Review: The Seventh, Part 2


He lunged forward, and his right arm pushed ahead of him, and he impaled her forever on that red instant of time. The words remained unspoken, would remain unspoken ever after. The world tick-tocked on, and Ellen remained back there in that blood-red second, slowly slumping around the golden hilt.

It was as though he had stabbed her from the rear observation platform of a train that now was rushing away up the track, and he could look out and see her way back there, receding, receding, getting smaller and smaller, less and less important, less and less real. Time was rushing on now, like that rushing train, hurtling him away.

That’s what death is; getting your heel caught in a crack of time.

It was the amateur who had soured the sweet job, bringing in his own extraneous problems, killing for no sensible reason, taking money that should have been safe, running around wild and causing trouble with everybody, attracting the attention of the law.

There was no profit in killing him, but Parker was going to kill him anyway. He was going to kill him because he couldn’t possibly walk away and leave the bastard alive.

But that didn’t mean he had to get like Negli, stupid and careless.

It’s hard to explain to newcomers to the Parker novels that the stories are never about revenge. Or rough justice. Or violence for the sake of violence. Which often seems to be what pretty nearly all popular entertainments are about. Parker isn’t interested in any of that. He kills when he has to. To protect himself. To protect the very few people he gives a damn about (at this point in the series, there is no such person–Ellie Canaday might have filled that niche, had she lived). To get what he needs to survive on his own terms, namely money.

And, now and again, to calm a storm that springs up within him when people behave in ways he doesn’t understand–when they indulge in certain types of cruelty, disrupt his carefully laid plans, or steal from him. This creates an inner turmoil, a contradiction, which he can only ease by making its source stop breathing. The rules are not clearly spelled out, and are sometimes broken, because they aren’t rules at all–this is instinct talking. In one sense, Parker is utterly free–in another, he’s enslaved by his inner drives.

Parker knows himself incredibly well on the instinctive level–but it’s hard for him (and for his interpreter, Stark) to express this in terms of conscious human thought. Something is always lost in translation. Appearances to the contrary, Parker isn’t a human being. His physical shell is human, the outward expressions of his consciousness are human, but lurking under those external realities lies an inner truth that no one else can ever fully grasp (though occasionally, some more perceptive person will catch a glimpse of Parker’s true nature). And nowhere was this ever more clear than in The Seventh.

I know it sounds like science fiction, or maybe horror fiction, but that’s not what it is, somehow. Because it’s never quite made explicit. Westlake knew where to draw the line. As he put it once, “A realist is somebody who thinks the world is simple enough to be understood. It isn’t.” Neither is Parker. We don’t have to understand every aspect of him to enjoy watching him work.

But that’s not all these books are about–most of all, they are about people. Westlake stopped writing science fiction, a genre he’d loved from childhood, and concentrated on the mystery genre because he felt (with some justification at that time) that the latter genre was more about the study of individual human behavior than the former. He didn’t just write the Parker novels as entertainment (after all, science fiction is certainly entertainment, whether it contains fully fleshed out characters or not). He wrote them as comparative behavior studies.

Parker may not be human, but he’s nothing if not an individual–so are the people he works with and against in the course of a given book. Each novel will spend a lot of time in the heads of these other characters, and because Parker is such an anomalous being, his thought processes will shed light on theirs–and vice versa. That’s the whole point of the exercise, at least as far as Westlake is concerned. That’s what he’s most interested in.

Writing as Stark, he can do something quite different from his first person narratives for Random House, which are mainly character studies focused on the protagonist’s journey of self-discovery. Parker may occasionally dabble in self-discovery, but it’s very much a sideline. He knew who he was long before we ever met him. He’s always known. Maybe once in a while, in the grip of that aforementioned mental turmoil, he may partly forget. But his inner compass will always stabilize, eventually.

The pattern here is reminiscent of The Score–we’ll begin with Parker, and finish with him, but in the middle we’ll learn about the men he’s working with (and against), one at a time. The big differences are that the heist itself went off flawlessly, in the course of one brief chapter, and then everything went to hell–and that two of the men in question are Parker’s adversaries. The cop trying to catch Parker. The murderer Parker intends to catch and kill, who is trying to prevent that from happening, by killing Parker first.

As Part Three begins, we find ourselves at last in the head of this deadly cold-blooded killer, The Amateur who has given Parker so much trouble–and find out he’s just a frightened boy in the body of a football player. We never learn his name (it isn’t relevant), and the description of his confused mental processes seems to owe something to Westlake’s Pity Him Afterwards, but he’s not clinically insane, like Robert Ellington–he’s just been driven crazy by a heightened awareness of his own inadequacies. By the contradiction between who he seems to be on the outside, and who he really is.

With a few deft strokes, Stark puts us in the picture–he’s a former college football star at Monequois, who got involved with Ellie Canaday, a fan of the football team there. Sexy, self-possessed, experienced, she was his fantasy, but he most decidedly was not hers. We don’t ever get into Ellie’s head (or that of any female character in the book), but it’s interesting to see his recollections of her, and realize how different she was with him than with Parker. She was calm and at ease with Parker–a shrill discontented harridan with The Amateur. She wanted a man, and she got a boy in a man’s body–she was restless, probably all her life, looking for something. She found it with Parker, just before she died.

Ellie mercilessly drove The Amateur out of the apartment they shared–his apartment. She went further than she had to, but then again, maybe he wasn’t one to take subtle diplomatic hints. She made him painfully aware of his inadequacies as a lover–he’s an amateur most of all at amatory exploits. He ran to Mexico, nursing his psychic wounds, and then came back, needing to revenge himself on her. He never planned to kill her, but knowing she’d just spent three days and nights in bed with Parker (who The Amateur feared the moment he first saw him), and knowing she’s about to launch into another verbal assault on his manhood, he grabs a sword off the wall and skewers her with it.

Then he finds the heist money in the closet, and somehow feeling like this is a symbolic reward for what he’s been through, he walks away with it. He calls the cops to try and get Parker on the hook for Ellie’s death. Then he realizes Parker will kill him for doing all this, and starts trying to kill Parker first. He kills a minor character named Morey who helps him find Parker, just for shouting a warning when he tries to shoot him. He’s not remorseful about any of this–he’s completely alienated from his own actions. Stark explains his thought processes to us parenthetically–

(He couldn’t really encompass the concept that he had murdered two people and tried to murder a third. He did these things because in their moments they were the only possible things he could do, but at no time did it seem to him that these actions were a part of the fabric of his personality. He was sure he wasn’t the type; he did these extraordinary things because he had been thrust into extraordinary situations. In the normal course of events he would no more murder anyone than he would spit on the flag. His having killed Ellen, and then Morey, and then having tried to kill the stranger, were all atypical actions which he would not want anyone to have judged him by.)

He doesn’t enjoy the killing. He panics and runs like the proverbial scared rabbit every time somebody shoots back at him. What he wants most of all is to get away from there, go back to Mexico with the money, live easy, forget the past. He can’t. Because he sees Parker from a distance, walking purposefully, huge hands swinging at his sides like lead weights, and he knows Parker would find him someday, wrap those hands around his neck. He’d spend the rest of his life looking over his shoulder. He’s not a complete idiot. Just mostly.

