Review: The Jugger

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There were more numbers on this second sheet, but they weren’t what caught Parker’s eye.  Besides the numbers there was a list of names, scattered down the right side of the paper.  Loomis, McKay, Parker, Littlefield, Clinger…a long, long list of thirty or more names, all of them men Joe Sheer had worked with at one time or another.

But not in Joe’s handwriting.  The list of names, and the figures over on the other side of the page, were all done in the same handwriting as the total on the first sheet.

Younger looked up, smiling his smug smile, tapping a finger against the list of names.  “See that there?  It wouldn’t surprise me none if your name’s down there.  Don’t think I ever bought that Willis name.”

Parker looked at him, seeing him definitely for the first time as a dead man.  “Let’s get on with it,” he said.

Among the 24 Parker novels Donald Westlake wrote, The Jugger may qualify as the oddest of odd ducks.   It isn’t about Parker planning and executing a heist, nor is it about Parker seeking bloody restitution after somebody swindled him out of his rightful share of a heist, dealing with the aftermath of a failed heist, or fighting off some interloper trying to muscle in on a heist; nor is it about Parker battling the mob (which pretty much always has something to do with a heist).    That list covers every Parker novel ever written–except The Jugger.    Which is about a murder mystery–that isn’t really a murder or a mystery–that Parker solves–only he doesn’t.   Mainly because he doesn’t give a damn whodunnit.

Reaction to the book from the growing readership for Parker novels was probably a bit mixed at the time it came out, precisely because it was so different from what people expected, but over the years, it’s become recognized as one of the best books in the series–it’s very rare to find a bad review of it now.   But the worst review ever came from Westlake himself, many years later–

I spoiled a book by having him do something he wouldn’t do. The sixth book in the series is called The Jugger, and that book is one of the worst failures I’ve ever had. The problem with it is, in the beginning of the book this guy calls him and says “I’m in trouble out here and these guys are leaning on me and I need help,” and Parker goes to help him. I mean, he wouldn’t do that, and in fact, the guy wouldn’t even think to call him! (laughs)

It’s worth pointing out that ‘the guy’ not only doesn’t call Parker, he tells Parker in a letter “Whatever you do for God’s sake don’t call me on the telephone.”  And in the version we have, as many a puzzled reader has pointed out before me,  Parker is decidedly not going there to help this guy–he’s going to find out if he has to kill him to keep his mouth shut.   So Westlake’s memory of what happens in the book was spotty at best after all that time, and that’s probably because he’d deliberately avoided re-reading it, and perhaps had blocked it out almost entirely, because he’d seen it as such a stinging personal failure.

I think a different interview conducted around the same time (1997–this link is to a 2013 article utilizing excerpts), gives us a bit more of the answer to this mystery–

“I did one entire novel where I went completely wrong. It was the sixth Parker novel, called ‘The Jugger.’ The first five had gone well, and I was happy. And I did this and I knew something was wrong, but I got through it. And my editor called me and said, ‘Come in and we’ll try to save it.’

“Neither of us could figure it out. We changed it and changed it. Maybe 18 pages of the original manuscript was left when we finally gave up and published it. It was about an old guy that Parker used to know who calls Parker about people leaning on him for money. ‘I need your help,’ he says. Parker goes, and the old guy’s dead and we’re off.

“But I’d made a terrible mistake. It was simple: Parker wouldn’t go to help anybody. He’s not Spenser. It threw the entire book completely off.”

– See more at: http://www.pbpulse.com/news/entertainment/a-stark-appealwill-palm-beach-movie-capture-the-ro/nTzPD/#sthash.Qytl0Fwq.dpuf

“I did one entire novel where I went completely wrong. It was the sixth Parker novel, called ‘The Jugger.’ The first five had gone well, and I was happy. And I did this and I knew something was wrong, but I got through it. And my editor called me and said, `Come in and we’ll try to save it.’

“Neither of us could figure it out. We changed it and changed it. Maybe 18 pages of the original manuscript was left when we finally gave up and published it. It was about an old guy that Parker used to know who calls Parker about people leaning on him for money. ‘I need your help,’ he says. Parker goes, and the old guy’s dead and we’re off.

“But I’d made a terrible mistake. It was simple: Parker wouldn’t go to help anybody. He’s not Spenser. It threw the entire book completely off.”

