Review: The Rare Coin Score, Part 2


He had been married once, but she was dead now.  She’d gotten into a bind, where she’d had the choice of risking her own life or betraying Parker, and she’d chosen betrayal.  When Parker had come looking for her afterward, unsure in his own mind what he meant to do about it, she’d killed herself.  Out of panic, probably, rather than remorse.  But since her, since Lynn, there had been no other woman, not for long.  Never long enough for him and the woman to become individuals to one another.

Looking at it now, he could see where it had served as an answer to the problem of Lynn’s betrayal, but it was the kind of answer which–like drugs–required large and larger application, led eventually to sloppiness and excess, became eventually as bad a problem as the one it was supposed to be solving.

Because Claire had come into his life in an odd way, entering in conjunction with a job, almost becoming part of the work at hand, she’d managed somehow to break through that pattern he’d developed.  He found himself wanting to please her, willing to go out of his way for her sake, and though he’d been giving himself practical reasons to explain it–she could handle Billy, and so on–the truth was that he acted that way because he wanted to.

This was the first of four Parker novels originally published by Gold Medal Books, and though specific sales numbers will presumably never be available, it seems reasonable to assume the series was peaking in popularity right about now.   Westlake said for a period in the late 60’s/early 70’s, the Stark books were outselling the books written under his own name–1967 is late 60’s.  Though Westlake was writing under several other names during this period, so I wonder if he was talking just about Westlake vs. Stark, or including the Four C’s–Coe, Clark, Cunningham and Culver–on the Westlake side?  I’m guessing not, so let’s go with that.

Between 1967 and 1974, Stark and Westlake produced 12 novels apiece (including one Westlake co-wrote with Brian Garfield).  That includes the Grofield books in the Stark column, being published elsewhere, and which I tend to doubt were ever that big, so Parker may have been significantly outselling anything else Westlake wrote in this period, at least until Dortmunder got established as a series character in his own right (Westlake’s biggest selling book of the 1960’s was probably The Fugitive Pigeon).

Westlake also wrote short stories, articles, a children’s book–and the Westlake novels were much more varied in their subject matter, protagonists, and approach to the material.   Westlake was all over the place, being funny, serious, doing crime fiction, other genres, books that didn’t seem to have any genre (or even a definable audience)–Stark just had to be Stark.   With Westlake, you never knew what was coming next–with Stark, you knew damn well.   That was Stark’s advantage, and also his limitation.

But Stark did evolve as a writer as the series went on.   Westlake didn’t want his alter ego to get stale, rest on his laurels, repeat himself too much.   When you’re doing a lot of books about one character, it’s very hard to not just keep writing the same book, over and over, all the more since a lot of your most loyal readers may want you to do just that.   It’s also very tempting to push the envelope too far, do something that just doesn’t fit the character, as Westlake very nearly did later on, when he started writing The Hot Rock for Parker, only to realize it couldn’t work–Parker wouldn’t bend that way.   To move a series character forward, but always in the right direction–easy to say, tough to do.   Missteps are nearly impossible to avoid.

Many Parker readers would say The Rare Coin Score, while a good book in itself, was just such a misstep.  I see what they’re saying, and don’t agree.  It was a necessary step.   For Stark, and for Parker.   But it was a risky step for both of them as well.

This is a single-protagonist series.  Though each book has interesting supporting characters, Parker is basically the whole show.  And the common wisdom in the publishing biz (without which, as Westlake liked to say, there’d be no wisdom at all), was that you didn’t saddle a male crime fiction protagonist with a steady girl.

For example, in the early days of the 87th Precinct series, Salvatore Albert Lombino, aka Ed McBain, had this notion that the precinct itself was the protagonist.  A collective hero, so to speak.  But his publisher wanted him to make Detective Steve Carella the hero–then after Carella got married to his sweetheart Teddy, they wanted him pushed to the sidelines, and a bachelor detective to take his place–the reason being that now he was a married man, female readers wouldn’t find him interesting anymore, couldn’t project themselves into his various love interests (don’t ask me why they couldn’t just go on identifying with Teddy, who was in the very first book–or with the cops, one of whom was female–I’m not a publisher).

Similarly, any woman James Bond fell for either had to die or become unavailable somehow.  Because readers want him to remain a free agent, even though he might be shown sometimes to dream of settling down–but they don’t want him to be a complete heel and just love&leave ’em (as he did in the movies)–so kill the girl–problem solved.

Now Parker wasn’t primarily aimed at a female audience, because another common wisdom was that women read hardcover mysteries, and men read paperbacks.  In reality, it was never that cut and dried, as I’ve mentioned in other reviews.  Still, guys reading Parker novels for escapism probably enjoyed Parker having a different girl in each book–or just felt like the girl wasn’t that important–Parker only cares about himself, right?   Giving him a girl he actually gives a damn about ruins that, or so the lament typically goes.

But I don’t think that was ever so cut and dried either.   Parker doesn’t care about anyone else because it’s not in his interest to do so–but what if it was?   What if his true nature was monogamous?   What if he needs a steady girl to–you know–steady him?   And she becomes an extension of himself–a potential point of vulnerability, for sure–but also a way for him to avoid spinning out of control, losing himself.   One thing’s for sure–Parker can’t do without the opposite sex.   Not after a heist.  And the more often he has to find a new woman, the more often he leaves himself open to the kinds of problems we’ve seen in the previous books, and to the unstable restless behavior we saw at the beginning of this one.

But more than that–Parker is, I’ll say it one more time (this review), a wolf that somehow got born into a man’s body.   And wolves are not naturally polyamorous as we humans (and the wolves we domesticated) typically are.   Wild wolves instinctively seek to bind themselves to a single partnership, that lasts for as long as both partners survive.  And having created this bond, they will go to almost any lengths to preserve it, quite famously in one case.  Westlake may not have reasoned it out anything like this, but if he didn’t, I really don’t know where he came up with that cyclical sex angle for Parker.

But on a more pragmatic, less metaphysical level, Westlake may have simply felt like he’d done as much as he could with the old pattern.   It was getting tiresome finding ways to write Parker’s cyclical sex life into the story, and the simplest way to deal with that would be to get Parker a girl he could be credibly faithful to (clearly, it would have to be some amazing girl), and then she could be a variously important part of the story when needed, or just briefly referred to when her presence was not required, which would be most of the time.

And quite simply, this was different than what anybody else in the crime genre was doing–yes, Mike Hammer had  the eternally faithful Velda, but she was never very believable, was she?   Pure wish-fulfillment, no personal agenda–no personality to speak of–just a female version of Hammer, entirely subservient to the male one.   Claire would be more than just some long-suffering gal friday.   The relationship between her and Parker would be elusive, shifting in its boundaries, impossible to quantify.   And neither of them would ever say the ‘L’ word–not even once.  If something’s real, you don’t have to talk about it.   You just know.   That’s how Richard Stark would see it.   That’s how Parker would do it.   Differently than anyone else.

But as we pick up the story in Part Two, he’s made no decision about Claire, and is still primarily focused on figuring out how to steal several million dollars in rare coins from a well-guarded hotel ballroom.   He’s figured out that the best option is to break through the wall of an adjoining office building and take the Pinkerton guards by surprise.   But there’s still a lot of details to be worked out.

