She said in answer to his question, “His name is Parker. I don’t know what his first name is, nobody said. I don’t like him.”
“He’s–I don’t know, I look at him and I think he’s evil. But that isn’t right, exactly, I don’t think he’s evil. I mean, I don’t think he’d ever be cruel or anything like that, for the fun of it. I wouldn’t worry about leaving Pam around him, for instance. But–I know.”
“He wouldn’t hurt Pam, but he wouldn’t care about her either. If something bad happened to her, he wouldn’t be pleased by it, but he wouldn’t try to do anything to help her. Unless he saw some gain for himself in it.”
“You mean he seems cold?”
“He doesn’t care. There’s no emotion there.”
“Oh well,” Dr. Godden said, and even though she wasn’t looking at him she could hear the gentle smile in his voice, “everyone has emotions. We all have them–you, me, everyone. Even this man Parker. Maybe he has them bottled up more than most people, that’s all.”
As you’ve probably noticed, I like comparing Westlake’s books to other books, particularly when I think I’ve found one that Westlake used as a model for his own. But some books of his are so unique, it’s hard for me to find any real parallel. This is one of those. In terms of its story, its characters, I don’t know of any book that strongly influenced The Green Eagle Score. Maybe you do. But I think we all know this is not the first or the most famous novel about a master criminal robbing a U.S. military base.
But damned if I can find any similarity other than the idea of pulling a heist on Uncle Sam. Maybe the novel (and later the film) gave Westlake the germ of that idea, maybe not. But the story he told could not have been more different–and far as I’m concerned, better. Certainly more believable, not that one should ever judge Ian Fleming by that standard. That wouldn’t be cricket.
Fleming wrote pure fantasy–Richard Stark is certainly fantasizing as well, but in a more grounded, tangible, ‘maybe this could actually happen’ sort of way. Unlike Fleming, he writes from the criminal’s perspective, and his mastermind is not a bizarre wealthy egotist trying to prove a point, but a hard-eyed workman doing his job. And one more thing–Fleming did some research on Fort Knox, I’m sure, but nobody’s expecting a plausible heist out of him–I can’t find any mention of his ever having been there. Westlake spent several years of his life on Air Force bases. He went into this one already knowing much of what he needed to know.
The United States Air Force had existed as a separate branch of the military for less than a decade when Westlake joined up. Serving in peacetime, his military service seems to have consisted mainly of short stints on bases in Germany and elsewhere–flying back and forth over the Atlantic, doing drudge work, writing in his spare time. And dealing with authority figures of varying types and qualities on a daily basis, because that’s what military life is. He doesn’t seem to have made many (if any) lasting friendships there. If his unpublished autobiography ever sees the light of day, maybe we’ll learn more about that part of his life.
But for now, we can look at his fiction, and notice how many of his characters have had some military experience. Parker himself served in the Army in World War II (apparently joining up in his early teens, which isn’t as implausible as it sounds), but was discharged from the service for black-market activities. Grofield was in the army. Ray Kelly had just gotten out of the service at the start of 361. Samuel Holt was an M.P. before he became a cop, then an actor, then a reluctant detective. Just a few examples out of dozens. He liked to use that as a starting point for his heroes.
But Westlake never wrote a single book centered around an active-service military man (or woman), unless you count A Girl Called Honey, a ‘sleaze’ novel he co-wrote with Lawrence Block. Westlake and Block each created a character to vie for the affections of the titular seductress, and Westlake’s was a scrawny Air Force grunt named Richie Parsons, who hates the Air Force, steals from his fellow servicemen, and then goes AWOL, which is how he meets the aforementioned seductress. I don’t think it’s a self-portrait, exactly, but no doubt Westlake was expressing his own feelings there–he wasn’t impressed with the USAF, or most of the people in it. To be a military man is to be a cog in a machine. It’s no place for an individualist. I’m sure George Patton would have disagreed, but of course he was running the machine.
One other thing–we now know, thanks to The Getaway Car, that Westlake was arrested for stealing a microscope while in college. Given his age, seems plausible he had a bit of counseling after that experience–maybe saw a psychiatrist or two. And I’d guess the Air Force had some psychological screening in place by the time he was there, though probably not much.