– See more at: http://www.pbpulse.com/news/entertainment/a-stark-appealwill-palm-beach-movie-capture-the-ro/nTzPD/#sthash.rNVDPY4Z.dpuf

“I did one entire novel where I went completely wrong. It was the sixth Parker novel, called ‘The Jugger.’ The first five had gone well, and I was happy. And I did this and I knew something was wrong, but I got through it. And my editor called me and said, `Come in and we’ll try to save it.’

“Neither of us could figure it out. We changed it and changed it. Maybe 18 pages of the original manuscript was left when we finally gave up and published it. It was about an old guy that Parker used to know who calls Parker about people leaning on him for money. ‘I need your help,’ he says. Parker goes, and the old guy’s dead and we’re off.

“But I’d made a terrible mistake. It was simple: Parker wouldn’t go to help anybody. He’s not Spenser. It threw the entire book completely off.”

– See more at: http://www.pbpulse.com/news/entertainment/a-stark-appealwill-palm-beach-movie-capture-the-ro/nTzPD/#sthash.rNVDPY4Z.dpuf

“I did one entire novel where I went completely wrong. It was the sixth Parker novel, called ‘The Jugger.’ The first five had gone well, and I was happy. And I did this and I knew something was wrong, but I got through it. And my editor called me and said, `Come in and we’ll try to save it.’

“Neither of us could figure it out. We changed it and changed it. Maybe 18 pages of the original manuscript was left when we finally gave up and published it. It was about an old guy that Parker used to know who calls Parker about people leaning on him for money. ‘I need your help,’ he says. Parker goes, and the old guy’s dead and we’re off.

“But I’d made a terrible mistake. It was simple: Parker wouldn’t go to help anybody. He’s not Spenser. It threw the entire book completely off.”

– See more at: http://www.pbpulse.com/news/entertainment/a-stark-appealwill-palm-beach-movie-capture-the-ro/nTzPD/#sthash.Qytl0Fwq.dpuf

I did one entire novel where I went completely wrong. It was the sixth Parker novel, called ‘The Jugger.’ The first five had gone well, and I was happy. And I did this and I knew something was wrong, but I got through it. And my editor called me and said, `Come in and we’ll try to save it.’

Neither of us could figure it out. We changed it and changed it. Maybe 18 pages of the original manuscript was left when we finally gave up and published it. It was about an old guy that Parker used to know who calls Parker about people leaning on him for money. ‘I need your help,’ he says. Parker goes, and the old guy’s dead and we’re off.

But I’d made a terrible mistake. It was simple: Parker wouldn’t go to help anybody. He’s not Spenser. It threw the entire book completely off.

Okay, I must ask–without any real hope of an answer–was this Bucklin Moon?   The same editor at Pocket Books who had originally suggested Parker become a series character, and had been a highly regarded author in his own right before the McCarthy witch hunts ruined his career?   Whether it was Moon or someone else,  for Westlake to have sailed through the first five books with an increasing sense of confidence in his Stark writing persona–and then basically get called in to do a near-total rewrite by somebody at the publishing house–hardly something that would make him feel fondly inclined towards the book in question.    An unwelcome reminder that for all his hard-earned success, he was still a long way from the top of his profession.

There was probably nothing Westlake liked more about being Richard Stark than the relative simplicity of that guise–just hammer out another neat little crime novel in a hurry, send it in, cash the check, wait for the fan mail, repeat.   Not this time.

And of course, there was the other thing–the French thing.   The first full-length feature film ever adapted from anything he’d written–by quite possibly the last filmmaker on earth any sane author would want to be adapted by.   The enfant terrible to end all enfant terribles–Jean Luc Godard.   Who as even his greatest admirers would admit, never gave a damn about trifles like fidelity to his source–or story–or characterization–or basic narrative coherence.  Not his thing.   But neither was intentional theft–it just worked out that way.

During a period when he was making disjointed deconstructionist Nouvelle Vague films almost as fast as Westlake was writing sharply plotted crime novels, Godard went to a producer named Georges de Beauregard to ask if he had the rights to a suitable story for him to have his way with.   De Beauregard gave him the rights to The Jugger, failing to mention that he had not half-finished paying for them–he still owed $10k, having paid $6k.

Westlake later told Patrick McGilligan (whose interview I am paraphrasing to beat the band) that he believed de Beauregard meant to pay eventually.   But he never actually did.   Mainly because once he saw the film, he figured there was maybe one minute’s worth of material that came directly from the book, so what was he paying for?   De Beauregard was no lightweight–he was in on the making of some truly great films.   Sadly, this wouldn’t be one of them.