He and Lempke start to assemble a string–with so little time before the convention starts, they can’t be too picky.   They need somebody to drive the truck they’ll pack the coins in–that’ll be Mike Carlow, a self-styled race car driver and designer most of the year, who will factor into many future heists Parker is involved with–he’s not a big part of this story, so I’ll talk about him more some other time.

They also need a big strong guy to move the merchandise to the truck.  Lempke suggests Dan Wycza, the wrestler/heister who we met in The Score–Parker says he’s dead.   Mark Twain might have a snide remark to make about that.

They settle on Otto Mainzer, a homegrown Nazi, and the most racist, misogynist, sociopathic, and all-round disgusting personality we’ve met in the series so far.    A real charmer, is Otto.   A man of many talents, one of which is rape (based on his experience, he’s gotten the idea women don’t really like sex).  We’re not supposed to like him, and we don’t–but he fits the needs of the string in two ways–the second being that he’s an accomplished arsonist–he sets the fire that shuts down the travel agency in the adjacent building.   Parker wouldn’t work with him if he wasn’t a professional, but he wishes to himself that heisters like him wouldn’t keep bringing their issues to work with them–Mainzer and Carlow are not exactly thick as thieves, each making little digs at the other, and Mainzer has a question to ask–

After Carlow had left, Mainzer said, “What is he, Parker, do you know?”

“What do you mean, what is he?”

“What kind of name is Carlow?  Is it Jewish?”

Parker looked at him and didn’t say anything.

Mainzer spread his hands.  “Don’t get me wrong” he said, “I’ll work with anybody.  Just so they know their job, that’s all.”

“That’s the way to be,” Parker said.

“I was just wondering, that’s all.”

“Wonder next week.”

(If you’re wondering, Carlow is a name commonly found in Britain, and is also the name of a county in Ireland.   And Mainzer is an idiot.  A rather believably drawn one for me, because many years ago, I was at this Celtic Heritage Festival in Brooklyn, over by a table full of books, and one of them was by Gerry Adams, the President of Sinn Fein, and had his picture on it.  This big dead-eyed skinhead guy who I think had some notion he was of Gaelic derivation came over, and seeing the book said “Is that Gerry Adams?  He looks Semitic.”   We then somehow got into a brief discussion of racial matters, and turns out I’m a self-hating white man.  There’s no end of Otto Mainzers out there.   Westlake probably learned a lot about them researching The Spy in the Ointment.  But I digress.)

Is Parker offended on behalf of his Jewish colleagues (who might well include Lempke, though it’s never brought up)?   Hardly.  He’s just irritated Mainzer would let his private mania threaten a job of his.   Mainzer knows perfectly well what that look Parker directs at him means–“If you screw this up, I’ll kill you.”   He resolves to get Parker and Carlow after the job is over, but you ever noticed how these looming confrontations in the Parker novels never work out as planned?   Much like the heists themselves.

Lempke is the biggest question mark in the whole job–though he’s only in his Mid-50’s, prison aged him prematurely, and Parker knows he’s not mentally geared up for the job.   He just doesn’t know what else to do   He’s got nothing and nobody, and he needs a stake.   He knows as well as Parker that he’s lost his nerve, but he’s got to act as if it’s still there, and hope that the professional in him didn’t die in prison, with what was left of his youth.

“Lempke’s still down inside here,” he said, patting his chest.  “He’ll come out when we need him.”

“I know that,” Parker lied.

He offers Lempke one out after another–even says maybe they could work out a finder’s fee–Lempke is insulted.  He brought Parker into this job.  He’s the first real pro to get involved with it.  Claire, amateur though she be, has her doubts about him, now that she’s seen what the real thing looks like.   She asks Parker what happens if Lempke doesn’t come out when needed.   Parker says he will–or else he’ll get out before it’s too late.   He doesn’t really know this is true–he wants to believe it.

This may, in fact, be the most surprising reaction we see from Parker in the book, not his behavior towards Claire.  He just can’t bring himself to give Lempke the bum’s rush.   Nobody would stop him, Lempke least of all.   Is he thinking about what happened to Joe Sheer in The Jugger?   Does he want to see this story end differently?   If there’s one thing on this earth that’s sacred to him, it’s his profession–and Lempke was a very capable practitioner.  He isn’t concerned for Lempke’s life, but dislikes seeing his professional identity so hopelessly degraded and lost–it’s aesthetically displeasing to him.   He wants to see the real Lempke again.

Parker and Claire take a road-trip together in Billy’s car to pick up the needed truck.  Parker’s automotive expeditions are always one of my favorite parts of any book but this one is decidedly different–he says Claire needs to come along so she can drive the car back while he drives the truck, but she’s not entirely buying that excuse, nor should she.

Their relationship keeps deepening–and they keep having sex, which should not be happening–Parker is fully involved in planning the job now.   But she’s somehow part of the job, and alluring to him in a way no other woman has been.   She challenges him, forces him to reconsider old assumptions about himself.   He does have to explain to her that when he’s deep in planning mode, he’s not thinking about anything else, and she has to leave him alone.   He goes to bed one night and doesn’t so much as touch her–much to her disgust.

But then something she says gives him the missing piece to the plan he’s mapping out, and all of a sudden his libido ramps up, and he hustles her back to the motel.   She’s broken through his sexual cycle, but he still doesn’t completely trust her.   He still remembers Lynn.

Billy Lebatard, still thinking that he can get Claire for himself once the heist is over,  is none too happy with all this coziness.  He tries to get Parker to promise he’ll leave without Claire, and Parker says he will, but doesn’t really know.  The way Billy had it mapped, he’ll be selling off the coins, and the first half will go to Parker, Lempke, Carlow, and Mainzer–he gets the second half, and any money Claire gets comes from him–the seventy grand she wants so she can be independent, not have to go looking for a new husband in a hurry.   She has no intention of ever giving Billy what he wants, and he has no intention of letting her go–he says he loves her, but orphaned at an early age, never socialized to any great extent, he has no idea what the word means.

Billy’s only true compatriots have been other coin collectors–the very people he’s helped rob in the past, and is going to rob en masse at the convention, and this is eating at him.   He knows he’s betraying the one good thing in him–his passion for coins, his shared understanding with other enthusiasts, who have been the only people who ever accepted him, treated him with any sense of fellowship.   He never had much of a sense of self to start with, but now he’s got none at all.   He’s a horny balding numismatic nerd, trying to win a girl who finds him pitiable at best, repugnant at worst.   Parker calls it right–“You know how you make pity?   One jigger guilt, one jigger contempt.   But Claire’s got nothing to be guilty about over you.”

Billy won’t take good advice when offered, or learn from his mistakes.  He doesn’t want to accept who he is–his insistence on carrying around a gun he doesn’t need and probably doesn’t know how to use shows us that.   Earlier in the book, Jack French, the cool professional heister fallen on hard times who passed on this job, says he bets it’s pearl-handled.   “Chrome,” Claire responds wearily.   Billy’s affectations convince no one but him.

The day of the heist arrives, and in spite of the fact that this is not going down as one of Parker’s better strings, things go smoothly at first.   Most of all with Lempke, who is delighted to discover that he wasn’t bluffing–the old professional really is still down in there, waiting to come out, and when Parker gives him one last challenge before they head for the hotel, he looks Parker dead in the eye and says he’s ready to do his job.   Parker studies him closely–then smiles slightly–“Hello, Lempke,” he responds.   He’s genuinely pleased.