Hardly one of Parker’s more impressive enemies, but he’s one of the most dangerous–because he’s stupid, terrified, and armed. You only have to read the papers to know there’s nothing more dangerous in this world than a firearm-toting coward and fool, trying desperately to be something he’s not. They’re everywhere, infesting the malls, college campuses, fast food restaurants, the airports, Starbucks. You’d think somebody would invent some kind of spray. Besides pepper, I mean.

From The Amateur, we switch to the perspective of Detective Third Grade William Dougherty. When last we saw him, Parker had invaded his home, made tacit but unmistakable threats against him and his family, and gotten the location of nine potential suspects in Ellie’s murder case out of him–not so much because he was afraid to have it out with Parker as that he was afraid his wife and daughter, whom he’d sent over to the next door neighbors, would hear the shot that killed him. Dougherty is as much a professional on his side of the law as Parker is on the other. He knows Parker isn’t Ellie Canaday’s killer, figures immediately that Parker was in on the stadium heist, and isn’t terribly shocked by Parker’s behavior (other than his casual admission that he and Ellie were ‘screwing’).

But Parker found his weakness, and exploited it, and it’s created a bit of an identity crisis for Dougherty–the ambitious dedicated cop in him, who might have taken a chance and drawn down on Parker, was thwarted by the husband and father who put his family first. He’s angry at Parker for using this fault-line in his nature against him. He’s angry at himself for letting Parker use it.

He’s Parker’s true adversary in The Seventh–his opposite number. Both men are formidable. Neither man is behaving with sound professional good sense here. Parker wants The Amateur and the loot, in that order of importance, no matter what it costs, or who. Dougherty wants Parker just as badly–and a promotion to detective second grade would be nice. They can’t both have everything they want.

From here we go, one by one, to each of Parker’s colleagues, who are helping Parker look for The Amateur and their money (for them, the order of importance is reversed, of course). First we get a little glimpse of Dan Kifka–still naked, still laid up with a bad virus, still having almost non-stop sex with his coed girlfriend Janey, in-between making calls to various mutual acquaintance of his and Ellie’s, much to the insatiable Janey’s disgust. He reminisces about how this unlikely pairing came about–out driving his cab, he’d picked up her and a soon-to-be-ex boyfriend, and then she’d picked him up–like Ellie, looking for a different kind of man, a different kind of life.

He’s happy with her, but she’s a major distraction–and she doesn’t go with the life he’s leading. He hasn’t figured out yet that one of them will have to make a choice. Too caught up in his work-related problems, and not used to thinking longterm. He finally reaches a buddy who also knows The Amateur. He tells Kifka about what happened between The Amateur and Ellie, and that the former just got back from Mexico the other day–he knows this because The Amateur, lonely and restless, called him up and they had a night out on the town. He knows where The Amateur is staying.

Kifka knows he’s got a live one here, but he can’t go check the lead out himself, so he waits for another member of the string to show up, or call in from a payphone, so this suspect can be questioned. No cellphones. No email. No texting. No pagers, even. Hollywood can never faithfully adapt this book without making it a period piece. Today, the story would go very differently. Today, they’d probably find the guy via his Facebook page.

Now we’re out in the field with the extremely reluctant detective agency of Parker, Shelly, Feccio, Negli, Clinger, and Rudd. Feccio, Clinger, and Rudd are pretending to be pollsters inquiring into TV-watching habits (so they can find out if the guy they’re questioning was home when Ellie was killed). If they don’t eliminate the suspect right away, Parker and Shelly show up pretending to be police detectives. They’re trying to stay away from the nine names Parker got from Dougherty, all of whom are likely to be under police surveillance. But as they work down the list, they end up going to some of those names anyway. None of whom are The Amateur, by the way. It’s a terrible plan, made in haste, but for all but one, it shall not be repented at leisure.

Dougherty did something Parker didn’t expect–he put cops inside the apartments. Parker figured he’d have them stationed outside in unmarked cars, waiting for him to lead them back to the rest of the gang. He didn’t think Dougherty would realize it’d be Parker’s colleagues making the calls. He also didn’t make it clear enough to his colleagues that they should stay away from those nine names until they’d exhausted every other lead. He and Dougherty came at the problem from different angles, and the end result is chaos.

First Clinger–a former movie theater owner who hates television for bankrupting his nice little business, making him an embezzler, then a convict, then a heister. He’s been useful because he’s good at masquerading as honest citizens–but he’s never been any good at the heavy stuff. He sees the plainclothesmen waiting for him, remembers the gun in his pocket, panics, and bolts–he tries desperately to ditch the gun while he’s running, and thinking he’s going to point it at them, they gun him down.

Then the same thing happens to Feccio, only this time right in front of his longtime partner, Little Bob Negli (whose name we’ve heard mentioned in an earlier book), a very short (4’11), snarky, ill-tempered pro, who was needed to get over the fence at the stadium. Negli and Feccio are really tight–there’s even a faint implication of something sexual there, perhaps only on Negli’s side. Negli not only isn’t attracted to women, he seems to outright hate them, particularly when Feccio goes off with one. But it’s not really the main issue here.

Negli sees Feccio, the only person he’s ever felt comfortable with in his life, being led away by the cops that were inside the apartment Feccio just went into–he tries his level best to get his partner out of it–and gets him killed instead. Unable to process his grief, he converts it into rage, and directs it against the guy he blames for Feccio’s death. He abandons the car they shared, and goes gunning for Parker. Who is roughly twice Negli’s size, and so’s his gun, but what the heck. The bigger they are, right?

(Brief sidebar–back at the time this book came out, there was one actor who could have played the hell out of Negli–Mickey Rooney–who did a tremendous (no pun intended) bravura turn in Don Siegel’s 1957 gangster biopic, Babyface Nelson. Rooney played the infamous depression-era bank robber as a textbook Napoleon complex–somebody who robs and kills out of sheer anger for the joke the world played on him, making him so small. He’s always got something to prove, and he’s never shy about proving it. That’s Negli, a heavily concentrated mass of sarcasm, intelligence, and aggression, who intentionally goads Parker to violence–gets under his skin more than just about anybody else in the whole series. A dandy in the way he dresses and carries himself, a thoroughly fascinating thumbnail portrait of a pint-sized felon, and quite honestly the most compelling figure in the book who isn’t Parker. No doubt, Rooney would have been the guy to play Negli back then–but now, we’d be thinking of someone else–

Yeah, that’ll happen. Back to the synopsis.)

Pete Rudd, a former cabinet maker, pushed into crime by cheap mass-produced furniture sold at shopping centers (one detects a bit of social commentary here, as with Clinger)–is next. His problem isn’t the cops–it’s that he knocked on The Amateur’s door (having gotten the assignment from Kifka), and it turns out The Amateur wasn’t even on the police department’s radar–they don’t even know he’s in town. So they’re not watching him.

