and where once he could create a fake identity literally with a ballpoint pen and a few pieces of paper (see The Hunter) he now has to get professional help. In this case, he needs a new ID after a caper goes sour and like his very first adventure, he goes seeking his money from those who took it, ultimately this trail leads to Palm Beach.

The description of Palm Beach suggests Westlake has some familiarity with the area, and the bits of gossipy asides help give the book local color. The plot is clever and well thought through, although the denouement where Parker escapes the bad guys depends a bit on luck and supernatural forethought and planning.

A good book in the series; not too hard for new comers to get into. Worth comparing with The Hunter, The Man with the Getaway Face and The Outfit.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on December 17, 2000
Donald E. Westlake may be known primarily for his comedic crime novels, particularly the Dortmunder series, but when writing as Richard Stark displays a much darker personality. Stark's Parker novels were on a long sabatical, but in the past few years have come back strong. The latest book has a relatively straight forward plot in which Parker attempts to get even with a crime gang he hooked up with before a parting of the ways. The Parker novels have some humor, but there is no mistaking the hard edge of the lead character who will kill at a moment's notice if things don't go his way. A Parker novel is best described as hard, and this one is no exception. The title refers to the modus operandi used by a crime gang when pulling of bank heists or a really big jewelry job. Parker feels cheated out of his share of the former caper, and plots to get even with his former cronies. Parker needs money to realize his scheme, and goes on a crime spree, netting more money than originally at stake, before heading to Palm Beach, the site of the novel's main action. Some readers may find the crime spree more interesting than the later action. In addition to the main plot, there is a subplot threatening Parker's life that has the potential to change the entire direction of the book.
Fans of Westlake's lighter crime books should definitely check out the Stark novels. Those who saw Mel Gibson in Payback, an early Parker novel may be surprised that Parker is not the anti-hero type, but a flat-out criminal and killer (when necessary).
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
#1 HALL OF FAMEon November 8, 2000
About two hundred miles from Omaha, Parker and his three cohorts rob a bank with Parker causing the diversion with a nearby firebomb. After succeeding in this endeavor Parker's partners blithely inform him that they need his share of the loot as seed money to conduct a bigger heist on an island near Palm Beach, Florida. However, his former accomplices make one mistake when they abscond with Parker's portion of the booty, the trio leaves Parker alive.
Besides Parker wanting his money, no one cheats him out of his due so he follows Melander, Carlson, and Ross to Florida. He plans to trump his former friends by doing the jewelry job they were set to perform. However, Parker has also has blundered because someone not only recognizes him, but wants him dead.
FLASHFIRE is an excellent Parker tale that marks the return one of the great anti-heroes in American mystery literature. The story line is entertaining due to the lead character's criminal abilities that Richard Stark effortlessly brings alive in the well-written, fast-paced plot. Fans and new readers will enjoy this tale while seeking out previous books and movies (that both go back to the sixties) of a legendary protagonist.

Harriet Klausner
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on August 27, 2011
I am a tremendous fan of Donald Westlake/Richard Stark and I am knee deep in the Chicago Press reissues of the Parker novels. Actually I am not knee deep at all, I read the Parker novels with such childhood enthusiasm I am often sad that I have to wait months for the next set of books to come out. Firstly, "The Hunter" is the one Parker book that anyone who enjoys flawless character development and a true hard boiled crime story, should read. However, there are no bad ones in the series, Westlake was just too prolific and therefore some of the books are better than others. Flashfire is one of those "better" Parker books. Great story, paced perfectly, and the writing is as hard and gritty as you could possibly want from Westlake. I recommend this book highly. That saying about , "page turners" or "can't put it down"...yeah! That's what this one is. Go Buy it!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon May 17, 2013
FLASHFIRE by Richard Stark.

This was different in that Parker needed help when he was shot and in the hospital. He had to trust and rely on a woman he recently met. I love the way Parker gets revenge on people who cross him which he does here. I liked what Parker did to the bad guys' hideout home and guns.