They go in through their self-made private entrance, and catch the Pinkertons offguard, much to their disgust–there’s more outside the Bourse Room, so they can’t take too long. Billy and Lempke get the coins worth taking packed away, and Mainzer carts them down, one heavy case at a time, to the waiting Mike Carlow, disguised as a utilities worker hanging out by his truck.

The string is working out okay as long as the job continues, but there’s trouble looming ahead–Mainzer and Carlow both have plans for right after the heist, both involving violence–each is ready to take the other’s head off for various slights, real and perceived.  Mainzer intends to have it out with Parker too, and man would we all love to see that fight, but then Mainzer’s vengeful musings are cut short by a guy with a tire iron who knocks him out cold.

Mike Carlow gets taken offguard by the same guy, and put out of commission.  Then the guy points a gun at an astonished Lebatard, and Billy the hopeless amateur, wearing his chrome-handled pistol under his coat, after Parker expressly told him not to even think about bringing it on the job with him, tries to draw down on a seasoned pro.   He will not be missed.   Least of all by his fellow collectors, though they certainly will be talking about him for a long time to come.

Claire, hearing the shot, knowing what it means, suddenly realizes what she’s been doing–the game she was playing, but it’s not a game.   It was never a game.   People die for real in armed robberies.   Her carefully cultivated poise collapses, her knees give way, and she sinks into hysteria.   Parker slaps her, but she won’t calm down–he grabs her and heads for the hole in the wall, only to see Lempke stagger out, his head bleeding–“French!” he says.  Claire starts screaming.

French could be waiting for them on the other side–nothing to do now but go out through the lobby, and Parker has to shoot one of the guards and use the near-comatose Claire as a shield to  make that work–he gets down to the truck, just as French, heisting the heist, is about to pull away.   They can’t settle their differences now–the cops are coming.   They hide out in a nearby parking garage, and French explains that he badly needed the cash, and didn’t realize Parker had decided to participate after all.  He just intended to take it over, figuring it was all amateurs except Lempke.  Parker couldn’t care less about his explanations.   But he’s got to bide his time.

Claire has gone from hysteria to chalk-faced shock to weeping as if her heart will break.   She pretended not to care about anyone but herself, but it was a lie.  She can’t deal with violence, with killing.   Not when it’s happening right in front of her.  It’s not who she is.   Parker is worried–does he have to kill her?

He will if there’s no other choice–particularly if she wants to expiate her guilt by turning herself in–but he’s strongly inhibited from doing so, unusually so.   He views the prospect with something very much like dread.  She hasn’t gotten quite close enough to him yet for her to be completely safe from  him–but sensing Parker’s conflict, she tells him no matter what happens, she’ll never talk to the law.  He wants to believe her, but doesn’t completely trust her–she did break under pressure, and might again, though her brief identity crisis appears to have passed.   Still, she’s reassured him enough for his ancillary law–don’t make murder the answer to everything–to combine with his growing attachment to her, and keep her from becoming a dead woman in his mind.

They end up at the apartment of a passing acquaintance of Claire’s, an attractively chunky bottle blonde in a pink negligee named Mavis Gross, who Claire says nobody will miss if she isn’t seen for a few days.  Parker and French tie and blindfold her, before Claire comes in, so she won’t know who fingered her place as a potential hideout.  French has a fence for the coins, but won’t say who it is.  Parker parked the car with the coins (damn, I see what Westlake meant about wishing he hadn’t named him Parker) somewhere French could never find it.  They’re deadlocked, but not for long.

In the meantime, Parker and Claire have to figure this situation out.

Parker put both hands flat on the Formica tabletop, and looked at his hands as he spoke.  “Sometime in the next few days, he said, “I’m going to kill French.  You want to be around for it?”

“No.  I don’t want to hear about it.   Never again, Parker.  I never want to hear about any of it.”

He looked up at her.  “What, then?”

“I want to be with you,” she said.  “I know sometimes you’ll have to go away and do these things, but those times you can’t talk about.  Not tell me anything, not before, not after.”

“That’s how I’d be.   Whether you wanted it or not.”

“The question is, do you want me?”

He looked at her.  “I don’t know for how long,” he said.

“For a while.”

He nodded.  “For a while.”

He’s the last man on earth who’d promise forever.   She’s the last woman on earth who’d ever expect it.  They make their arrangement–she’ll go to the law, but not to confess–to tell a story about how she was a hostage.  She’ll have to make it good–they’ll know Billy was involved, and of her connection to him, but there’s nobody to finger her–even if the cops suspect, they can’t prove anything.   And men always want to believe a woman like Claire.

Parker says in two months time, she should go to the Central Hotel, in Utica New York.  There’ll be a room registered for her under the name Claire Carroll (she finally gets a last name, but it’s not hers–otherwise, why would Parker need to tell her?).   She should wait there for him.   He’ll come for her.

With Claire gone, Parker has to concentrate on French–normally these two would have worked well together, sharing a similar professional ethos, but now, in this unstable situation, each of them knows the other is waiting his moment.   French gives Parker the name of the fence, and leaves, saying Parker can get him his share through his professional contact.   Parker lies in wait for him, for a long time–he almost starts to believe French meant it–then French comes in, gun drawn–he wants the whole pile.   Parker knocks him out and ties him up.

Then Parker unties Mavis, and tells her French was going to kill her.   She’s suitably grateful, and reacting to Parker in the way women typically do, and he just finished a job–and Claire is gone.   He takes her on the couch, and there’s no sense of infidelity.   Something hasn’t been finalized between him and Claire. But Mavis herself is never going to be in the running–to her astonishment, Parker ties her up again afterward.   No hard feelings, but there have been enough surprises on this job already.

They express their mutual gratitude a few times more before he leaves, and by the time he does, she’s disinclined to call the cops.  A good sport, is Mavis Gross. Little does she knows she’s been given the signal honor of being the last woman Parker ever has sex with who isn’t Claire.

The fence drives in from Akron, and while he’s not happy to be dealing with a stranger instead of French, he’s open to a deal–the papers say the thieves got away with about 750k in coins–they also say that Mainzer and Carlow are in custody, Billy Lebatard was the mastermind (perhaps he’d be pleased to be taken seriously just once in his life), and Lempke died of his head injury.

Parker wants 200k, and the fence grudgingly agrees–Parker gives him the keys to the car the coins are in, and the location.   Parker will pick up the cash in Akron later–and he’ll make sure Mainzer and Carlow each get 50 grand–Lempke and Billy’s shares died with them.   Parker takes 100 grand.   French is out of the money.   In more ways than one.

Wait a minute–is that math right?  Parker didn’t finance this job, and it was for even shares.     Why not split the money three ways?   Because Claire was part of this job.   She earned her money.  If she does what she said she’d do, and meets Parker, then she’s proved herself, and they’ll spend the money together.   If he didn’t think she was going to come through, he’d split the money three ways.

Parker has just one more duty to attend to.   Now, French was probably a dead man in Parker’s mind the moment Lempke gasped out his name.  But we can never be completely sure–if he’d stuck with what he’d said, trusted Parker to get him his share, maybe Parker would have been able to resist the urge to hunt him down afterwards.   Probably not, but maybe.   French wanted all the money, and he also didn’t want Parker coming after him, so he made a play–and it failed.