The Amateur, figuring out the pollster scam right off, beats on Rudd until he spills that the gang members–and therefore Parker–are hiding out at an abandoned health spa called ‘Vimorama’, at the edge of town. Rudd, like Clinger, was never supposed to be in this business–neither was tough enough to handle this type of situation. Changes in the world around them forced them into a life neither was suited for. But Rudd will survive–to talk to the cops, and serve a long stretch in prison. Where hopefully at least they’ll have a carpentry shop.

Finally, we see Parker and Ray Shelly doing their cop bit, and having no luck. Shelly, who physically resembles Parker, is much more easy-going, and seems to have just drifted into a life of crime after this major at the army base he was stationed at found him in bed with his wife–and started beating up the wife, because Shelly was too big. Shelly made the mistake of hitting his not-so-superior officer, and got a bad conduct discharge, which really cuts into your employment opportunities.

He and Parker head back to the Vimorama, and as they get there, all hell breaks loose. Negli comes after Parker, and ends up shooting the very confused Shelly dead, when Shelly pulls out his gun to shoot The Amateur, who has just showed up to try and kill Parker. The Amateur thinks Negli is on his side, but Negli, not having been properly briefed, starts shooting at him too. Then Kifka comes running out, stark naked, guns blazing–The Amateur pots him, then runs the hell away. Parker goes after The Amateur. Negli goes after Parker. And Janey, holding her dead lover’s head in her lap, goes out of her mind.

Enter Dougherty–a bit late–and he’s more or less figured out the confusing scenario that greets him there at the Vimorama, though he’ll never know precisely what happened, or why. He realizes Parker and Ellie’s murderer have both hared it into the woods. He could go after them, like Dirty Harry would (not that anybody’s getting that ref for another eight years or so) but instead he suddenly realizes–he’s a cop. There’s a girl here who needs help–no matter what dodgy taste in boyfriends she may have, she’s one of the citizens he gets paid to protect. There’s a crime scene that needs to be investigated. Running into the woods like a crazy man because a crook made him feel small for a moment isn’t going to fix anything. It’s time for him to do his job.

And then he gets his karmic reward for remembering who he really is–a car full of stolen money The Amateur left behind. Detective Second Grade here we come. But he’ll never lay eyes on Parker again–let alone cuffs. Dougherty and the cops are no longer part of this story. And then there were three.

Parker has to think very quickly now. The Amateur tries to get to his car, but a near-miss from Parker’s gun makes him run into the woods instead. He’s a football player, running back maybe, and he can go a bit faster than Parker. Parker realizes the money must be in the car–he could stop, take care of Negli, drive off, take the whole score for himself, forget The Amateur. He never considers doing this for even a fraction of a second.

As they go through the woods, The Amateur, panicked and fighting his way through heavy brush, gets slower and slower, while Parker, following the trail his quarry makes, gets closer and closer. He’s never been more an embodiment of The Hunter than he is right now. The Amateur comes to a clearing created by a construction sight, and tries to make it across–Parker stops, carefully sights his pistol, and drops him. And just like that, a switch flips in his head. Believing The Amateur is dead, he’s his normal self again–well, he’s his usual self again.

Just in time, because a bullet from Negli’s little .25 automatic grazes his ear. Parker doubles back on Negli, hiding in the underbrush, as slow and careful and silent as a wolf“–amazing to me I never noticed that until I reread this book. Meanwhile, Negli, his grief in complete control of his actions now, the professional in him stone cold dead, rants into the empty air about how Feccio is dead, everyone is dead, all because of Parker. Every time he yells out into the woods, Parker moves a bit closer, Negli’s voice covering up the sound of his approach. Negli should know this. He’s not stupid. But he keeps shouting.

What Negli doesn’t know is that until he told Parker everything that happened, Parker was going to try and capture him alive, so he could learn what had been going on in his absence–information he needs to have. But Negli told him–his human rage, his need to assign blame, to try and make Parker understand his crimes, his failures, his inferiority, has negated any possible usefulness he might have to Parker. Parker knows all he needs to know now. The job has been spoiled. His colleagues are all dead or jailed. Negli is as dead as any of them. All that remains now is escape.

Guilt? Parker literally does not know the meaning of the word. He did what he had to do. If any of them had decided to run, instead of staying to help him find the money and The Amateur, he wouldn’t have stopped them. They made their own choices. What’s past is past.

Negli, still raving, calls Parker an animal–he doesn’t know just how right he is. He also doesn’t know Parker is right behind him, his gun pointed at the back of Negli’s head. Negli tells Parker to come out and fight like a man. Bad choice of words.

With Negli finished, Parker buries his guns, and heads back to The Amateur’s car–only to find the cops beat him to it. Nothing to do but work his way back to the construction site–and then he sees The Amateur’s body isn’t there. He isn’t dead yet.

Taking Negli’s tiny gun, with one remaining bullet, he heads for the half-constructed office tower, 20 stories high, looming in the twilight, cranes and pulleys sprouting from the top “looking like unruly hair on the head of a Mongoloid idiot”, and narrowly escapes being cut in half by a sheet of window glass The Amateur tried to drop on him. He knows where the quarry is now.

The chase becomes vertical in nature, each man working his way higher and higher up, in a structure that doesn’t even have walls on the upper floors yet. The Amateur, in a state of absolute terror now, leaves a small pile of cash for Parker, like a propitiatory offering for an angry god–or demon. Parker takes the cash and keeps coming, realizing now that not all the loot has been lost to the law.

He finds The Amateur at the top, his gun (actually Rudd’s) thrown away in surrender to this implacable force of retribution–nowhere else to run. He begs incoherently for his life, telling Parker Ellie had it coming, it was all her fault, he had just tried to give her what she wanted–Parker cuts him short. He doesn’t need any more backstory.

And then it’s time to count the money in the dead man’s pockets–sixteen thousand three hundred dollars. Just a bit less than he’d have gotten anyway, if everything had gone according to plan. And up above the trees, in the darkness of night, with the world spread out beneath him, Parker laughs out loud at the sheer absurdity of it all. There’s that much humanity left in him. Though it must be said–wolves do laugh. My dog does, all the time. Mostly at me.

I’d like to think that he came back into Monequois some night, long after Ellie Canaday was buried, and placed an opened bottle of beer on her grave. But I don’t really believe it.

It’s a unique piece of work–I defy anyone to show me a story anything like it, in the heist genre or anywhere else. What’s most interesting about it is that Parker is not in full control of himself until the very end–the point where he first thinks he’s killed The Amateur. He had temporarily lost a part of himself–the part that’s in control, that weighs the odds–then he gets it back, and that’s when he wins, finishes Negli and The Amateur, gets his rightful share of the loot, gets away clean once again.

He and Dougherty both get rewarded (with cash!) for remembering who they are. The rest are punished, not for their crimes, but for not knowing themselves well enough. It’s a strange morality you find in the world of Richard Stark. Amorality? I wouldn’t call it that. Alternate Morality. It’s not what you do. It’s the way that you do it. And the why.

And in our next book, we’ll see that Westlake feels just the same way about it, differently as he approaches the matter–back to Random House, for another ‘Nephew’ story–this one about a protagonist so different from Parker, they don’t seem to even occupy the same universe, let alone the same head. But in the imagination of Donald E. Westlake, there was room for everyone. Spy you later.