I especially liked one line. Parker is describing to Leslie how the bad guys are going to rob a charity auction - coming in or leaving by sea wearing scuba gear. Leslie said "Like James Bond." Parker said "More like Jaws." These are really bad guys - not cool like James Bond.

The narrator Mark Peckham was ok, but his voice for Parker didn't fit. He made Parker sound too normal. I prefer Keith Szarabajka.

THE SERIES:
This is book 19 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)

DATA:
Narrative mode: 3rd person. Unabridged audiobook length: 7 hrs and 14 mins. Swearing language: none. Sexual content: none. Setting: around 2000 mostly Palm Beach, Florida. Book copyright: 2000. Genre: noir crime fiction.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Everything went according to plan. If the heist was a little flashier than Parker ordinarily liked, it still got the job done. The problems began when it came time to settle up. Rather than pay him his full share, Parker's three co-conspirators informed him that they were "borrowing" his take. They needed it as seed money for a big job in Palm Beach, so they left him high and dry. That was their first mistake. Their biggest mistake, though, was leaving him alive.
Richard Stark's intriguingly misanthropic master thief is back for yet another hard boiled adventure and it's a very good one. Bouncing back from the disappointing "Backflash," this time out the author has his noir chops finely honed. He keeps the prose appropriately stark and close to the bone. That's just what Parker's stories require. He is not a man who lives in a world of many colors or flavors and this book reflects that in its writing.
The plot is swift and uncomplicated, allowing us to appreciate Parker's brilliant criminal instincts and disdain for conventional morality. It takes a good writer to make a person who's not very likable into a convincing protagonist and Stark does a top notch job of it. It doesn't hurt that most of the people Parker meets, criminal or not, are just as crooked as he is.
"Flashfire" makes for an excellent, quick summer read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on April 17, 2014
Donald Westlake (writing as Richard Stark) hit a home run with every single Parker novel but this one. Without a doubt, the Parker series (especially the original novels in the 60s) are the tightest, most spare and unadorned crime novels ever penned. A lot of the spareness is due to the main character himself. Parker is a dead-eyed shark, swimming silently through society, eschewing friendship, small talk and negotiation. He takes what he wants and then he leaves. If you get in his way (rival, innocent bystander, cop) he makes you dead. His only reason for not killing someone is that when killing gets to be the solution to everything, you're in trouble. You're going to draw law.

There isn't another character in all of literature as single-minded, relentless, unemotional, unflinching and clear-thinking as Parker. And that's why this novel fails. There's a huge gaping flaw in the novel that puts the lie to the whole series. Parker always works with a crew or "string". This is the fundamental tension in the series. Parker doesn't like people - their small talk, their problems, their personalities, their inability to focus like he does - but he needs them. Wanna knock over a coin convention? You need an inside guy, a driver and a mule to carry the swag. Wanna do an armoured car? An explosives man, a driver, and someone to subdue the guards. The job's on a boat? That's an even bigger crew. On it goes. Parker needs a crew, even though he doesn't want them. And invariably, the crew goes sour or blows up one way or another. A double-cross. A flaky driver. A feud over a woman. A crew member with family who insert themselves. A crew member who has "personal reasons" for doing a job. A crew member wearing a wire. A crew member who brings grievances from another crew.

In short, crews are hell for Parker. But he needs them. They provide the dramatic and philosophical tension of the whole series.

But what happens in Flashfire? The crew goes sour, as usual. They refuse to give Parker his share of the job they pull together. So, true to form , Parker goes after them, coming up silently from behind. But he needs financing to go after them. Lots and lots of financing. So what does he do? In the space of four measly weeks, he pulls four jobs single-o - No Crew - and nets $238,000!! Barely breaks a sweat!! A quarter million dollars with no crew, all for himself, no double-crosses, no flaky driver, no personalities. A quarter mill, just for Parker. His biggest payday ever.