Now Parker is marching him down an alleyway, and he knows what’s coming. He asks Parker why he can’t just take the money and go–“You soured a job of mine.” French knocks Parker down and runs–Parker was expecting that, waiting for it–almost like he needed something to trigger him–he liked French when he first met him.   He shoots once, and French falls.   He doesn’t bother to check for a pulse.

Two months later, we find him casing the Central Hotel in Utica, where he’s been for several days now, watching Claire come and go, watching for cops, watching for a trap.   Maybe they got wise to her story, leaned on her, made a deal–Parker in exchange for a light sentence.   Maybe she’s on the square, but they put a tail on her.  But there’s nothing.   He can feel it–she pulled it off.   Nobody followed her.   They bought her story, hook line and sinker.   She’s going to be valuable to him in more ways than one.

He goes to her room, and knocks on the door.   And the moment his knuckles hit the wood, she belongs to him, and he to her.   “For a while” turns out to mean “Until one or both of us is dead.”   There’s a prettier way to phrase it, often heard at weddings, but somehow it doesn’t fit.

So that’s how Parker’s wild bachelor days came to an end, even though he and Claire never made it official (that would make no sense, since it would link Claire to him, and he needs her to stay clean with the law).   And you can mourn that, or celebrate it, or just see it as something that really didn’t make much difference, since Claire only heavily factored into two or three more books, and was completely absent from quite a few of them.

But the point, as always, is that Parker isn’t like you and me.   He doesn’t get involved the same way we do, and once involved, he stays involved–because he can’t be any other way.   You don’t ask yourself “Does he love her?” because it’s a stupid question.   She’s necessary to him.   She’s part of him.   Westlake said once that Parker has a very small circle, and once you’re inside it, you’re completely safe from him.

To those who want to see him as completely without conscience, without feelings towards others, this can seem like a cop-out, but I would say they’re projecting.   Westlake never intended to make him a sociopath–why show guys like Mainzer (and believe it or not, there’s worse coming in future books), if not to say “This is a sociopath–Parker is something else.”

I’ve probably overworked the wolf angle, particularly since I’ve never seen a wild wolf in my life–but let me tell you a story about something I did witness, just a few years back.   On the campus I work at, there was a pair of hawks.  One day, the male ate an animal that had eaten rat poison, and he got very weak.   He fell from the branch he was sitting on.   Somebody saw him, and called the authorities.   He couldn’t just be allowed to die underneath the sky he’d soared effortlessly through in life.  This would be improper.  So some official person came to pack him up in a box and take him away to die in a steel cage in a sterile room somewhere.   This is what we humans like to call compassion.

The female (the larger of the two–all of two pounds), who had been keeping silent vigil over her mate, was having none of this.   She drove away anyone who dared approach him.   Reinforcements were called for–I counted six police vehicles, riot vans, big beefy 200+ pound cops in combat gear, with shields, batons–all to weather the unfettered fury of a two pound bird, protecting another bird who could not possibly be of any use to her now.   But that didn’t matter.   He was her mate.  They were a pair.   These are the rules.

They finally got past her, got him in the box and took him away.   He died, of course.   She never saw him again.   She lived through the winter by herself.  The spring came, and her hormones began to flow again as the days lengthened, and a new male presented himself to her.   They raised more young together, and the years passed, and she finally disappeared.  Nobody ever found out what happened to her.   And a new female presented herself to the new male.  And life went on.   And, it should be mentioned, a whole lot of rats, chipmunks, squirrels and pigeons were captured, killed, and devoured, because that’s how predators make a living.

“What’s the moral?” you ask.   “What’s a moral?” I ask.

And that’s what Richard Stark asks.   And somehow, we never have an answer ready.

But the book I’m reviewing next week has a lot of answers–about Donald Westlake.   And of course those answers just lead to more questions, but what else is new?

PS: Yes, that’s Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s picture up top, and yes she does look a lot like Robert McGinnis’ version of Claire, doesn’t she?   Imaginary Casting Director–such a fun game.



Filed under Donald Westlake novels, Parker Novels

33 responses to “Review: The Rare Coin Score, Part 2

  1. TRCS was a fine read, no more than that. Assuming that Westlake was trying to change and shake things a little and settle with the new publisher, I guess it’s alright.
    Parker found Claire, he’s happy (is Parker happy at all, ever?), Stark’s happy, he’s found a useful tool in the face of Claire, I’m not happy though I understand now usefulness of this tool.
    I don’t remember much from the novel, so I won’t say anything substantial, instead I will lead to a discussion of another related matter.
    Before Claire Parker had lots of sexual intercourses with women. Parker has no children, at least no that we know of. Parker is a man of not a passion, but a moment, he never thought about protected sex, he doesn’t care. Yet no children, not with the wife, not with Claire, not with any other women. I find it strange. What would Parker do if some of the women, he slept with tracked him down, pregnant, and asked for money or threatened to sour his job or something like that?
    Again, some unanswerable questions.

  2. Good lord, do I hate the U. of Chicago covers. I understand/acknowledge that they were certainly working within an extremely tight budget, but almost to a cover they strike me as the heights of laziness and cheapness. Overwhelm the canvas with a pedestrian gun silhouette, slap a couple of stock images onto a blank background, and you’re done. This one seems particularly egregious to me, like they did an image search for “rare coin” and picked the first one that popped. (It’s not ancient Roman coins on display at this convention.) And another silhouette, this one of a woman on a stool, because…? It would have been truly something had Hard Case Crime gotten their hands on the entire reprint series. (Maybe the current Darwyn Cooke-illustrated versions will cover the entire series. But I doubt it.) Was it great to have the books back in print? Indeed it was. For that I am grateful.

    • I tend to agree Hard Case would have done a better job with the covers, but we have to give all due respect to U. of Chicago for the work they’ve done bringing these books back to prominence. As you do, and let’s be honest here–we’re never going to see cover art to equal that of the 50’s and 60’s again. The industry has changed too much. Computer graphics, competition from other media, tightening budgets. I don’t remember the last time I saw a new work of fiction with a cover that didn’t make me yawn. I only wish that old axiom about how you can’t judge a book by its cover was always true. :\

      I just don’t want to read an illustrated edition of anything Westlake ever wrote, and particularly not any Parker novels. It’s the wrong genre for that kind of thing. Like with this book, I’d imagine the title as “Harry Parker and the Coins of Rarity.”


  3. I wouldn’t put it in the same league as The Man With the Getaway Face, or The Seventh, but I think it’s definitely one of the ten best Parker novels–so many interesting moments, a genuinely good heist, and it raises all these fascinating questions. I think it’s a really important book in Westlake’s oeuvre as a whole. Btw, you should like this one, based on your earlier remarks–he’s being hunted by the law and by another heister. This one meets all your self-imposed standards, and you still don’t think much of it. Inconsistent. 😉

    I wasn’t trying to say he was introducing Claire to make Gold Medal happy–for all I know, they had problems with the change–Westlake said he had a poor relationship with them, much as he’d been influenced by their books in the 1950’s. Anyway, it’s possible he didn’t originally intend Claire to stick around for all the remaining books–please note, her hotel room at the end is on the 13th floor–could have been foreshadowing. Maybe something bad was going to happen to her. But then he thought better of it. If that’s the case, the truth probably died with him.