Shooting several movies at the the same time with the same equipment, all of them starring the insanely beautiful Anna Karina (who thus ended up being the first actor to ever play Parker in a movie because hey, why not?), Godard guilelessly mentioned to Sight & Sound that he was making a film of a Richard Stark serie noire thriller.  Word got around.  In this area of the law, it’s less about how directly you copy something than it is about whether the writer who was copied can prove you copied him, so Godard should have kept his mouth shut, but that was definitely never his thing.

Westlake sued for copyright infringement, and eventually won.   It took years.   International lawsuits are no fun for anyone but international lawyers–like lawsuits in general, but in multiple languages.   He ended up with the U.S. distribution rights–the alternative being to destroy all prints and negatives, which even as a non-fan of Godard strikes me as extreme (though having seen it, I have to wonder if the film’s reputation might not have benefited from its destruction).   By that point in time, the American rights to a minor arthouse flick weren’t worth much, but he did eventually get paid for them–it opened officially in the U.S. the week after Westlake died.  Hopefully the check cleared earlier than that.

So to sum up–he felt troubled and uneasy about this book while writing it, having had no such trouble with the previous five–his editor then called him in to rewrite it almost from scratch.   A crazed auteur then turned his story into a weird abstract political diatribe dressed up in noir clothing, that seems to have something to do with the Vietnam War (that somehow the French keep forgetting they started–love you guys, but I’m just saying), and features a drop-dead Polish gal playing the roughest of all rough-hewn American tough guys.   Westlake not only didn’t get paid for this, but he had to drag the the producers into court, and then settle for the U.S. rights to a movie he hated, that only diehard Godard buffs would ever pay money to see, and he didn’t see a franc until just before he kicked (if then).

Nope, can’t see any reason at all for him not liking this book.   Just irrational prejudice, is all.

Have I left anything out?   Anything else that might have colored Westlake’s view of this novel?  Maybe just one more thing but I’ll save it for later.   Time to synopsize.

The Jugger opens with Parker in a small Nebraska town, investigating the death of his old heisting partner (and perhaps mentor?), Joe Sheer.   They had worked a number of heists together, mainly bank jobs, Joe being one of the best safecrackers in the business, as well as a good planner in his own right.   Then Joe, having amassed a decent retirement nest egg, suddenly started getting Social Security checks–for his carefully crafted alias of Joseph Shardin.   Enjoying the irony of the situation, and starting to feel his age, he retired to Nebraska under that same alias, and bought a nice little house in a podunk burg where nobody would ever think of looking for an old jugger like him.   Or so he thought.

We already know Joe from previous books–he’s been Parker’s contact, his ‘mailbox’–the guy you call if you have a job you think Parker might be interested in, and Joe then refers your message to Parker, and if he’s interested, he’ll get back to you.   This indicates a very high level of trust between the two men.   In The Man With the Getaway Face, we see Parker send a small portion of his proceeds from that book’s heist to Joe–not to pay any debt, we’re told, but simply as a gesture of respect.   Joe was the one who arranged for Parker to get plastic surgery in that novel.   There is probably nobody Parker trusts more.   And nobody who could be more dangerous to Parker if he suddenly got talkative with the wrong people.

The first few chapters, we’re pretty much in the dark as to what’s going on–there’s all these people interested in Joe Sheer, and consequently, in Parker, since Parker is making inquiries about Joe around town–having found out when he got there that Joe just passed away.   One of these kibbitzers is a two-bit crook named Tiftus, who Parker knows but never worked with.    He keeps acting like he and Parker are there for the same reason–money–but Parker can’t make out what he’s talking about.

He roughs Tiftus up to make him bug off, and in the process meets Rhonda Samuels, an actress (in burlesque, one imagines) who Tiftus brought along with him.   She’s naked and pissed off when he first sees her, and the physical description runs thusly–

She was yellow above, black below, and she’d been out in the sun for a tan while wearing a two-piece bathing suit.  She was built heavy but not fat; firm flesh well padded over a big-boned frame.   Her face would have been beautiful except she had the eyes of a pickpocket and the mouth of a whore.

No one will ever compose an ode to her charms, but she’s sexy enough to interest Parker–when he actually becomes interested in sex.   Which he isn’t now, because even though he’s not planning a heist, what he’s doing there feels like a job.  And he’s still got Jean, his woman from The Score, back in Miami.   Though that relationship has probably not been going great guns of late, since Parker’s cyclical sex drive would be at a low ebb several months after his last score, and Jean is probably wondering what’s up with that.