It puts the lie to the whole series. Why does Parker ever use a crew? They're nothing but problems, and he can easily score big - far, far bigger - without a crew. In fact, one of the single-o jobs is two hours of B&E in a swank neighborhood, netting Parker $120,000 cash! In a couple hours he scores 120K, but normally he wastes time with flaky crews for an $80K haul split four ways with a double cross to boot.

This just killed the whole thing for me. I love Westlake, and I love the Parker series, but this novel just has the biggest flaw imaginable. Very disappointing. Apart from this, the series holds together very well, but this just kills it. This business of Parker netting a quarter mill with no string destroys the individual-vs.-the-group tension that underlies the whole series.

Parker doesn't need the group, according to this novel. He just uses one every time, because....why??

Disappointing.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on October 29, 2004
Parker is a tough guy among tough guys, and the difference really comes out when he is betrayed by his fellow thieves, as is the case in Flashfire. After pulling a job, Parker's three conspirators "borrow" his money against his will in order to pull off an even bigger heist months down the line. Parker opts out of the big heist, which he has doubts about, but is in on a revenge plot, which propels him through a one man crime spree and eventually lands him in a posh Floridian neighborhood where the rules are written by old money. He is waiting to kill his three enemies, but others are out to kill him as well, and then the law gets involved. Parker is the ultimate pragmatist when it comes to accomplishing what he has set out to do; the rule of ethics that drives him is a little less practical and a little murkier. But in the end, it's one man against many, in a house full of guns.

The Good and the Bad:

This is the nineteenth Parker novel, but the first one I have read, so I was a newcomer in some respects. But I chose the book because I loved the film Payback, which was based on a different Parker novel.

I think that seeing the movie was a benefit, because the character descriptions were pretty weak, and it was nice to have Mel Gibson's performance to hang my mental image on.

Character descriptions aren't what you pick up a book like this for anyway; this is a modern crime noir, and I got the elements I was looking for: compelling and varied action scenes, crisp writing, and cool dialogue. Parker himself is intriguing because of his relentless drive and obsession, and the overall style of the book reminded me of Louis Lamour.

If your protagonist is a thief (a mechanic, in Parker parlance), you need to have a world full of unsympathetic citizenry, and Stark gives us unflattering glimpses of a social elite in which the young are just waiting for the rich to die.

Overall, a very solid book, and I look forward to catching up on some of the back stories. It has a kind of timeless appeal that doesn't seek to hit us over the head with how modern it can be; yet it isn't a period piece rooted in the pop-culture of the day.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on August 14, 2014
“Flashfire” is an amazing tour-de-force, even by the standards of Parker novels. It is one of the leanest, meanest, nastiest Parker novels ever to be published and, if you thought you knew what Parker was all about after reading the first eighteen Parker novels, you are in for a big surprise. This is a version of Parker that readers really haven’t seen since the first novel (“The Hunter”). Betrayed by a crew he was working with on a bank gig, Parker gets angry Parker-style and sets off on the cross-country one-man crime spree the likes of which is just mind-blowing. Forget all the careful planning and getaway routes and safe houses, this is a Parker who feels more like a junkyard dog, quick on the trigger, without remorse.

Of course, there is a caper at the heart of this book. There always is. A fabulous jewelry robbery that Parker wanted no part of. It wasn’t good in his eyes. There weren’t good getaway routes. There wasn’t a good safe house to hole up in. There was too much security. Too many eyes. But, Parker was betrayed and he is going to deal with this crew that betrayed him.

Claire doesn’t play much of a role in this book, except to lounge by a pool, but that doesn’t stop Parker from meeting a knockout real estate agent, who hones in on his caper.

This book is as good as any Parker book. It is filled with action throughout and narrated in the tight style that Westlake is famous for. Sure, this was made into a movie with Jennifer Lopez playing the Miami Beach real estate agent, but read the book. There is a reason why people for four decades have gobbled up Parker book after Parker book and it’s gotta be because the writing is so damn good.
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