    Parker has sex with at least 16 women during the course of the series (not all of whom had names). Oral contraception is available in the early 60’s, but only used by a small fraction of women in the U.S.. You just can’t imagine Parker putting on a condom. Either he’s got progeny somewhere, or he’s shooting blanks (genetically incompatible?).

    Now practically speaking, we know the reason he doesn’t have kids is the same reason Bond and Hammer don’t have kids–it doesn’t fit with the stories being told. Raises questions you don’t want to have to answer in this genre–or really, any genre involving macho tough guys. Captain Kirk was eventually revealed to have had a kid in Wrath of Khan–and then the poor guy got killed in Search for Spock–this is an old heroic convention (you could trace it back to the Irish myth of Cuchullain, if you wanted). Westlake was defying the genre’s conventions enough just by giving Parker a steady girlfriend. Not even Richard Stark had the balls to ask Parker “What would you do if a woman showed up holding a kid she said was yours?”

    If one of his past flames showed up with a kid, and then threatened him with exposure, what would he do? Probably something really bad. We don’t want to see that. So it never happens. We also don’t want to hear that Parker isn’t potent as all hell, so the question simply is not posed, never will be posed, forget about it. As I’ve said before, Parker is not allowed to look bad. Anyway, he’s not the easiest guy to find, and I’d assume most of the women he dated would know better than to go looking for him, for any reason, ever.

    Why did Jean just disappear after Parker left her alone in Miami? Maybe she found out she was pregnant, and decided (reminiscently of ‘The Bride’ in Kill Bill) that this was not a proper environment to raise a child in, and she didn’t want to find out what Parker’s reaction would be to learning he was going to be a daddy, so she split. You can imagine it that way if you like. Personally, that would be my answer. He’s got multiple progeny, but he wasn’t bonded with any of the women he had them with, so even if he knew about them, it wouldn’t be real to him. But if Lynn or Claire had become pregnant–who knows?

    Btw, what about Grofield? He’s having as much sex as Parker, if not more (he’s sexually active all year ’round). He’s acting in and producing plays under his own name. Several of the women he sleeps with in the course of his adventures would be able to track him down pretty easy. No woman who knew him would be scared of his reaction to fatherhood. Maybe the reason we don’t see him again after Butcher’s Moon is that Mary is pregnant, and she tells him his heisting days are done.

    And hey, how come Dortmunder and Kelp and Tiny Bulcher never have any kids, even though they’ve all got steady girls? Is infertility some kind of occupational hazard for heisters? This is fun to speculate about, but thank god Westlake knew better than to go there.

    Now I’d assume you already know a crime fiction author Westlake was acquainted with created his own series character, and it’s strongly implied that he’s Parker’s son.

    Okay, I don’t buy this. Parker was with Claire in the late 60’s. That couldn’t possibly be her this guy is talking about. The only other prospect is Mavis, who was clearly not a hooker, and she and Parker weren’t together for a week. Also, I don’t think TRCS takes place in 1967–the time frame is lagging well behind publication year by this point.

    This tracks with what I said above–a lot of guys just want to write Claire out of the continuity, or pretend to themselves that Parker was still screwing a lot of other women when he was off on jobs, like Grofield. He wasn’t. Period. He feels no moral obligation to be faithful to her. It just works out that way. Because he’s Parker.

    Is Parker ever happy? Honestly, you know what kind of a look he’d give you if he ever heard you asking a question like that? 🙂

    • Ron

      As far as Kurtz’s mother, what about Crystal from “The Handle?”

      • Well first of all, thanks for showing me one of those VWOP links I need to fix, because now it’s hawking hair-loss products to Japanese men. Actually, let me just post the right link here–

        Secondly, I don’t think it was Crystal. Kurtz says he ended up in an orphanage, his mother was a drunk, and she ‘thought’ his dad was a bank robber. Crystal would have known. And Crystal was pretty together for a call girl. I guess things could have gone wrong for her later, but it doesn’t seem to match up with the character we meet.

        After what happened with Lynn, we’re told Parker sated his sexual urges after a heist by going to regular work-a-day hookers. We never learn any of their names (we do hear that he had to slap some of them around to get them interested). Could have been one of them. Could also have been Jean, who wasn’t a pro, but might have ended up as one. I could see her drinking, to forget. She was pretty messed up before she ever met Parker.

        And it’s fun to speculate, but nothing any other writer says (or implies) about Parker should be taken as having any bearing on the continuity of the Stark novels. As far as Stark is concerned, there never was a Kurtz. We can believe what we like. Just like people who write fanfic can believe Kirk and Spock are married.

  4. These UoC covers ARE ugly, my eyes start watering if I look at these uglies. But don’t throw a rock at the modern covers. Yes, they are not painted, they are computer-made, yet I see lots of beautiful covers. You just don’t viist blogs like

    Of GM Parker novels I really like only one (if I remember correctly, and I won’t say which one), and this is not the one. For me it lacks certain tension. The main focus lays not on the heist, but on the Parker’s possible future with Claire.

    I also agree that Parker probably has children somewhere. He’s hard to track down, uses different identities, he is clearly seen as a violent man, I guess not every woman will dare to ask alimony from Parker, even if she could find him.
    As I respect cop killers, even for me it’ll be too much, seeing how Parker kills a mother and her baby.
    Parker wouldn’t be happy if some woman happens at the door to his and Claire’s house with a child in hands. But again – happy is not a word from Parker’s lexicon, right?

  5. It’s just not something that would ever happen to him. I don’t know how else to explain it. And whatever children he might have out there, they don’t exist for our purposes. Any more than James Bond’s kids do.

    But if it ever did happen, and the mother was threatening to go to the law, he wouldn’t kill them–something would happen to keep him from being forced into making that choice. Stark would see to that. ROMANTICALLY amoral. We shouldn’t forget that.

    I do like some of those covers, but I don’t love any of them–just old fashioned, I guess. Bear in mind, I work in a library–hundreds of brand new books pass through my hands. I know people are trying to be creative, but most of it doesn’t work for me. It doesn’t have to be great art, but it does have to hit some chord in me that the modern style does not.

  6. Derek

    Just came upon your blog, and I’m finding it fascinating reading! I thought Claire was an interesting addition to the series. Certainly in the later books she shows her own resourcefulness, and even though she does occasionally wind up as a bit of liability for Parker, she also becomes an interesting character in her own right. Regarding Parker’s lack of children, I always thought it showed that he was somehow just different than other men — for him, there was no point in procreation, and as a result, it just never happened. Everything with Parker is about utility – – and what good would kids be to a couple like Parker and Claire? Finally, I enjoyed the Simmon’s novels, with all their nods to Parker. Simmons told me once (years ago, so I apologize if my memory is a bit off) that he started writing those novels after “binge-reading” the Parker books. He was going through a tough time personally, and wanted to try and emulate their style. He said writing them helped him get past the hard times.

    • Derek, I apologize for never responding to your post. I probably read it, made a mental note to respond, then misfiled said note.

      If you need an explanation for Parker and Claire’s childlessness, that does not relate to one or both of them being infertile, obviously you look to Claire. She was married before she met Parker, and presumably had her share of lovers before that–no kids. Not all women want kids. Both The Pill and interuterine devices existed by the late 60’s. Also possible she made the pragmatic choice to forestall pregnancy by the surgical route. She wanted a certain life for herself, and made a choice. That many women not living with (you should pardon the expression) hardened criminals make all the time. Nobody should be a parent if he/she doesn’t really want to be one. It is a profession that must be chosen whole-heartedly.