But now he’s on a job, so no sex drive at all–only what is the job, exactly?    What’s he doing there?   Parker isn’t quite sure himself.  He talks to the funeral home director, he talks to a doctor who (falsely) claims to have been treating Joe, and he keeps running into the chief of police–a fat blowhard in a cowboy hat named Abner L. Younger, who is taking a decidedly unhealthy interest in Parker’s activities–but not the way a cop would normally be interested.   As we learn later, Younger’s only been a cop for a very short time, after a long uneventful life spent as a sergeant in the U.S. army who never actually served in combat.   He’s the chief because of politics, not professionalism.  He’s the amateur in the piece (one of them, anyway).   But he thinks he’s a consummate pro.

Parker checks out Joe’s house–which has clearly been searched repeatedly, from basement to rafters.  Joe’s stash of emergency getaway cash is gone from the flour bin.   Parker decides to check out the cellar–at which point somebody wearing a sack on his head clobbers him with a shovel.   When he comes to, Younger is standing over him, demanding answers.   This is the third and I believe final time in the first 16 novels that we see Parker caught offguard and temporarily incapacitated–the previous two instances were in The Hunter and The Mourner.   You’d think he’d learn to stay away from books with two-word/three-syllable titles ending in ‘er’.

And now comes the rewind, and we find out what Parker is doing there–and as Westlake would bitterly lament later on, it is a bit tricky to explain.   Joe Sheer had written to Parker twice–the first time to say he was having some problems, and Parker better not contact him for a while.   The second letter is what really raises Parker’s hackles–Joe is clearly scared out of his wits now, though not going into any detail about what’s scaring him–and he’s asking Parker to come help him out.

This is not something one guy on the bend asks of another, as Parker sees it.   And Joe knows this as well as Parker does, but he’s still asking.  Which means the Joe Sheer Parker knew is gone–but his body is still walking and (even worse) talking.  To who?  About what?

When he finally made up his mind it was really Joe Sheer who had written that letter, Parker pulled out a suitcase and started packing.  It wasn’t for Joe Sheer that he packed, or that he called the airport and made a reservation on the next plane for Omaha.  As far as he was concerned, Joe could drop dead right now and that would be fine with Parker.  In fact, that would be better; it would save him a trip.

He was going for himself.  He was going because in Joe’s letter he saw a danger to himself much more obvious and lethal than any danger Joe had been trying to describe.  What he saw was the shaky penmanship and shaky personality of an old man.  Joe was going senile.  At seventy, he’d lost every trace of the code of ethics he’d lived by all his adult life.

Clearly this was written after Westlake and his editor at Pocket got together–probably no such explanation of Parker’s trip to Nebraska existed in the first draft.  Westlake was explaining Parker’s behavior after the fact–and he still felt like he hadn’t gotten it right.   Normally, writing in the Stark voice, he could at least partly penetrate the murkier reaches of Parker’s mind, but this time he felt he’d fallen short.   And he was right.

First of all–‘code of ethics’?   From the moment he typed that, Westlake must have known it was wrong, though of course it’s Stark saying it, and it’s referring to Joe.   It’s still meant as an interpretation of Parker’s thought processes, and Parker doesn’t give a damn about ethics–or codes.   Only code he responds to is genetic.    I know some very dedicated readers of these books use that word to refer to Parker sometimes, and I am here in all hubris to tell you–Parker has no code.   Never did.

Instinct.  If Parker is nothing else, he’s a predator.   I’d say a wolf, but you don’t have to be that specific about it.   He’s a hunter, as we’ve known from the very first.  A predatory animal is one part aggression to one part caution to one part curiosity.  It’s curiosity that’s got Parker heading down there–he’s heard a fellow wolf (as he perceives it) howling fearfully in the distance–he needs to know what about.  His strengths are all bound up in his weaknesses–that curiosity may tell him things he desperately needs to know–or it may put him in the sights of a long-range rifle.   Many a pelt nailed to a cabin wall can attest to the risks engendered by curiosity.  But he’s got to know.

The safest smartest thing for Parker to do would be to assume Joe is going to somehow blow his ‘straight’ identity wide open, and start taking steps to protect himself, leaving Joe to whatever fate awaits him.   But if he does that, he’ll never learn what happened (and the book will be really dull).   He tells himself he’s going down there to find out if he has to kill Joe, and no doubt whatsoever he would do that, without the slightest qualm, if there was no other alternative–but he’s creating the very danger he’s trying to avoid by showing his face in a small town where he can’t help but be noticed, asking questions that can’t help but lead to more questions being directed at him.