There’s a different kind of authority figure–the ‘headshrinker’–somebody who pries into your deepest thoughts and emotions, and in some cases tells you (in that prototypical passive aggressive ‘how did that make you feel?’ sort of way) what’s going on inside your noodle–trying to fit you into his little Freudian templates. And how do you think that made Westlake feel? Not very well-disposed towards psychiatrists.
We’ve already seen his attitude towards that profession in Pity Him Afterwards. And we’re going to see it again here. And yet there’s a lot of very good psycho-analysis in this book, albeit applied to some less than noble ends. Westlake might have been more impressed than he let on.
The book opens with a classic bit of Starkian prose, though we’re still missing the “When such-and-such happened, Parker did something” opening of the first eight books.
Parker looked at the beach and there was a guy in a black suit standing there, surrounded by all the bodies in bathing suits. He was standing near Parker’s gear, not facing anywhere in particular, and he looked like a rip in the picture. The hotel loomed up behind him, white and windowed, the Puerto Rican sun beat down, the sea foamed white on the beach, and he stood there like a homesick mortician.
That mortician is Marty Fusco, a fellow heister, who just finished a stretch in prison and is looking for a quick score to get back on his feet. The character is a lot like Lempke from The Rare Coin Score, but unlike his predecessor, he hasn’t lost his nerve–just his wife, Ellen. She divorced him when he was in prison, and eventually took up with Stan Devers, a handsome cocky young gent currently finishing a stretch in (wait for it) the Air Force. He works in the payroll office.
Stan’s stationed at a base outside Monequois–a recurring fictional burg somewhere in upstate New York we see referenced in various Westlake books, but this can’t be the same Monequois we saw in The Seventh. That was a college town, around the size of Binghamton–and no way Parker would ever go back there to pull a job after the events of that book. So Westlake is just reusing the name, as he already had several times before, because he likes it (I think he made it up himself–it’s supposed to be an old Indian name, but there never was any such tribe as the Monequois, in New York or anywhere else). This version of Monequois is a small sleepy place, dominated by the much larger military base outside it. It’ll be waking up with a start in the near future.
Anyway, Fusco has a kid with Ellen, three year old Pamela, and he came back to see her, found Ellen was with Devers, and being an easy-going sort of guy, ended up becoming chums with him. And much to Ellen’s dismay, they ended up hatching a scheme together–the payroll for the base is huge, and all cash. Marty thinks there’s a job here, but he needs Parker to plan it.
Parker’s response is predictably wary–as it was when the Copper Canyon caper was pitched to him in The Score, but something about the way he expresses his incredulity doesn’t sound very Parker-like.
Parker broke in, saying, “Wait a while. This is the job you came down here to offer me? Go steal an Army payroll right off the post?”
“It isn’t Army, Parker, it’s Air Force. And besides, they–”
“What do you mean it isn’t Army? Have they got a fence around the post?”
“Base, they call it a base.”
“Have they got a fence around it? And gates? And armed sentries on the gates?”
“Parker, it can be done. There’s better than four hundred grand in there, Parker, twice a month, ours for the taking.”
“Yours for the taking,” Parker told him. “I don’t take money away from five thousand armed men.”
“It isn’t five thousand armed men, Parker. Christ, you know what Stan calls the Air Force? The saluting civil service, he says. You know what they carry on their practice alerts? Empty carbines. They don’t even get bullets, for Christ’s sake.”
“Somebody’s got bullets,” Parker told him. “Somewhere on that post, base, whatever they call it, somewhere there’s somebody doesn’t want us to take that four hundred grand. I’ll leave that somebody alone.”
A great bit of dialogue, but Parker doesn’t talk like that. It’s too wordy, and too funny. Parker doesn’t kvetch. It sounds to me like John Dortmunder trying to get born. It wasn’t long after this that Westlake started work on a Parker novel that kept veering into comedy–which for this character, simply doesn’t work.
