The Blackbird: An Alan Grofield Novel (Alan Grofield Novels)
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
"The Blackbird" continues Richard Stark's (AKA Donald Westlake) desire to spread out the genre umbrella a little bit without fundamentally changing his main meal ticket, Parker. Instead he uses the adventures of easy going and likable Alan Grofield to move the Parker-verse in some different directions. In the previous Grofield book, "The Dame," Grofield becomes wrapped up in a classic, locked door parlor mystery, a la Agatha Christie. In "The Damsel" Grofield lives out a rousing action romance. In this one, published in the late 60's, he channels Ian Fleming and sees how Grofield stacks up against James Bond.

As with all the Parker books, we encounter characters we have met before giving Stark new ways to build up these minor characters. After a botched armored car robbery (also chronicled in Slayground which was written first but published later), Grofield is captured and involuntarily put to work by a super secret arm of the government in exchange for his freedom. Grofield would much rather escape, but is unable to do so under the thumb of relentless secret agents. Why is Grofield the man for the job? Simple. He has a close relationship with several of the subjects of interest, all of whom we know from previous Grofield stories.

Without giving too much of the plot away, Grofield becomes involved in a classic Bondian adventure with all the accompanying danger, hot chicks and world-wide disaster implications. The story is far more like Bond cinema than Bond books. Unlike Bond who always worked for Queen and Country, Grofield is only looking out for himself. As his involvement in the international plot becomes more tangled the two motivations, country and self, intersect.

There is a substantial maturing of Grofield in this novel, especially from when we first meet him in "The Score." Although he remains his charismatic self throughout the novel, he does several very cold things which would force even Parker (and Bond) to raise an eyebrow. The novel is fast paced and a very quick read. I haven't found a Parker-verse book I haven't liked yet (I'm reading through them chronologically) and this one though radically different from what I've come to expect, is still a great read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on July 10, 2013
It seems almost anything Donald Westlake writes is a pure joy to read. This one was no exception.
In fact, I've even re-read some of his novels several times when I gave up in getting another good
author. Not only is a good man hard to find, so is an author.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on July 7, 2014
Publication date: 1969

Chapter one of The Blackbird is similar to chapter one of Slayground: A Parker Novel (Parker Novels)- the same heist told from Grofield's point-of-view. Grofield is a professional, but he is not like Parker, as soon becomes apparent:

"You've got a small army here, you don't need me. What your problem is, you don't want the rest of the team to know one of their number's been bumped off. You get little morale problems like that often?"
"I hope you screw up, Grofield," Ken said. "I hope you screw up so bad I get the order to take you right back and turn you in for that armored car job."
"And let the Third World capture Peoria? Move over, Ken, I'm off to save my country from the pygmies."
Ken moved over. "You cynical b*stard," he said.
Grofield stopped with his hand on the knob. "If I don't come back from this mission," he said dramatically, "I want you to tell the folks back home. Tell them to be on their guard. Tell them to--tell them to--watch the skies!" He went out chuckling, and Ken slammed the door behind him.

This Richard Stark is not in the 'quartet' form- there is no shift in the middle to other points of view. It is a very creditable parody or pastiche of a Bond adventure, with a stark twist in one chapter (nobody does it better), and Westlake's dry humor on display quite often. He seems willing in this outting to blow 'Stark's' cover:

... He sat up, stiff and aching and bruised all over. He called, "Vivian?"
Somebody groaned. He got to hands and knees.
"Groan again," he called.
She groaned again. He crawled in that direction, and touched wet cloth. He slid his hand along the cloth and said, "Vivian?"
A weak voice said, "Watch that hand, there."
"Why? What have I got?"
"So far, leg."
He patted it. "You sound like you're all right," he said.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 13, 2013
After heist gone awry Grofield (Parker’s partner and hero of four novels, of which this is the third) ends up on a hospital bed surrounded by secret government agents. Thief and part-time actor is offered a chance to atone for his sins against the state. Charges of robbery will be lifted if Grofield helps the Secret Service to find out the secrets of the Third World countries. Somewhere in Canada a secret meeting of top officials of nine developing countries is planned and Grofield must ingratiate himself and find out what caused the meeting. Grofield is selected only because he is familiar with the leaders of the two countries - General Pozos and a politician Onum Marba (see The Damsel and The Dame). Grofield prefers intelligence job to prison term but plans to escape from the agents. He fails to escape and Grofield is delivered to Canada.

The premise of The Blackbird is very similar with the premise of another Stark novel The Handle. There FBI agents forced Parker to work on them and rob the casino. The Blackbird is more slowly than The Handle: almost half of the novel Grofield jokes and plays the fool, the sense of danger is not in sight, as if Grofield came to Canada at a ski resort. When Stark adds in his novels international intrigue, it is not very good. But the novel is good in that each Grofield’s choice is accompanied by the question "What would Parker have done in the Grofield place?".