      Parker, being a wolf in human form, approaches sex as a means of satisfying an instinctive drive. That drive being satisfied, he doesn’t worry himself about why the purpose of that instinct, namely procreation, never comes to pass. That’s a human thing, and he’s not one.

      If it did come to pass, then maybe the parental drive would kick in–he’d work harder to provide for the young, and eventually teach them his profession, as a wolf would teach his offspring how to hunt. Would his children share his lupine POV? Unknown. Who were his parents, and what were they like? Unknown. Would we rather know? Isn’t it kind of fun not knowing? The beauty of Stark is that he knows exactly how much to tell us, and won’t tell us one thing more.

      I think most writers who try to emulate Stark either miss the point, or have points of their own to make. There’ll never be another Parker. He died without issue. If he died at all.

  7. My guess is that Westlake mixed up Dan Wycza with Dan Kifka, who is dead.

    • That’s very possible. He was writing an awful lot, and both characters are Hungarian Americans with the same first name.

      But just as possible he decided offhandedly to kill Wycza off–makes sense that Parker’s colleagues would sometimes die on other jobs. Parker needs a big strong guy to carry the coins, but Westlake doesn’t want somebody as easy to get along with as Wycza on this job, because he wants this string to be edgy, off-kilter, ready to spring at each other’s throats at a moment’s notice. Why would Parker go with Mainzer if he could have Wycza instead? Simplest way to scratch Wycza off the list of possibles is to say he’s dead. Only later did Westlake decide what he’d done wasn’t irrevocable, and he did want Wycza involved in later books.

      But your theory is plausible–Westlake had to write these very fast, and we can’t assume everything in them is carefully thought out (though quite a lot clearly is). Like, did Westlake intend for Parker to forget he’d worked with Mainzer before and then remember, or did he just forget that earlier in the book, he’d had Parker say he didn’t know Mainzer? Living in the moment as he perpetually does, Parker’s memory of past acquaintances may be spotty at times–took him a while to remember Otto had a specialty–arson. When he meets Dan Kearny in Deadly Edge, Kearny has to remind him of their previous encounter. I’m tempted to say we all look alike to him. 😉

      • I’d do my best to forget Mainzer too. 🙂

        • Yeah, but you’d fail–just like I’ve never forgotten that skinhead jerk who called me a self-hating white man and thought Gerry Adams looked semitic (maybe he does, I dunno–could be the beard).

          Parker doesn’t give a damn about Mainzer’s ideology, or how he treats women, as long as he does his job. But we’d both like to think he leaves a certain unpleasant taste in Parker’s mouth–that Parker recognizes this is not a well-centered personality, and that Mainzer is somebody to avoid working with if better alternatives are available. I think it’s a given that he’d never join a string where Mainzer was in charge, because he’d figure Mainzer, capable as he is in some respects, would be a disastrous leader.

          Something Cesar Millan said in an interview has stuck with me ever since I read it–he said the difference between us and dogs is that they don’t follow unstable energy. Something to that, I think.

  8. I very much enjoyed this Parker novel. As you point out, it isn’t simply Parker and the heist but Parker and the heist and Parker’s relationship with Claire. I listened to the audio book a few months ago and I’m listening a second time now – enjoying it even more (of course, I have the book and read the book also – necessary to write a review). Also, I like that it takes place in a specific city, one of the crappier cities in one of the crappier states, in my experience. I usually enjoy cities but not a chance I’d want to visit Indi. again.

    • We don’t know much about Westlake’s travel habits, though we know he did get around some. I assume he did the book-signing circuit at times. In the Mid-Late 60’s, when this book was produced, he wouldn’t have traveled as Stark, but as himself–for the Random House novels. (I wonder if there’s even a single copy of a Pocket or Gold Medal Parker novel signed by Westlake–if it was signed/inscribed by Stark, and could be verified, we’d be talking serious money).

      The parts of this book set in Indianapolis are mainly in the city center–at a collector’s convention in a hotel. The nice part of town (most towns have them). Precisely where you’d expect a book-signing to be held. And of course writers also have conventions.

      Wherever he went, for whatever reason, he’d be doing what Parker does–looking for opportunities. Something he could use in a book–and since he’d know some of those books would be about heists, he’d be thinking how he could, in a different line of work, use the weak spots in a building’s design to steal something valuable. Most authors, when they travel, store away potentially useful information about the places they see. You never know what might come in handy.

      But more importantly, he’d be watching people.

      He was an armchair traveler as well, naturally. You can pick up a lot from books about various places. And on some level, he’d feel, as Parker does, that most American cities are about the same. Haven’t been around long enough to develop a specific character. And architecture got a lot more standardized in the 20th. He thought a lot about modern architecture. Most of his thoughts weren’t pleasant.

      Still, there’s no city he can write about quite like New York. It takes a lot of time to get to know a city. That was the only one he mastered. Though, of course, nobody has ever completely mastered Gotham.

  9. Wow, who would’ve thought the shortest book in the series would have so much to discuss? I mean, granted, most of the things I want to talk about relate to the series as a whole but this installment also brought those topics to my attention, if that makes sense.

    For starters, I inwardly chuckled upon seeing the book actually mention Willie Sutton in the bar scene. A lightbulb practically popped into my head as I thought: “So THAT’S where the obsession started.”

    Imagine my surprise when I read the comments only to find that the one who brought the memoir to your attention was none other than Greg. I feel like I discovered an important piece of “The Westlake Review” lore.

    I gotta say, reading this after The Damsel was almost a revelation. It made me appreciate how good this series was while also making me realize how much of a misfire The Damsel was. The thing is, they’re actually quite similar in the basic setup. Much like Grofield, Parker starts off simply relaxing only to then be presented with a new heist, and he’s approached by a woman to rope him into to play his part. Again, like Grofield, Parker is initially hesitant but eventually he joins in, and mostly on account of the woman.

    Of course, there are countless differences between The Rare Coin Score and The Damsel but the most important one? Parker feels like a crucial player in the story. As I talked about in our last discussion, we know why Parker gets involved with this score, we see the growing desperation in him to do SOMETHING, we also see the relationship between him and Claire actually develop into…well, a relationship. It’s kinda funny how Parker’s supposed to be the enigmatic one whose thoughts we can’t fully grasp, when of the two protagonists, I grasped his motivations for showing up far more than Grofield. I very much felt invested in his predicament too. And it’s very much like you said, the story happened this way because Parker bended the plot to his whim.

    Hell, Parker’s rougher to Claire than Grofield ever was to Elly, yet I still preferred reading Parker over Grofield. Maybe all girls really DO like bad boys? However, it could also be a consequence of Grofield being “too cool for school” as you said. There’s a certain artificiality to his confidence and coolness that when he acts rough on Elly, it feels more obnoxious, like he’s…well, putting on an act. As we both know by now though, Parker doesn’t have to pretend. He has a genuine confidence that oozes off the page.