Parker remembers his own wartime stint in the military, when everybody was on full alert, and it takes time for him to accept this isn’t the same thing at all. But he wants to work again, even though he doesn’t have to yet, and so he tells Claire he’s going to check this thing out. She doesn’t want to know the specifics–and she doesn’t want him to leave–she thinks he may not be coming back this time. They have a tense little discussion, and he leaves anyway.
How much time has passed since the last book? Salsa’s name gets brought up later, and we’re told he died a couple of years ago–based on what we see at the start of The Rare Coin Score, Parker spent just a few restless weeks of womanizing between the end of the Cockaigne job Salsa died on, and his first meeting with Claire–who became his permanent traveling companion two months after the events of the previous book.
So flush with cash, and greatly enjoying his new steady girl, Parker has taken well over a year off–his longest break since we’ve known him–and yet he and Claire still have a very passionate sex life. He doesn’t need to pull a job to get it up anymore. Claire changed that for him. But he still needs to work–nobody can change that–and something about this job intrigues him. The challenge of it–how sweet it would be to take that money away from the U.S. military. Claire had a point about him–he does like to fight society. It brings out the artist in him.
Devers meets them at the airport with his maroon Pontiac, and they drive upstate–Fusco has been raving about this kid, how smart and on-the-ball he is, how he’ll be a great recruit to The Profession, and Parker thinks he may be right about that–Devers is already a pretty accomplished thief. He’s clearly been embezzling from the Air Force–nice car, fancy duds, a charge account at Lord & Taylor’s in New York City (ah yes, I remember it well).
Expensive tastes, no love for daily routine or bosses, a maverick streak, nerve to spare–yeah, Devers is the type. But does he have everything it takes? Well, we know he’s got a cool car–probably a lot like this–
Parker checks into a motel outside Monequois, in an even tinier town called Malone–and see, this is one reason I do these reviews chronologically. If we hadn’t just been looking at Anarchaos, would you pick up on Parker staying in a town with the same name as the protagonist of a book that came out the same year as this one? I never did before (and this is my fourth time reading this book). Westlake liked to make these little meta-textual references that hardly anyone but him would ever notice.
Parker meets Ellen Fusco–and why did Westlake keep coming back to variations on that name, Elly, Ellie, etc? She is not a happy person, and it’s hard to blame her. She had a bad relationship with her strict parents, married Marty as an act of rebellion, only to see him wind up in prison, right after she got pregnant. She’s attractive, still young, and has hooked up with an even younger guy, who she thinks is husband material (not a good judge of character, is Ellen), and now the first husband is back, luring her new guy into a life of crime. She was with Marty long enough to absorb the heisting ethos–don’t talk to the law. She won’t squeal on them. Not intentionally.
But she’s not happy , and she wants everybody to know about it. Particularly Parker. Who of course she’s attracted to, even though she hates his guts. And who does she talk to about all these conflicting emotions? Her shrink, Dr. Godden. Who is very interested in what she has to say about this impending robbery, and the four hundred thousand dollars it could possibly net.
As Parker, Marty & Stan scope out the base, come up with a plan, assemble a solid string, we alternate between chapters where they do all this and chapters with Ellen talking to Dr. Godden about it–he encourages her to participate more, involve herself, be present for all their planning sessions–it’ll be therapeutic for her. She’ll realize her anxieties are unfounded. Everything’s going to be just fine. As long as she keeps telling him all about it.
“Perhaps on Wednesday,” he said, “you’ll feel like talking about the robbery again. Perhaps you’ll understand your feelings better then.”
“I’ll talk about it now,” she said. “Now that I understand this, I want to talk about it, honestly.”
“There’s no time now,” he said, and his voice didn’t sound quite as sympathetic as usual. “We’ll see what happens on Wednesday.”
Now she did feel guilty. She’d been keeping the plan from Dr. Godden for no reason, making him feel she didn’t trust him, causing a rift between them just when she needed him the most. “I’ll tell you the whole thing on Wednesday,” she promised.
“If you feel like it,” he said.