Creating a new identity would be a hassle, but he’s done it before.   So why make things more complicated than they need to be, when simplicity is always Parker’s primary ideal, and the only law he respects is Murphy’s?  My reading is that even though he hasn’t worked directly with Joe in a while, something in the letter did touch him on some primal level.   It isn’t compassion.   It’s something that existed a very long time before compassion.   And we’ve seen this nameless emotion in Parker before.   And we’ll see it again.

In his effort to explain away Parker’s behavior, Westlake makes what I think may be an outright blunder–he has Parker sourly musing on Joe’s offer to pay his travel expenses–he thinks this isn’t how it’s supposed to work–you go in together for shares–you don’t offer to pay another heister out of your own pocket for his trouble–but Parker offered to do exactly that with Handy McKay, in The Outfit, less than a year earlier.   Handy refused the offer, partly because he genuinely wanted to help Parker out, and partly because it’s weird for Parker to be offering to pay him.   Parker seems oblivious to the contradiction in his reasoning.   Perhaps Westlake, caught up in trying to fix a book on a short deadline, never even noticed it.

Now ask yourself–if Handy McKay, who also worked with Joe Sheer, had gotten that letter, what would he have done?   He’d have gone down there to help Joe, out of loyalty.   We’ve seen him take pity on people he’d barely met, which twice ended up costing him and Parker dearly.   And Handy is as tough and capable as they come in the heisting world.   So Parker is once again wrongly assuming all his fellow heisters are like him.   There are aspects of the human mind he can never really grasp–we’re as much of a mystery to him as he is to us.

The Joe Sheer he thought he knew would never break like this, so in his mind, the Joe Sheer he knew is dead.   What killed him?   And is it a threat to Parker in some way?  That’s the mystery he’s out to solve.   Made all the more urgent by the fact that Parker checked into the local hotel under his cover name of Charles Willis, which can be traced back to Florida, and the life he’s set up for himself there.

And now Tiftus has turned up dead in his hotel room–and the state police, who are a damn sight more professional than Younger, consider ‘Charles Willis’ a suspect, though Younger can give him an alibi (for his own reasons).   The mysteries are starting to multiply.   The trap is starting to close on Parker.   He’s got to figure all this out, and fast.

And I’ve got to make this a two-parter, like I did with The Hunter.   Too much more to say about this one–it’s not the kind of book you skim through.   I’ll post the rest of it sometime this week.  You’d think I’d learn to stay away from Parker novels with two word/three syllable titles ending in ‘er’.   But they’re all so bloody interesting.   Contradictions and all.

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12 Comments

Filed under Donald Westlake novels, Parker Novels

12 responses to “Review: The Jugger

  1. I’ve always thought “The Jugger” was Stark’s deliberate homage to Jim Thompson’s crazy sheriff novels like “The Killer Inside Me” and “Pop. 1280” (though the latter’s publication precedes “The Jugger” by only a year). I’ve never seen an acknowledgment from Westlake that JT was an influence, nor have I seen any Westlake scholars advance the theory (the character of Tom Jimson in Westlake’s “Drowned Hopes” is a more unequivocal hat-tip), but there are many similarities. Of course, a big difference is that while Thompson’s works remain claustrophobically confined to their anti-heroes’ POV, “The Jugger” must (awkwardly, arguably) insert Parker (and his POV) into the proceedings, resulting in a work that’s not-quite-Thomspon, not-quite-Stark.

    I’ve also often pondered the Zippo lighter Parker finds in Tiftus’s right-hand trouser pocket, inscribed, FROM DW TO SF (“neither set of initials having any connection with Tiftus,” Stark editorializes). However, the “DW” certainly has a connection to the author of the book, but what about the “SF”? Had “The Jugger” been written 25 years later, I’d be sure that SF stood for “Stephen Frears,” who directed Westlake’s screenplay adaptation of Thompson’s “The Grifters,” thus sealing the deal. But in 1965? Who knows?

  2. Well, I don’t–but there’s little doubt in my mind Westlake had read most or all of Thompson’s best books by this point in time (because if there’s anything he was always keenly aware of, it was other crime fiction writers who could actually write). Given the respective publication dates, if he’d read Pop. 1280 before writing The Jugger, it would have been really fresh in his mind. Personally, I wouldn’t say Younger is a Thompson-esque character–he doesn’t actually kill anybody, for one thing, though he sure seems capable of it.