Filed under Donald Westlake novels, Parker Novels

35 responses to “Review: The Seventh, Part 2

  1. The main conflict here, as I see it, is between a professional and an amateur. Westlake was a pro, Parker is a pro, and they’re both masters of their own craft. And yet a pro in 90% cases can only stay in certain borders. He is capable of doing a solid work, but he can’t create a unique work. Amateurs in 90% cases are complete waste, giftless, lamers. But an amateur doesn’t have standards, or any borders, and he can be struck by lightning and create a unique piece of work. That’s my vision.
    The Amateur in The Seventh is not a genius, just a scared guy, dangerous in his own way. And in this case a pro wins an amateur.
    Every aspect of this book is brilliant. Parker playing sleuth and trying to figure out whodunnit. Homicide cop playing dangerous game with a criminal.
    And the final scene of Parker counting the money – man, that’s the work of genius!

  2. Somerset Maugham once wrote that amateur authors–by which he meant those writing for their own pleasure or need for self-expression alone–those who either could not make a living by the pen in the time they lived in, or had no need to do so because they had other sources of income–could produce works of lasting merit. But that they rarely did it twice. We generally know them for one or two works only, if we know them at all.

    Maugham was writing about the general paucity of medieval and Renaissance Spanish literature when he talked about this, and his point was that most educated Spaniards, however gifted, were grandees, or gentlemen of some sort, and culturally disinclined to make their livings with the pen. It was demeaning, somehow. So they’d write this or that, out of vanity, not need. And who do we remember from that era? The commoner Cervantes, and the play machine, Lope de Vega, both of whom wrote to make a living, having no better options available to them.

    This is how we can know Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare, and not the Earl of Oxford. Because nobody who didn’t need to keep writing play after lengthy play would have done so. The Earl would have written a few, and then gotten bored with it–he had nothing to prove, and no need for the revenue. Shakespeare had things to express within himself (don’t we all?), but more importantly, he needed the money.

    Anybody can get lucky, get inspired, but only the professional learns how to sustain that inspiration, and stretch it out across a lifetime. Art always runs out–when it does, you better have some craft to put in its place. Genius+Professionalism = greatness–as opposed to a great work of art, which anyone might create (though few ever do). Professionalism alone isn’t enough either, but if you can only have one, choose professionalism.

    I think you really hit on something I missed–The Amateur in this book is not a genius, no–or even very intelligent–but moved by his extreme emotional state, which has driven him to at least temporary insanity, he manages to briefly outmaneuver an entire gang of dedicated pros. But Parker, the ultimate pro in his field, catches up to him at last–and shows him the limitations of inspiration.

  3. This is another book with a rather large plot hole. Over and over again, we’ve seem Parker ditch the guns after a job is over, and there’s ample opportunity to do that here: just leave them in the truck, the ambulance, or the Renault. But instead they wind up in Ellie’s closet along with the cash. This both alerts the amateur that something is up (otherwise he’d have no reason to look in the suitcases), and makes it necessary for Parker to attack and then flee from from the cops who respond to the amateur’s phone call.

    • I wouldn’t call it a plot hole, Mike. This is a book about professionals making mistakes, miscalculating, doing the wrong thing at the wrong time. So it’s not a plot hole for them to screw up. It’s just Murphy’s Law in operation.

      Parker doesn’t always ditch the guns right after the job–for one thing, they might have gotten them from a supplier who buys them back half-price, as we’ve seen in a previous book–a good way to cover your tracks and confuse the law–have the same guns used over and over by different pros for different jobs, some of which you couldn’t possibly have been in on, so it points away from you, as long as you don’t get caught in the act. It’s not clear whether Parker obtained the guns this time, anyway. He came in on this job once it was already in the planning stages.

      Ditching the guns while they’re getting away from the scene of the crime might work in some cases, but suppose they have to shoot it out with the law? Parker doesn’t like it when that’s necessary, but that doesn’t mean he won’t ever shoot at police officers. He basically threatens a police detective with a gun, later in this book.

      Also, Parker is there guarding the money–suppose some other pro tries to heist the heist? Parker ditches the guns once he’s sure he won’t need them anymore. Not before. Until you’ve done the split, and gotten out of town, there’s still a chance you’ll need them. It’s not like the money alone wouldn’t be enough to tip the cops.

      They can’t anticipate everything–Ellie’s ex showing up at that moment in time, and behaving the way he does–impossible to predict. But imagine if he’d shown up with a gun while Parker was there–then it would be pretty bad if Parker was unarmed. Could have gone a million different ways.

      I guess it would have been nice if just once everything went the way it was supposed to, though we did see that happen at the end of The Hunter–briefly. Not every job goes sour in the Stark books–but the ones the story is centered around kind of have to, or there wouldn’t be any story.

      If there’s a plot hole, it’s that Parker leaves Ellie alone with the money for a few minutes. Makes more sense for her to go to the store, but we’re told Parker feels the need to stretch his legs, and he’s in an unusually relaxed mood after having such a good time with her the past few days. In a sense, he’s almost being a gentleman about it–the girl needs her rest. But of course, in the Parker novels, no good deed ever goes unpunished.

      • I’m unconvinced. Parker had custody of the guns (as well as the cash), so he was in a position to decide whether to dispose of them or not. The string made almost $20K each, so the proceeds from selling the guns back was marginal at best. Parker might have needed an easily concealable handgun or two to defend himself and the loot, but a closetful of rifles and machine guns is just a liability, and he knows that.

        • That doesn’t quite make sense–he obviously isn’t in a position to decide what to do with the cash, because only one seventh is his, and not even that until they’ve made a final split.

          By the same token, he can’t unilaterally decide what to do with the guns. Machine guns, as is mentioned, are hard to find, so maybe they want to cache them somewhere for another job. If they left the guns in the first getaway vehicle, they have no way to fight off the law. If they leave them in the second, they’re providing clues as to the escape route. Again, if the cops come calling at Ellie’s, the money alone is enough to serve as proof of guilt.

          And it’s ridiculous to expect them to plan for Ellie’s crazy ex-boyfriend to show up, kill her with a sword, look in the closet (because having just murdered a woman he can easily be connected to, his first thought is to see if there’s anything there in the apartment that belongs to him), and divine from the guns that there’s money in the suitcases, which he then decides to take, only then he decides he has to call the police so they’ll catch Parker, and when Parker gets away, he decides he has to kill him. Human behavior is really hard to predict. You can’t allow for everything.

          Real-life bank robbers, like Clyde Barrow or Dillinger, actually tended to hang onto the guns and other weapons they most often took from gun shops and armories. Not so easy to obtain, and of course they needed them all the time, since they worked a lot more often than Parker does, and often had to shoot their way out when cornered by local police or the Feds.

          Westlake was basically trying to rationalize heisting–make it a sustainable lifestyle, since he had to write a bunch of books about a heister who keeps getting away. Avoid publicity, avoid getting your picture on wanted posters, avoid getting attached to this or that gun or car that could be used to ID you, create an fake identity you live under most of the year, and even pay taxes under. But the reality isn’t really that rational, which is why they pretty much always get caught or killed.