    I also wonder if Parker getting together with Claire was supposed to be a parallel to The Damsel’s ending, as a sort of joke? Sort of a “Ha, ha, of the two guys, it’s Parker who sticks with the girl, not the charismatic romantic Grofield”. Of course, Grofield was already married so…

    Seeing Parker work in this installment made me ponder. It’s funny how Parker’s utterly apathetic to the arts because he honestly acts like an artist in his own right. He takes on the job partly just to see if it could be done, he always manages to put his own stamp on a score like how you could tell a film was a Martin Scorsese or a Peter Jackson, and he even grows restless upon being on break for too long. He NEEDS to work, much like a lot of creatives who’ve already secured their financial responsibilities.

    One more thing I want to say about Parker before moving on to the other stuff I wanted to discuss:

    So, Parker has been described as different from the others, something he knew even before the events of The Hunter. He’s constantly confused and impatient towards many social cues people take part in. There are even certain minor acts he does that he feels the need to hide from others in order for them to feel comfortable (like turning on the light in his light before answering the door because other people are more used to that). With all this in mind, you think Parker might be autistic?

    As someone on the spectrum herself, there are certain small things Parker does that I recognize. I’ve often to had to mask my more noticeable quirks in front of neurotypical folks, and there are also plenty of social cues that just baffle the hell out of me. Some of them are even the very cues that Parker himself shakes his head at. Pretty sure that wasn’t the intentional but I thought it was an interesting idea.

    Anyway, on to Claire! You know, it’s funny how you discussed the choice of making Claire so vaguely designed. I agree that it was likely just to make her an ideal love interest, but I propose another idea. You see, it makes sense for Claire to be so vaguely beautiful. Parker doesn’t do too many details. He always prefers simplicity, and Claire’s appearance is certainly that, almost like a blueprint for a building as opposed to a glitzy overdrawn map provided by The Outfit.*

    Also regarding her appearance, it’s funny you head-casted Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Claire. Mostly because she famously played Ramona Flowers in the 2010 adaptation of the Scott Pilgrim graphic novel, a character whose hair color also keeps constantly changing!

    As for her personality, I like her quite a bit. She’s strong minded to go head to toe with Parker intellectually but she has visceral aversions to the heister life that set her apart from him. I also think she makes for an interesting contrast to Lynn, like you yourself noted. She doesn’t have the stuff to have other people, but she’s strong enough to not turn rat. Lynn, on the other hand, was too weak to be loyalty, but she apparently enough guts to shoot to kill when the time came.

    One more thing about Claire that I’m honestly surprised no one else here mentioned in the comments especially considering y’all were talking about why Parker and Claire never ended up having children. I think Westlake might have subtly gave us an answer. During the one of the “confrontations” between Billy and Parker, Parker askes Billy if he ever wondered why Claire had a crecsent shaped scar on the lower end of her stomach. Yeah, he mostly said it to be the Chad to the Virgin Billy (“I fucked your dream girl, shitlips”), but I wonder if that was also meant to hint at Claire’s past. A C-section, perhaps?

    That’s all the big stuff I wanted to talk about. I also liked the scene of Parker and Jack French talking as they abandon the job. I think it showcases that Parker actually isn’t above forming a bond of sorts with people, you just have to approach it on HIS terms. It also makes Jack’s betrayal all the more unfortunate (also surprising. That’s one positive of re-reading these after so long, you get to be shocked all over!) I also thought it was darkly ironic that Kempke got his badass second wind…only to get conked on the head and die of his injuries. Ah well, at least he didn’t die in jail. Not as good as a bag of money found in a car, but a suitable karmic reward from Stark.

    * This is why I actually rather dig the covers of the University of Chicago editions. Sure, they’re not as gorgeously detailed as the old paperback covers, but their simple and they get the job done. They’re faithful to Parker’s spirit, if not really much to look at.

  10. Is it the shortest? I wouldn’t know. Even if you’re only reading U. of Chicago editions, in physical form, the font may not always be the same (I’ve seen it change inside the same book). Most of the Parkers are of equivalent length, with Butcher’s Moon the extreme outlier. As I mentioned when we got to Random House, people expected more pages for the buck when they had to shell out for hardcovers. I enjoy the longer ones, but I still feel like Stark runs best in the shorter races, even if he’s got the wind for a marathon. As Westlake said, writers train for distance.

    You know what I think Parker is. And this is why we respond differently to him than Grofield. Grofield is human. We don’t judge predators when we watch nature documentaries. We do when we watch true crime stuff. Not that Grofield is that kind of criminal, but as you say, it comes across differently, he’s more self-consciously putting on an act, and only rarely does he show us who he really is, assuming he knows himself.

    Jonathan Demme adapted Vonnegut’s short story Who Am I This Time? for PBS, with Christopher Walken playing a man who literally becomes his characters in plays put on by a local theater group, stays in character the entire time the production is going on, and has no identity at all when he’s not working. It’s maybe a little bit like that, but less pronounced.

    But really, Parker is more like Harry Nash, except he’s not bothered by the blankness in himself when he’s not working. It’s how he relaxes. He doesn’t need to be ‘on’ all the time. (At the start of this one, he’s struggling with the problem of not being able to switch off between jobs, precisely because he doesn’t have a mate he can let his guard down with. If he works constantly, it’s prison for sure. So he’s distracting himself with a lot of quick lays. It sounds lovely at first, the very essence of what your average Gold Medal PBO protagonist is supposed to want, and what the readers of those books are plunking down their fifty cents for, but somehow you’re made to understand–there’s no there there. He can’t go on like this. He’ll burn out like a lightbulb left on too long.

    Parker always knows who he is, regardless of what he’s doing, and we identify with that, even though we often aren’t so sure–the character you most resemble is rarely the character you most admire. But yes, to your point, being a wolf in human form would arguably be like a form of autism, in some respects. People in the spectrum, interestingly, often do better with animals than people. But Parker will never be a dog person. Or an art person. Bower Birds are better artists than most humans, but try taking one to a museum. The talent for abstraction simply isn’t there. Form must follow function, always.

    It bugs me some Stark readers don’t dig this one, when it’s such a damn near perfect piece of work–a brilliant way of giving a series that might otherwise get stale a new lease on life. But of course it’s because they think Parker is acting out of character, much as they did with The Black Ice Score.. Not nearly as well-balanced as this one, but still underrated because of the perceived disconnect.

    To me, since he’s a wolf in human form, makes perfect sense he’d need to to form a lasting pair bond. Grofield, being a hairless ape, will of course say polygamy is the only way. He loves his Cynara, but is only faithful to her ‘in his fashion.’ (You know he quotes that poem to himself.) I find it very hard to believe Westlake wasn’t thinking along similar lines, but put that on a long list of things I’ll never get to ask him. He wanted that contrast, because once again, these are books about comparative psychology.

    I’ve long known that the books he wrote close together often resemble each other in many respects, take different paths down the same general route, but I had missed that particular connection between these two, so well played.

    Jack French is, you might say, another failed attempt by Nature to create someone like Parker. (We can talk about that more when we get to Butcher’s Moon). They resemble each other quite a lot. He’s also somewhat reminiscent of Handy McKay, a character Parker might well have had to kill if they’d kept working together (Parker kills at least two variations on Handy that I can recall offhand).