    I don’t think The Killer Inside Me was any kind of influence on The Jugger–haven’t gotten to Pop. 1280 yet, so you’ve got me at a disadvantage there. But Wikipedia tells me that’s about a Sheriff (as opposed to a chief of police in a cowboy hat), who has to face elections, is married, has affairs–his life may be twisted as all hell, but it’s a life. I think the point of Younger is that he never had any kind of life at all. Of course, I just suggested in my last review that one of the comic villains of that piece is a Nero Wolfe parody, even though he’s a ganglord. You only get so much out of a synopsis.

    My own feeling is that in creating Abner L. Younger, Westlake was mainly responding to his own antagonistic feelings towards authority figures, and particularly this type of mean-spirited unprofessional small time cop–and perhaps to military sergeants? He was in the Air Force long enough to have met a fair few lifers, heard some stories, maybe been in a few stories himself–based on what my dad told me about his army days (which he spent stationed in Europe), it’s almost impossible to avoid this kind of corrupt sadistic bully, in one form or another. You step half an inch out of line, you’re in trouble.

    And in Westlake’s case, I have a feeling he got in trouble more than once. And it may well have been much worse in the days before the all-volunteer military we have today (our women in uniform might disagree, of course). Westlake wasn’t drafted, but it must have been obvious he wasn’t sticking around that long. Some of the lifers would have been merciless to the short-timers like Westlake. No danger of them ever rising in the ranks, and getting even someday, you see.

    He’s not writing about an experienced small town sheriff–he’s writing about a guy who spent his life in the military, learning how to use psychological intimidation and the cloak of authority to make other men feel small and worthless–to find their weak spots and home in on them. It’s the only thing Younger is good at, and he’s very good indeed.

    As it happens, I think I know exactly which crime novel most directly influenced The Jugger, and it wasn’t written by Jim Thompson–I’ll talk about that next time. It’s not generally a good thing for a writer to just be responding to other writers all the time. Westlake was certainly doing that, but he was also drawing on his own experiences. However, he could have glommed a bit of the western style of this particular bully from Thompson. That I’d buy. I’ll look for it when I read the book, Ray.

    Hey, wait a minute–you’re not Ray!

    😉

  3. This is my favorite of the Parker books, though it’s hard to put my finger on why that is, exactly. I first read the books as a teenager, and this one really stood out to me. Possibly because, as you mention, it doesn’t have any of the usual trappings of the other books — I think of it as a heist story without a heist — and we see Parker having to navigate completely out of his element. Looking forward to part two.

  4. You’re not Ray either! What gives here? Oh well, I suppose there’s no particular reason the post-review discussions have to be just Ray and myself, but this is going to take some getting used to. :\

    It’s a heist story with nothing TO heist. You have these stooges (three in all) who think there’s this great pile of stolen cash just waiting to be dug up, and Parker is the odd man out, trying to fathom their confused thought processes. They believe in the money so much, he starts to believe in it himself, and it triggers his normal acquisitive instincts, but then he realizes it’s all a big joke on everybody–himself included. Only this isn’t a Dortmunder–it’s a Stark novel. So nobody is laughing, and lots of people are dying.

    Here at least there’s one familiar face–Tiftus, who may be a third-rate crook but he’s a crook all the same, and Rhonda certainly knows her way around Parker’s world. Near the end of the saga, Westlake tried a purer version of this wolf-out-of-water story with Ask the Parrot. One of my favorites among the later run of books.

    Part 2 is in the works. Just a few more days, hopefully. Thanks for chiming in. I’d like to see more of my readers doing that. But I still want Ray back. Now none of you bumped him off, right? 😮

  5. I think my favorite line in the book is [spoiler warning, if one is needed in the comments section of a detailed review of 50-year-old book] “He buried him the cellar in the hole the kid had dug himself.” It really gets at Parker’s brutal efficiency. Generally, violence is just another tool in Parker’s toolbox, not necessarily deployed with malice (with notable exceptions: see The Hunter and Butcher’s Moon, e.g.). Nothing against the kid next door, but by god, he had to go. And why waste a perfectly good hole?

  6. Obviously that is the one scene that gets everybody’s attention. Not what happens so much as the offhanded way that it does. Like I said in the comments section of my last review, Stark’s attitude towards young amateurs is “Grow up fast or I’ll kill you.” But the kid is a murderer. He’s dumb, but he’s no innocent. He could have gone to the cops and made a clean breast of it, and he’d have done a little time, and he’d have lived. He got greedy, he got scared, and he got dead. In Parker’s world, bad decisions lead to bad results. It’s very moral, in its own way.

