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Grofield, Alan Grofield - Shaken Not Stirred
on October 11, 2013
"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.