          I think Westlake to some extent invented this subculture of underground arms dealers who sell to heisters (I mean, how great a business could that be?). It suits his purposes.

          And it suits his purposes that sometimes Parker dumps the guns right away, and other times he hangs onto them. It depends on what story he wants to tell, not on some inflexible modus operandi for heist-men that he’s basically making up himself.

          It’s not what I’d call a plot hole, because it’s exactly what he intended to do–the book is exactly what it’s supposed to be. A great story about interesting people. None of this ever happened. It just feels like it did, but then we start nitpicking because we kind of wish that it had, so we resent any reminder that it didn’t. 🙂

  4. Another great, thoughtful review. Love the cover art talk, as a newbie this blog in general is a fantastic crash course in Starkness. Thanks! I’d say keep it up, but from elsewhere it sounded like you’d finished with the DW oeuvre. What’s next, besides sleep?

  5. Another great analysis! The Seventh is a stunner. This tale goes to show the power of Parker’s charisma – and also the power of group-think. I’m no mastermind heister but if given a choice between in or out, I’d choose out and let the other six guys make a six-way split. The key to success is being a pro, a specialist. Venture too far away from your specialty and you’re asking for trouble – as many of the seven find out the hard way.

    • I often wonder if there’s anybody who likes these books who doesn’t like The Seventh. If somebody reads this one first, doesn’t like it, probably not much point trying any of the rest. I wouldn’t say it’s typical of the series as a whole, but then I’m not sure any of the books really typify the series.

      But it is, oddly enough, one of only two out of the first fifteen–the other being The Sour Lemon Score–that isn’t referenced in Butcher’s Moon. I have my own ideas about why that is. I believe you’ve read them already.

      • So far, for me 1-7, Butcher’s Moon and several others. Interesting about 14 of 16 referenced in Butcher’s Moon. Perhaps one reason The Seventh isn’t referenced: if my math is correct, 5 guys were killed and the one guy who was only beat up, Peter Rudd, a trunk maker, would be low on the list for Parker to call to go against the mob in that Midwestern city. Also, as you note, Ellen Canaday complemented Parker sexually. No longer having Ellen around might be a bitter pill for Parker.

        • True, and the string for The Sour Lemon Score was also–um–you read that one yet?

          However, not all the novels referenced in Butcher’s Moon feature characters from those novels. The Jugger certainly doesn’t. (Except Handy McKay, who is barely in The Jugger, figures much more prominently in other books). As we’ve discussed, Westlake didn’t like The Jugger–I find it hard to believe he didn’t think he did a good job with The Seventh. So that’s a head scratcher.

          There’s a reference to the events of The Handle, which honestly didn’t need to be in there, though it’s satisfying for those who read that book first. Butcher’s Moon is crammed with unnecessary detail, unlike most of Stark’s work, which is what makes the novel so odd, and so interesting. It doesn’t work nearly so well if you don’t cover the earlier novels first, so maybe reread it once you get through Plunder Squad.

          So while you make a good point, that’s not an adequate explanation for me. I think there had to be more to it. It’s not just a mental lapse. Westlake left those two books out for a reason. I have my guesses what that is, but I honestly don’t know.

          Parker never gave the ill-starred Ellie a backward glance, particularly once Claire was in the picture. Regrets aren’t his thing. Neither are torches.

  6. bobhollberg

    I’m working my way through the Starks and Westlakes, and I’m up to 1966. I went straight from The Busy Body, where Westlake firmly establishes his comic caper persona, to The Seventh. The first part of The Seventh included a few Westlake-style comic asides, as if Westlake was having a hard time shaking off his comic side. The full Stark persona seems to come through about a third of the way into The Seventh. It reminded me of the stories I’ve heard about The Hot Rock, which I understand started out as a Stark, but kept staying funny. In The Seventh, it seemed like Westlake was able to morph into Stark in spite of temptations to go the other way.

    • I think there are comic asides in most if not all of the Starks. Grofield, after all, is a Stark character (at least until he moved over to the Dortmunders in altered form), and those novels lean heavy on the comedy.

      You didn’t think it was funny, in The Outfit when Bronson refused to admit he was a criminal? Even to himself? Or the scene when Parker and Handy break in on the black chauffeur and a white woman, and she starts saying she was raped, because it’s upstate NY in the 60’s, and she doesn’t want anyone to know she slept with a black man on purpose. (Not so funny when it happened in reality, as it very often did.)

      There’s endless comedy in Stark, but it’s not the kind that usually makes you laugh out loud. Chuckle, perhaps. Hammett is very funny, but nobody slots him as a comedic writer. Stark is very much in that vein, but even harder-boiled.

      It’s a different style of comedy–very dark, very deadpan–and I agree there’s plenty of slop-over between books Westlake was often writing at the same time. I don’t think what you’re seeing is him regaining control of the material, though. I think he’s doing precisely what he wants to do.

      But Stark has a sense of humor. Hell, even Parker does–he laughs at the end, doesn’t he? At what. The sheer absurdity that after going through all that, he got basically the same money he would have if the job hadn’t fallen apart at the seams due to circumstances nobody could have predicted or controlled.

      The notion that Westlake is comedic, and Stark is serious–it’s wrong. Most of the novels Westlake published under his real name are not straight-up comedies. And Stark is just a more focused expression of Westlake, meaning that sense of the absurdity of human behavior that pervades all his writing is there, but on a lower key.

      It’s just a way people have of pigeonholing writers, genre writers in particular. Westlake used pseudonyms, in part, to escape that. It was annoying to him, later in life, to learn he couldn’t do that convincingly anymore.

      He was writing comedy from the very start–in his early short stories, in his pseudonymous sleaze novels. He just didn’t make it formally part of his ‘brand’ until The Fugitive Pigeon. Which was a huge success, the biggest he’d had to that point, and once Dortmunder came around, all people thought when they heard his name was ‘comic capers’–and he’s the absolute best at those. It’s never all he is. Under any name.

      • There’s endless comedy in Stark, but it’s not the kind that usually makes you laugh out loud. —- So true. Parker laugh lines are rare but two I recall:

        Getaway Face – Re Alma’s plan where the driver and two guards of an armored car always stop at the diner every Monday at a set time. Alma demands Parker tell her why he doesn’t like her plan. “We need five men,” she said. “We can’t do it with less. For God’s sake, it’s an armored car.” To which Parker replies, “You want to lay a siege and starve them out?”

        Rare Coin Score – When Lempke whines about the difficulty of the coin heist, Parker tells him, “Next year we’ll do the easy one.”

        There’s also that dark style humor, as in The Seventh, when Negli says re Parker’s new face, “I wouldn’t call it an improvement exactly.” To which Parker tells him, “That’s enough about the face.”

        I suspect a scholar keen on research could write a paper – “Humor in the Parker novels.” She/he would have a good bit of material to work with.

        • Negli is a very funny character (who I still dream, almost certainly in vain, of seeing brought to life on screen by Peter Dinklage), but there’s nothing funny about his ending–which only makes it more poignant. In a straight-up comedy, it’s much harder to nail that transition, because people won’t accept it. They feel like you broke the rules.