    Parker never intentionally kills an innocent person in the entire run of the novels. Stark won’t let him.

  7. No one bumped me off, Chris, I had just been abducted and held captive at an abandoned army base. Now ransom was paid, and I’m back in business.
    Anyway, nice jokes, very Westlake style.
    The Jugger is definetely in my top-5, maybe even in top-3 Parker novels. It’s a freak of a Parker novel. It’s different, paranoid, very small-townish, slow, without heists (and I think I like Parker novels withour heists better). You counted the reasons why Westlake didn’t like The Jugger I couldn’t even think of. Parker is not weak here, in fact, Parker certainly acts like a predator here. If an old, bleeding wolf could lead hunters to a pack of wolves, then the leader of a pack should kill this old wolf, no other way around it.
    Parker was weak (and stupid) in some novels, not here. Parker didn’t like to kill without a reason, and he had every reason to kill an old friend. The most important question is, if Sheer was alive when Parker arrived in town, how would hParker kill Joe? He would be merciful about it? Or he’d kill him from the back, without warning?
    I’m interested to see what book you think influenced Stark on this one. I don’t think Thompson was an influence on Westlake, though he may read him.
    On the cover of The Jugger we read _murder mystery_. That’s the only Parker murder mystery Westlake wrote (the Dame is probably the only Grofield murder mystery). It’s not a straight murder mystery, but still. Though one can argue that the best novel where Parker playing sleuth would be The Seventh.
    I won’t discuss now the scene of Parker murdering that kid, I figured you saved it for the part two.

  8. Nobody can wait for that poor stupid kid to die! Honestly, there’s not much TO say about that. It speaks for itself. Personally, I think he’s a stand-in for Joe–we don’t really want to see Parker kill an old man who was his friend and colleague, and asked him for help. He’d do it, in a heartbeat. But he’ll never have to, because Stark arranged things that way.

    So the kid is to let us know that wasn’t a bluff. Parker doesn’t just kill mean people. He’ll never have to push an old lady down the stairs in a wheelchair, like Richard Widmark (source of half of Richard Stark’s name) did in Kiss of Death. But he would if there was no other means for him to get away clean with the loot. Stark won’t ever put him in that position, but he cuts it as close as he possibly can with this 19 year old amateur. Call it a sign of bad faith.

    But again, you have to cross a line to get in Parker’s sights. Somehow, people who stay within the bounds of proper social behavior are safe from him (unless he binds and gags them before they can tell him they’ve got asthma, and that could happen to anyone, right?). Not necessarily safe in general–because nobody ever is–but safe from Parker. He’s allowed to murder in cold blood, but he’s not allowed to look bad doing it.

    If he had to kill Joe, I think he’d have done it to his face. And I think Joe would have taken it without flinching. And seriously–don’t you think Joe knew that was a possibility to start with? He knows Parker better than anybody except maybe Handy. He knows just what kind of demon he’s invoking here.

    Maybe he’s hoping Parker will decide the best way to fix things is to bump Younger–in fact, he KNOWS Parker will bump Younger. Younger knows too much to live. But does Joe really want to go on living? You know what happens. Maybe he decided Parker wasn’t coming. So he had to do the job himself. Or maybe he was thinking something else. Maybe he wasn’t thinking at all.

    I’d put it in my Top 5 as well. It’s just a unique piece of work. But that’s precisely why it’s so good–just as well there aren’t any more like it. Except maybe the next one, to some extent–interesting you pointed that out. Westlake knew he had something here, even if he didn’t like the way it turned out. And the fact that Westlake didn’t have any problems with how the next one turned out is interesting, isn’t it? Parker’s behavior is just as irrational there. Oh well, plenty of time for that when I get to it. Try not to get abducted again in the meantime. 😉

  9. Joe made a mistake just writing to Parker. Suppose Joe had written to Parker asking for help, then solved the problem, probably killing Younger, and then written again to Parker saying “everything’s good, problem’s solved, no worries”. Parker still might go Joe’s town and kill him nevertheless. Parker would see that, yes, THIS problem is solved, but who knows how Joe might compromise Parker next time? I think nothing would’ve happened if Joe just hadn’t written at all.
    I have something to say about this kid, but I won’t before the part two.