Closer to the finale the book gains speed and Grofield has to make a difficult moral choice. The Blackbird, perhaps, is on the same level with The Damsel: entertaining, but far from ideal.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon May 25, 2012
...,with which it shares a first chapter, The Blackbird tells of story of thespian/crook Alan Grofield, part of Parker's gang of resourceful thieves. Fleeing from a heist, their car crashes. Parker goes on to escape into an amusement park, the story told in the novel Slayground, one of the very best in the Parker series of almost two dozen books. Grofield is not so lucky. He wakes up in a hospital surrounded by government intelligence officers who offer him the opportunity to work a dangerous case for them, or to go straight to jail.

Grofield takes the case, although that doesn't mean he won't try to double cross everyone around him. This case involves an intelligence operation in Canada, where things quickly get out of hand, as they always do in a Parker book, just after the action starts. At the end, after snowmobile chases across the frozen tundra and lots of violence, the good guys win, largely due to Grofield.

The pluses of the book are the always crackling dialogue, the smooth pacing, and the way the reader is always sucked up for a ride by Stark's prose. I still don't find Grofield as intriguing as Parker, but then Parker is an iconic figure in crime fiction. If you've read the Parker novels and want more, this book is for you. Be sure to read this series in order.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on July 7, 2014
The Blackbird is the third of four Alan Grofield novels by Donald Westlake's alter ego, Richard Stark. There are four Grofield novels in all, The Damsel, the Dame, The Blackbird, and Lemons Never Lie. The Vlackbird is the weakest of the four.

Grofield was a minor character in a couple of Parker novels (specifically the Handle). The Parker series consists of 24 novels about a tough-as-nails thief. Grofield is also a thief, but a different kind of character. Grofield lives in a small midwestern town and his first love is acting. He runs a small community theater with his wife, but makes no money at it, supporting his acting profession with heists, sometimes with Parker. Grofield is humorous and always has some light banter, making him quite a bit different than Parker.

The story starts out with a bang. Grofield is involved in an armored car robbery that goes south when the getaway car crashes. Grofield wakes in a hospital, being questioned by CIA type operatives. Either Grofield becomes a spy against two Third World leaders he has been connected to in the past or he does hard time. Grofield is at his witty best as he verbally spars with the agents assigned to him and as he attempts to make a getaway during a plane change at JFK.

In Quebec where the rendezvous is to take place, Grofield is caught between warring bands of agents and is ultimately on no one's side but his own.

Despite the secret goings on, the kidnappings, the gun battles, and other high drama, this story lacked the pull and compellingness of the other Grofield books.
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on July 12, 2014
The inside cover of the University of Chicago edition incorrectly lists the fourth Grofield novel as The Sour Lemon Score. It's actually Lemons Never Lie, just in case you were going to order the next after reading this one. Both have the same citrus fruit in their title and both plots revolve around vengeance but The Sour Lemon Score is the twelfth novel in the Parker series.

Blackbird, is the third novel in the part time theatre actor, part time criminal Alan Grofield series. Grofield was also of course a minor character in some of the Parker series. Blackbird has an interesting beginning in that it has a scene from the Parker novel Slayground, as it's opening pages but this time written through Grofield's eyes instead of Parker's. You don't need to have read that, or even the former Grofield novels, The Damsel and The Dame to be able to follow this one, but it does add a bit of fun to your reading experience to have done so.

This adventure was first published in 1969 and the storyline at times does occasionally remind you of that at times. Mild spoiler references follow - Such as when Grofield gets into a horse drawn buggy with a dark skinned woman (who the book's title refers to) he is surprised that no one seems to care that they appear to be an interracial couple. In fact it's a bit obvious with the female character that this was written before the feminist movement, with Grofield having to stop the "silly woman" from being killed, even though she's a trained operative and he's just an actor/criminal. Also the fact he doesn't realise straight away how the agents seem to be able to find him when he knows he wasn't followed. Readers back in 1969 also probably weren't that familiar with automatic garage doors, unless these things were a lot more powerful back then than today's ones so perhaps found those pages a bit more believable. But that doesn't mean The Blackbird isn't entertaining and relevant to modern readers. For the most part it's a blast!

The only thing that drops it a star in my opinion is the inconsistency with the ability to hear gun shots. At one point Grofield isn't concerned that those in neighbouring buildings will hear gunshots (which seems a bit implausible to me) but yet he is awakened when he's quite some distance away from those same buildings by gunfire.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on December 21, 2012
I bought this book because I am a fan of Stark's Parker novels and Alan Grofield was a character in several of them. It was interesting to see some of the same situations from a different perspective. However, I didn't find this book as compelling as the Parker novels but if you want a look at the crime scene from an alternate viewpoint,give it a try.
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on September 13, 2014
i enjoyed the ironic humour. pretty good characters. light reading... recommend for someone interested in irony, mystery & light violence. lynne from sellersville
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on June 7, 2015
Always entertaining
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