          Stark can do this so easily–paint you a picture of someone you could imagine reading a whole series of stories about–and then casually swat him/her like an errant fly. (Salsa comes to mind.) Westlake tends to be more merciful, hangs onto enjoyable characters, particularly in series–only one Dortmunder character ever got bumped off before our eyes, and he was asking for it. Stark has no mercy. If he can get the effect he wants by whacking you, you’re whacked He has every confidence he can make more, and until the very end, that was a wholly justified assumption.

          I have a hard time imagining lit scholars writing anything much about Stark. They still largely ignore him. Just like the Edgars did. Which is fine by me. So many stones unturned. Kept me busy for years, it did.


  7. Heist Girl

    Alright, no beating around the bush on this one, The Seventh is my favorite Parker novel out of the original eight. It was the other book I was looking forward to revisit the most (along with The Outfit) and good god, did it hold up! Pretty much everything about this story just clicks beautifully, like clockwork. And it’s so memorable too! So many iconic scenes from this one installment. Parker threatening Dougherty, Parker moving ever closer to Negli every time the guy screams, Parker cornering The Amateur and deciding not to kill him…with Negli’s gun–and lest I forget, the perfect ending.

    You mentioned that Westlake would often take premises from earlier books and try to improve on them with later installments. Consider this: We have a pseudo whodunnit that starts out in media res, where Parker plays a reluctant detective who more or less figures it out fairly quickly (aside from the perp’s identity) but makes a wrong assumption due to his single track mind of “The immediate threat to my life is all that matters” which puts him at odds with the law. We also have a fellow heister that Parker doesn’t take seriously at all and a cop antagonist who’s very much a pro at his job the way Parker is at his. Hell, the book even has a section near the end where Parker plans to just leave town and move on to the next heist with a couple bills in his pocket. Everything’ll work out, in the end…And then he notices The Amateur no longer on the ground, but I digress. You think this might’ve been an attempt to improve on The Jugger? Of course, going by the plot synopsis of The Sour Lemon Score, maybe that was trying to improve this one (Haven’t read it, yet)? Or maybe Westlake just really wanted to do this premise again (Wouldn’t blame him, there).

    Speaking of The Jugger, you mentioned Parker’s laser like focus on the moment, both his greatest strength and his greatest weakness. I think that applies even better to this one, from the very beginning, no less. Parker pretty much gets it right on his first try! But then he notices the loot missing and he immediately moves onto the idea that it was one of the boys. And then he moves onto the idea that it was some rando who somehow got info on the heist. Right before moving way back to his original guess of “Pissed off ex who stumbled onto the money by accident”. It’s so emblematic of who he is and it really adds to the absurdity of the situation that you mentioned.

    Dougherty is an interesting character, especially when compared to Regan from the last book. Regan was very adept at solving the mystery, primarily because of that inner detective in him that wouldn’t let things go. The “little man” as Keys would say. Dougherty’s in this for the promotion, and little else. Hell, it’s not even entirely that, as he’s also chasing Parker out of a personal grudge. Until he gains perspective, or regains it if you will. In fact, that leads into my next point about Dougherty.

    You discussed how the suitcase full of cash was, in Stark’s own way, a karmic reward for Dougherty knowing who he was, a cop. I agree. I also think this happened earlier in the scene where Parker demands the list of names. Dougherty may not look back on that interaction fondly, but in the end, he honored the code of Stark there, too. He knew who he was, a loving husband and father, so he acted accordingly. As you said, we are never all just one thing.

    One more thing for this post, The Amateur. As always, Westlake crafted a truly great villain. I also think The Amateur is ahead of his time, certainly just as, if not more, relevant now than he was back then. We’ve all read real life stories of this guy before, hell we’ve probably even had countless interactions with this guy thanks to the internet. You know the type, an entitled manchild who thinks he’s entirely justified in doing horrible things when he doesn’t get what he wants. It’s no wonder he’s not named, fuckers like him are dime a dozen.

    That entire parenthetical passage really stuck with me. “Don’t judge me. I haven’t done anything anyone else wouldn’t do in this situation. It’s this bitch who wouldn’t stop making fun of me! I didn’t even mean to kill her, she just wouldn’t shut the fuck up! Again, this isn’t how I normally am, this isn’t a normal event for me! I’m usually a really nice guy that this fucking slut didn’t deserve!”

    I slightly disagree with your assessment on why Ellen acted so differently towards The Amateur than she did with Parker. Sure, it’s entirely likely Parker was just the kind of man she was looking for. However, I don’t trust The Amateur’s perspective on this for a second. Sure, there’s the interaction they had before the murder but that was also after the relationship had gotten so sour that she had to kick him out of his own apartment.

    Now, full disclosure, I’m drawing from my own experiences dealing with people like The Amateur (thankfully not in a relationship sense) and of course all the shit you read about online and hear from others. This could be like Edgars again where I’m off the mark. I would like to present one more piece of evidence, though:

    After The Amateur got the information out of Rudd, we get this passage: “It had been pleasurable, forcing Rudd to talk. The last time he felt that way, free and exalted and as strong as a redwood tree, was back in college in football season. Hitting a man was like hitting a line; exulting in your own strength and the chance to bruise and push and bull your way through.”

    For a guy who “did these extraordinary things because he had been thrust into extraordinary situations”, he sure seems to get a thrill out of torturing people. And like all cowards, he loves dishing out pain but he can’t take an inch of it himself, hence him running away the instant people start throwing bullets back at him.

    And that’s all I have to say right now (though I imagine there’ll be more to discuss in the discussion). I just can’t really articulate how much I love this book. I’d rank it at number 4 in my “Favorite crime books of all time” list.

  8. I knew this was up next, and having a bit of time yesterday, hied me to my local, where I polished off the first few chapters of my vintage Gold Medal paperback, over quesadillas and beer. (I have never gotten any of the Starks on my Kindle, doubt I ever will. It just doesn’t feel right.) The right setting is everything, and no better setting than a friendly public house. Thankfully it was a slow afternoon. I was sitting all alone at the bar. (Few families with kids behind me). Just how I like it. Finished off with a bourbon, went grocery shopping. Haven’t finished the book yet, you were too fast for me.

    This might well be my seventh time through (you lose count after a while), and as always, everything clicked. The narrator voice is in rare form here–scores of mot justes. It can be hard, at times, we’ve discussed here, to separate Parker’s thoughts from Stark’s observations–he is, in effect, acting as translator. And good translators always contribute, so you always wonder, who said what?

    Just the Mutt and Jeff chapter alone–

    The public cries for a bigger police force, and after a while any damn fool can join up if he’s only tall enough.

    Jeff came back and shook his head at his partner. He actually thought he was Humphrey Bogart.

    Only in a Parker novel does an unarmed man who just discovered a dead body face two cops who have every reason to book and/or shoot him on general principle, and you just feel sorry for the poor boobs. (Dougherty is really important in this book, because without him, there’d be no suspense at all about whether Parker would make good his escape.)

    I’m not sure we do disagree about why Ellie and the Amateur didn’t click. (Really, how much explanation is needed after we’ve been in his head a while?)