    But see, Parker is the ideal human heistmen somehow always fall short of. I guess that’s why Willie Sutton gets name checked? Westlake probably first encountered him in the 1950’s, when his first memoir came out. Westlake would have had very mixed emotions about him, since he really was one of Life’s true independents, but he spent so much time in stir–at the end of the first book he wrote, he is abjectly repenting for all the harm he’s caused to others. I think that was sincere. I also think that was him looking for a different form of escape route, and ultimately, it worked–leading to the second book, where turns out that whatever guilt he may feel about collateral damage, he’s still mainly happy with the man he is–it’s society that had a problem. Well, you know…….

    Handy McKay. Willie Sutton. Willie was Irish as they come, but you wouldn’t know it just from the name. Westlake had to make it a bit more explicit. It was always there, staring me right in the fact, but it took the intrepid Mr. Tulonen to put me on the scent.

    For a U. of Chicago cover, that one’s pretty good. But I just don’t see Claire with that hairstyle, somehow. I headcast Winstead because she could cosplay the woman on the two McGinnis covers to perfection without breaking a sweat.

  11. I measured them all by Kindle location a while ago (I think that based on character count) and Rare Coin is in fact the shortest.

    • I should say thank you.

      But of course I’m just going to demand a complete list, from shortest to longest. (And please include years of publication, so we can look for trends). 😉

      • Be careful what you ask for …

        The Rare Coin Score 1906
        The Black Ice Score 1956
        The Sour Lemon Score 1997
        The Jugger 2032
        The Mourner 2034
        The Man with the Getaway Face 2083
        The Seventh 2114
        The Score 2151
        The Handle 2169
        The Hunter 2181
        The Outfit 2211
        Slayground 2245
        Dirty Money 2379
        Lemons Never Lie 2394
        The Dame 2420
        The Green Eagle Score 2431
        Deadly Edge 2434
        The Damsel 2472
        Thw Blackbird 2542
        Plunder Squad 2629
        Ask the Parrot 2639
        Comeback 2717
        Firebreak 2788
        Flashfire 2806
        Breakout 2953
        Backflash 3018
        Nobody Runs Forever 3118
        Butcher’s Moon 4846

        • Now I will say thank you. (And I didn’t even ask about the Grofields. Lagniappe!)

          Many interesting things to comment on here. Like there’s nine books shorter than The Hunter. Dirty Money is right in the middle, length-wise. Slayground is much longer than I thought. Hardcovers tend to be longer than paperbacks. Well, that I knew.

          Butcher’s Moon is one of my favorites. But so is The Rare Coin Score. And they both seem exactly the right length.

          And I was understating when I said Butcher’s Moon is twice the length of the earlier books. You could fit any two of the Pockets into the same space, and have a ton of room left.

          Query–does this include prefaces, introductions, and stuff? Which would not be in the original editions.

          Thanks again. Lunchtime.

        • The Gold Medal books, other than Green Eagle, are the shortest, and all about the same length. Then come the first eight, which vary a bit more. Still, it’s as if there’s a target length he’s trying to hit.

          The post-hiatus books (Dirty Money being the one exception) are the longest besides Butcher’s Moon, which is a real outlier. There’s quite a range there, more as if the story’s needs determine how long the book is.

          The other Random House books, the Grofield books, Dirty Money and Green Eagle fit in between. The Grofields are particularly similar in length.

          It’s interesting to compare these to subjective impressions. For instance, I think of Deadly Edge as short, because the original heist and the final standoff stand out so much that is seems like two scenes plus some connecttive tissue, and The Score as longer because there’s so much vivid action.

          • I thought of The Score as short, because it’s a really tiny book. Surprised it’s longer than The Seventh, but see, I only have the Gold Medal edition of that. The Pockets look shorter than the Gold Medals, because the books take up less physical space (they’re literally supposed to fit in your pocket). That doesn’t directly correlate with word count.

            One thing Westlake clearly loathed about the sleaze paperbacks he wrote to make rent money–the length was strictly regulated. You were supposed to type a certain number of words per chapter, and have the same number of chapters. And write a certain amount of sex into most of them. Almost no room for experimentation. Porn fans have never been known for their long attention spans.

            So even though there was a lot of standardization in the crime paperbacks as well, he must have relished the relative freedom to decide for himself how much space was needed to tell a story. Buck Moon, being a writer himself (from a tonier area of publishing, before his downfall) would have encouraged him to stretch out or pare back as needed. If the novel runs the right length, it will never seem too long, and if it’s good, you’ll always feel it was too short (but at the same time, you won’t want it padded by so much as a sentence).

            As I mentioned when I got to the Random House Parkers, the hardcover market is different. People are paying more for the books. The expectations are different. He wrote some short hardcovers, but my feeling is, the Starks usually outsold them. Until Stark went hardcover himself, at least part of that was due to the fact they cost a whole lot less. (And had better cover art).

            While on the whole, I’d say shorter is sweeter, there are times when I prefer a bit more range to ramble. Either way–don’t fence me in.

  12. Thanks for the list and the exchange here. I came to the Parker novels via Slayground (I spent my boyhood near Seaside Heights, NJ), Butcher’s Moon and The Black Ice Score. I enjoyed these 3 novels and learned so much from this website, I was juiced to go back and read (and listen to the audio books) and write reviews for all 23 Parker novels – one of the true highlights of my last 10 years as a reviewer (1,337 reviews and counting).

    • If they ever did a real adaptation of Slayground, they could do worse than to set it in Seaside Heights, with its classic old-school amusement park. I don’t offhand recall it being walled-in, and they wouldn’t have those little canals with the boats. Unless those got added in later. (It’s been a very long time.) But I’d take that over Disney World, any day. (Hey, the producers could build the canals and the boats and the wall and stuff. Seaside could probably use the upgrade.)


      • I agree. I recall walking by the south Seaside Pier back in the 70s during the winter – a high chain-link fence with large locks and chains sealing it off – the only way in and out. Looked ominous. And I was told back then that the mob had their hand in Seaside, big time. No canals with boats back then but there’s enough old amusement park feel to make for one hell of a film.

        • Hmmmm! Well, the graphic novel is set in upstate NY, which makes no sense at all, they’ve no amusement parks of any size there. The novel is clearly set in the Midwest, probably Ohio. Only trouble with Ocean County is, it’s closer to the house in Sussex County than Parker would like. Only relevant if they’re doing all the books. And I doubt that’s ever happening. Anyway, South Jersey is a world to itself. Unless Ocean is Central Jersey? They’re still debating whether that’s a thing.

  13. Actually, that’s 24 Parker novels. BTW – In addition to those 3, my favorites: The Hunter, Comeback, Backflash, Flashfire and Nobody Runs Forever.

  14. I originally planned to my return post a fairly grand affair, talking and reglecting on a non-Westlake book (albeit one that very likely influenced his work) and how it personally affected me as a reader and well, as a person, period.

    ……I’m not doing that today because I just realized, months after reading all 24 of these goddamn books, that Westlake named the automobile expert Carlow and I’m seething that it took me this long to get that.

    • At least it wasn’t Carfax. You know, as in Abbey. Dracula’s London residence. Now the name of a company that tells you things you’d rather not know about that vintage automobile you hopefully didn’t already pay for.

      It never occurred to me either. I was thinking about this–same song I wanted to sing to the dead-eyed skinhead guy I mentioned in relation to Otto Mainzer, who thought Gerry Adams looked semitic. Hey man, you want a race war? Let’s finish up old business first, shall we?

      There’s always going to be something you missed.

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