  10. Very hard to see how Joe could kill the police captain of a very small town, who has his fingerprints on file, and who has been using police resources to watch him, and not blow town immediately. He doesn’t know Younger talked to the FBI about him, but given how much Joe already knew about him before he started talking, he can guess.

    And since his money is tied up in mutual funds and such, he’d have to go back to his old life to support himself–he’s still got the connections, and his reputation as a box man is still strong. Once he did that–once he was Joe Sheer again–Parker would stop seeing him as a threat. That probably was his best chance.

    But by the time he writes Parker, he knows he doesn’t have that in him anymore. He likes his comfortable bed, his tidy house, his nice little garden. There’s not enough of Joe Sheer left to pose a threat to Younger. And Joseph Shardin is no threat to anybody–except Parker.

    Here’s the letter Joe could have written:

    Parker,

    I’m in a bad spot. The local lawman found out who I am, and is shaking me down for money I don’t have. He already knew a lot about me, and he got more–enough to be a potential problem for you and others I’ve worked with. He’s not that tough, but I don’t know if I can take him. I have to get out of here–my retirement is over. I need to go back on the bend. I can still open a box like nobody else, you know that. This cop, named Younger, needs to be dealt with. He’s crooked, and I’m pretty sure he hasn’t told any of his men what he’s doing here, so he’s the only one that needs to go. I can understand if you’re thinking I need to be shut up as well. That’ll be up to you. But you need to come down here and take care of this situation. Either we can leave together, or you can leave alone. Either way, I’ll be shut of this mess. Either way, you’ll be doing me a favor. If you can get me out of this, I’ll make it up to you–you can have half my share of the next job. And the one after that, if you like. But mainly you just need to take care of this Captain Younger. If I don’t hear from you, I’ll try it myself, but like I said, I may not have enough left to finish him. In which case he’ll still be a problem for you. I’m pretty sure he talked to the Feds, but he didn’t tell them I was living in town, because he wants all the money he thinks I have stashed somewhere.

    Joe.

    That’s about the letter Joe Sheer would have written if this had happened a few years earlier than it did. And Parker would have come, Younger would have died, and I think Parker and Joe would have left together, and eventually worked some jobs. Because the letter wouldn’t smell of weakness. But the letter did smell of weakness, and that’s because after five years of retirement and the natural progression of human life, Joe Sheer doesn’t exist anymore. It’s his shell that’s writing to Parker–but he may still remember enough of the man he was to know what reaction his letter would provoke. More about that in Part 2.

  11. Greg, don’t know if you’re still checking here, but just FYI–I read Pop. 1280–got the ebook. And I honestly don’t see any clear sign of an influence on The Jugger.

    First of all, the publication dates are so close, it’s far from certain that Westlake had read it before he wrote (and rewrote) The Jugger. There’s a window of a few months, at best. Secondly, there’s basically no similarity in the plots, or the approach to storytelling. Thirdly, Younger may pretend to be a dumb hick sometimes, but he never wants anyone to think he really is one–and he really is one–what he’s pretending is actually the truth.

    Now sure, Westlake could be turning Nick Corey on his head, but honestly–what does Younger do that Westlake NEEDED Thompson’s book to pull off? A hayseed lawman playing innocent to get around people? He could have gotten that from Andy Griffith (who btw, was born to play Nick Corey, and it’s a crying shame he didn’t).

    Truthfully, the notion of the redneck who plays dumb to get what he wants was old hat long before Jim Thompson was born–not saying I don’t admire the hell out of the book, but he didn’t invent that archetype, he just made brilliant use of it. As did Westlake, but that characterization was already more or less in the public domain before either book was written.

    Impossible to say for sure–and Westlake certainly made no bones about having read most of Thompson. But on the whole, I just don’t think so. At best, it was one influence out of many, and I’d still say the most likely inspiration for Younger was actual sergeants Westlake met in the Air Force–some of whom certainly would have come from places like Nebraska and the deep south, and after all, Thompson was drawing on the same basic sources Westlake was. Thompson’s characterization is deeper, because he’s closer to the source, being a westerner himself.

    Not sure his book is better, though. They’re so different, it’s hard to make a straight comparison. Thompson has a more focused idiosyncratic vision, warts and all–but Westlake was the better, more finished, more versatile writer. Lots of crime writers got out ahead of him, but he was the one with the most staying power.

  12. Pingback: July 2014’s classic crime in the blogosphere | Past Offences Classic Crime Fiction

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