    Thing is, there’s not much to work with there–we only see Ellie from the perspective of Parker and The Amateur, and Parker paid no attention to her at first–they barely talked. As Parker learns, maybe sometimes those words he so despises serve a purpose after all. But she didn’t seem to want to talk to him either. You want to bet The Amateur didn’t jaw her ear off all the damn time, when she had other stuff to think about? Me, I can get gabby, but a bit of silence is golden sometimes, you know? Yeah, you do.

    You’re saying it was her sensing he was a secret psycho? Possible she sensed something wrong–a little itch in the back of her head?–but she doesn’t act scared when he shows up, her naked, half-asleep, having spent three days screwing another guy in what used to be his place. She’s just disgusted. This guy again. (Admit it. It’s a very Parker way to react in a situation like that. If only Parker had kept a gun by the bed……though maybe too derivative of Spillane?)

    I don’t think she was looking for love. She seemed very self-sufficient, which was a big part of the turn-on for Parker. But she had urges, just like him (one gets the impression hers are somewhat cyclical as well), and thought maybe a football player was the answer to that problem. He had the body, but nothing else. What was she seeing at those games? Strategy, aggression, teamwork–what was she really looking for? Many of us never do get the chance to find out.

    See, I think there’s just the whisper of a hint there’s a wolf inside her as well. Not as fully manifested as Parker’s, but the way they just tune each other out until after the job–fascinating. Parker has always assumed he was alone in the world, but what if he isn’t? That question gets asked again, very close to the end of the series. This nameless emotion he has in reaction to seeing her pinioned to the headboard of that bed–it’s not about how he liked her body. It’s not anything he could explain, or would try to. He’d connected with someone, after being entirely alone for a long time. it was easy with her, as it never was with Lynn or any other woman we know of–and now that’s gone. But he can’t tell himself that’s the reason he’s taking these unnecessary risks. That wouldn’t make any sense. Parker hates not making sense.

    I think what we see in The Amateur’s mind is what happened between them–it’s his interpretation of those events that’s off. Because true to type, he can’t see past his own perspective. Where he’s always The Good Guy. And geez, now there’s another good guy in upstate NY. You probably heard. I’m sure he’s telling himself right now he’s not the kind of person to do this kind of thing. They shouldn’t have made him do it. It’s their fault.

    There were always guys like this. They didn’t always have body armor, assault rifles, and social media. Progress.

    Parker enters the apartment with a calm mind, even though he senses something’s off. But once he sees Ellie, then finds the money gone, then realizes the killer tried to finger him for Ellie’s death, then the killer tries to kill him–he goes crazy. The way Parker goes crazy, which is quite different from the way we do. The way he went crazy in The Hunter–I believe this is the first time we’ve seen him fully in this state since that book. So yeah, he’s right on-target with his assessment going in, but then he’s full of suspicion, and isn’t sure who to trust. He’s still a very dangerous customer–arguably more than usual–but not so calm cool and collected as he’d like to be. And so his initial good insight gets shunted aside a while, while he sorts through all the possibles.

    I’ve said these books are an exercise in comparative psychology–and who are the people you come out respecting? Parker. Dougherty. And Ellie, who haunts this book, who is the reason for all this happening. But who got her heel caught in a crack of time.

    Here’s the thing–you can argue all day long about who the best crime writer was (in my honest opinion, you have to use the past tense here, no disrespect to those out there doing their best in the present, we all have to make a living).

    But here’s what I know–every last one of them, past, present, and future, great, good, indifferent, will read this book and say “Why can’t I write like Richard Stark?”

    For a quarter of a century, Westlake was saying it too.

    • Heist Girl

      Funny story: I had been reading this one part a day to pace myself (and these posts)…and yet I ended up reading the last two in one day. The book was that engrossing.

      I posit three theories about the book referring to the cops as “Mutt and Jeff”:

      1. It’s as you said. Stark is translating Parker’s thoughts and he added the “Mutt and Jeff” reference to spice up localization (Ted Woolsey did this all the time when translating videogame RPGs for western audiences). The most likely theory.

      2. Parker made the reference because he sometimes overhears people talking about pop culture (hard to avoid when everyone loves talking) and that was just one of the things he picked up one day. Somewhat likely.

      3. Parker made the reference because he reads Mutt and Jeff and he digs it. The least likely theory…though there was that time in The Hunter where he pointed out how the funny papers call the mafia the syndicate.

      Regarding Ellie and The Amateur, I don’t think it’s necessarily that she sensed a twisted side to him. For me, the unreliable element of The Amateur’s perspective comes not from what he said, but what he left out. My theory is that Ellie asked him (bluntly) to tone it down with the chatting and The Amateur reacted rather poorly. Not violently, mind, but he certainly dished out some verbal sewage her way. But Ellie, being more wolf minded than the average human, stood toe to toe with The Amateur and dished it right back at him, hence the “cruel jokes and emasculating comments”. And because he wasn’t expecting her to fight back (certainly not to that extent), he was pretty much cowed and kicked out of his own apartment.

      I don’t think she was looking for love, either. I’m willing to wager that she’s one of those people who doesn’t really jive with long term committed relationships. She kinda strikes me as a “live in the moment” type of person.

      I totally agree with your assessment on Parker’s suspicion getting the best of him. I was just pointing out how it was such a perfect character moment.

      I certainly find myself wondering why I can’t write as good as Stark. Of course, the important step all writers must take is learning to not care about writing as good as others and to focus on writing as good as you can.

      By the way, anyone else get some stealth humor out of the part where Clinger complains about television and its sinful debauchery of sex and violence…in a book (the preceding medium of both television AND film) that’s filled to the brim with sex and violence?

      • The novel is crammed with jokes, but more the kind that make you snort than guffaw. Me, anyway.

        Why are the Starks so good? Probably because Westlake didn’t have time to overthink them, particularly in the early days. Whole lot of plates spinning back then. He had absorbed all the needed material, the Stark voice was really strong in his head, Parker was an impossible protagonist to use up, so he just kept going, and after The Jugger (in his mind) failed, he would have attacked the next one with renewed vigor. One reason The Jugger would have been hard was that it was a bottle story, no string to work with (for Parker or Stark), changes the format a lot. It’s a good change-up for me, you too, but popular response might have been less enthused at the time. He did not want to lose this franchise. He didn’t have anything to replace it with yet. (Once Dortmunder showed up, that was no longer true.) So knock the next one clear out of the park, and that he did. (Hmm, need a football analogy–do they ever kick the ball out of the stadium? Probably not.)

        I think you’ve summed it up perfectly about how that final fight between Ellie and The Amateur happened. Mind you, she was going to dump him even if he clammed up, but maybe she would have let him keep the apartment. We see how Parker needlessly makes an enemy out of Little Bob, who was needling him. That also nearly got him killed, but he, unlike Ellie, has the training and equipment (and strange luck) to survive that mistake.

        Pretty much everybody read the funnies back then. Parker certainly does read the papers, filtering out what doesn’t concern him. It’s not impossible he could have remembered there were these two guys in a strip, short and tall, just about equally ineffectual. It’s not that he doesn’t know about popular culture. He just doesn’t care. (Which cannot be said for us, clearly.)

        • Oh, I forgot to ask about this–

          Parker cornering The Amateur and deciding not kill him…with Negli’s gun,

          You are a highly attentive reader, and wouldn’t be the first to make a mistake in a post that you were unable to edit after seeing it. I have many times fixed posts for my irregulars here. Shall I…..?

          The perfect ending it was. And how they would make a movie of this book and not include it…..????? Jim Brown could have done a good scary laugh. But then they’d have to write a script that resembled the original in more than the most superficial way, and apparently there’s some rule against that in Hollywood.

          • Heist Girl

            Oh yes, please do! I didn’t even realize it at first when you highlighted the typo. D’oh

            But yeah, The Seventh has probably my favorite ending of the Parker series. Well, of the ones I read, anyway.

            • Mine is Ask the Parrot. Why? The question answers itself.

              • Heist Girl

                Well hey now, spoooooilerrrrrrs 😛

                Oh hey, I forgot to bring this up. I find it interesting that this one doesn’t directly build off The Jugger. You know how The Man With The Getaway Face ended with Parker’s new face being leaked out to everybody and him deciding to take The Outfit head on? I find it interesting that The Seventh doesn’t really do that…Then again, considering his already established feelings, maybe Westlake deliberately chose not to make it direct.

              • Not a spoiler. (I would never…..) The last words in that book are not drawn from the title. It’s maybe a spoiler for my review, which being a three parter, is something you should definitely avoid reading for now.

                The first few books were written very close together. Bucklin Moon had asked if Westlake could do several books a year on Parker, and given how lucrative the paperback market could be then, that was an offer Westlake could not refuse. But he also couldn’t keep that up indefinitely. So he did in effect write the first few in a more or less serialized format, which would have the effect of making somebody who picked up a later book somewhere going back to look for the earlier stuff (I would imagine this was not an uncommon practice with paperback originals, which have at least some things in common with comic books besides memorable cover art).

                This is something he returned to in the last three books of the series, years later. And there are echoes of it in the Gold Medal and Random House books. But you’re right, The Seventh feels like a standalone, more than many other books in the series. Even though it’s not. Only one of these characters will factor into any future books, him just once, and it’s an ‘offscreen’ appearance. (Now tell me how that’s a spoiler).

                Stark approaches this almost as a reintroduction to the character, some info we didn’t have before (he’s been heisting for 19 years), and he certainly does tell us about how Parker lost his cash and his cover ID, giving him extra motivation for not giving up on the cash from this new score. But nothing specific about how that happened, which makes sense, given how Westlake felt about The Jugger. He did reference it in Butcher’s Moon–and not The Seventh. Go figure (I did, as you’ll see when I get there).

                The serialized aspect mattered to a series, but so did the standalone aspect. You don’t want any book to be too dependent on familiarity with all the books that came before. Don’t let the hugger mugger stuff get out of control. Just tell the story, and if the occasion warrants, remind people there’s other stories they might want to read sometime.

                Now one last thing–the minor error in your post I fixed might have distracted from an interesting point. Do you in fact think Parker decided to kill The Amateur? That’s an odd thing to say, since clearly The Amateur’s fate was decided the moment he killed Ellie, then took the money, then called the cops on Parker, then tried to kill him. Any one of those things might have triggered Parker into needing to kill this guy. All of them combined meant there was no decision to make at all. And The Amateur sensed this, so he kept trying.

                But then Parker believed he had killed him. He saw the body drop, his mind cleared, and he didn’t even bother to check for a pulse. He was no longer in the grip of that dark compulsion. He then learned The Amateur wasn’t dead, but his mind remained calm. He still has to find him, but it’s not the same. It’s more–calculated. We will see Parker sometimes leave someone alive who he had every reason to make dead. Not this time. Do you think he was actually considering whether or not to do it, up there in the officer tower? If The Amateur had somehow explained what he’d done to Parker’s satisfaction, convinced him he was no longer a threat–would he have gotten to live, albeit without the money? If not, then why even give the guy time to talk to him? What is he expecting to hear?

                if it’s not about the money, and it’s not about that weird fugue state he got himself out of earlier, and it’s not about wondering if the guy’s going to keep coming after him–what is it?


                Was that a trial going on up there? I referenced Mike Hammer for a reason. First book in that series is called I, the Jury.

                We can ask. We’ll never know.

                (Editing)–just finished the chapter where Parker and Dougherty grill each other. Parker says repeatedly he’s willing to turn The Amateur over to the cops. Now he’s lying a fair bit in that exchange, for professional reasons–but he’s mainly truthful, and don’t see why he’d be lying about that detail. Is it possible he doesn’t need The Amateur dead at this point in the book? That just getting him locked up would be sufficient? In which case, yes. That was a trial up there in the office tower. And The Amateur was found guilty. But of what, precisely?

              • Heist Girl

                Pains me as it does to say this after reading your fantastic analysis, my intentions weren’t nearly that profound. My comment was supposed fo say “Parker cornering The Amateur and deciding not to kill him…with Negli’s gun”. I was simply referring to how Parker intially planned to use Negli’s gun but then he noticed Rudd’s gun on the floor and decided to kill The Amateur with THAT.

                Though you could make some analysis out of that. Maybe symbolizing how The Amateur torturing Rudd inadvertently made his own death sentence? Yeah, I don’t think it’s as compelling either.

              • Ah, I’ll have to edit your post again. I didn’t finish re-reading the book, and that detail was not fresh in my mind.

                Of course the choice of weapon for the coup de grace is also interesting, but maybe we’ve micro-analyzed enough for one book.

  9. Heist Girl

    I had forgotten to ask this when we talked a few days ago: You mentioned way back in The Man With The Getaway Face comments section that a passage from this book reminded you of the tragic death of your friend. If you still feel like talking about it, may I ask which one?

    • Her name was Leslie. We met birdwatching. She was a civil servant, worked down near City Hall, often found interesting birds in the tiny postage stamp park there on her lunch hour.

      This is almost a cliche, but she was just about to retire and spend the rest of her life seeking new birds when the bullet found her.

      As I like to say, ‘noir’ is just romanticized realism. We like it because it tells us the ugly truth and makes it feel a bit prettier. Even though it’s not. If we have to walk down mean streets, we might as well enjoy the view. (And in so doing, maybe see the bullet coming–then duck.)

      • Heist Girl

        Once again, I give my condolences.

        Noir really is the genre equivalent of “cold cofmort”. And yet it’s still comfort at the end of the day.

        • It feeds a part of us. Maybe not the best part, but I guess it depends on the spirit in which we read it. One would be ill-advised to subsist entirely on such a diet. (I really need to get back to Wodehouse.)

          There’s a reason Westlake didn’t just decide to be Stark all the time (which he surely could have done), and maybe even for the long break he took from writing under that name, which might not have been entirely because he lost touch with the voice. There’s also a reason why that voice returned to him when he started getting old. Old age is as noir as noir gets.

          It was a long time ago, and I don’t think of her all the time. Mainly when we pass her apartment building, on our way to go birding in Inwood Park.

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