(Sidebar: Amazingly, in the 1960’s, Dr. Godden might have been within his rights to not divulge this impending armed robbery to the police. It wasn’t until the late 60’s/early 70’s that certain cases led to the passage of state laws creating exemptions to patient/doctor privilege–like a patient telling a doctor about a violent crime that had not yet been committed. And since Ellen wasn’t actively participating in the crime, and the heisters would ideally prefer not to hurt anybody in the commission of said crime–it’s a bit of a grey area. Psychiatrists committing crimes based on inside information from patients, not so much.)
This is the tenth Parker novel, and we know the score by now, which is to say we know somebody’s always trying to score off Parker’s score. This time it’s Godden, who (once we’re inside his head) turns out to be a man in a pretty desperate situation, due mainly to personal weakness. He keeps marrying women who are only interested in his money (judging by his physical description, there’s not much else to be interested in), and as they kept spending it all, he kept cutting ethical corners to make up the shortfall–writing prescriptions he shouldn’t have, facilitating illegal abortions that went wrong (Roe v. Wade is still about six or seven years off), and he got caught, which brought an end to his lucrative Manhattan practice.
He ended up in Monequois, still licensed, but not making nearly enough to support an ex-wife, a current wife, and a mistress. And now he’s being blackmailed by someone who knows about his past indiscretions. He wants to escape the whole sorry mess, but how? Ellen Fusco presents him with the answer to his problems. He just has to recruit a few accomplices, and they’ll heist the heist. But he doesn’t know any professional thieves, and even if he did they’d demand their cut, and he wants the whole pile for himself.
So he recruits two of his patients. The deeply disturbed Roger St. Cloud, a 22 year old rebel without a clue, who dreams about being inside gun barrels pointed at his controlling father’s head; and a big passive pliable lunkhead named Ralph Hochberg, who Godden convinces that he needs to do something assertive, like steal money from armed robbers. Godden has betrayed every aspect of his professional identity, and his personal identity was never much to start with. For all the supposed amorality of Richard Stark, I find a very strong sense of alternate morality in him–in his world, people are punished, with extreme severity, for the crime of not knowing who they are.
Several chapters are devoted to Devers showing Parker the base, interpreting its culture–in many ways, it feels like a college campus–most of the people there are attending classes of one kind or another. There’s a movie theater, there are restaurants, even bus lines to take you around. Most of the men are out of uniform most of the time. We never see a plane, though they do have them there. Parker quickly realizes this isn’t the armed camp that he’d envisioned. These people are as soft as The Outfit–maybe softer. They’re not prepared to deal with somebody like him.
They’re more on their toes than they would normally be, because of a recent sting operation–an inspector got past the guards and planted several symbolic ‘bombs’ in the shape of bricks, just to demonstrate how poor their security was. But so many people have to go in and out of the base every day. No matter how carefully the guards are briefed, they can’t help but get bored and caught up in the daily routine. The bigger and busier the installation, the less secure it is. Well, we know that now, right?
Before they head for the base, Devers admits he’s got the jitters–Parker says most guys in this business do–but not him.
He wasn’t boasting, it was the truth. The situation they were going into tonight would only make him colder and colder, harder and harder, surer and surer. He knew everything was organized, he knew the way it was supposed to come off, the step-by-step working out of the prepared script, and he was like a cold-blooded stage manager on opening night; no jitters, just a cold hard determination that everything would happen the way it was supposed to happen. He knew that the others, the actors, were all atremble, but that wasn’t for him. Stage managers don’t tremble.
This seems more like a metaphor Grofield would resort to–Parker normally has no use for metaphors of any kind. Is this the way Parker thinks, or just the way Stark is interpreting his thoughts for us?
He seems a bit more human in this book. Waiting for the job to start, he’s surprised to find himself thinking about Claire, wanting to get back to her, take her to the casino in San Juan, where she invariably loses fifty bucks playing craps, then wants to go right back to their room to make love. He doesn’t live entirely in the here and now anymore. Part of him is always with her. And yet, as we’ve seen, when he’s with her, part of him is always looking for the next job. Like I said–more human than he used to be. But still a wolf down deep. A wolf with a mate. Though described as a panther at one point in this book. Stop screwing with my metaphor, Stark!
The plan involves going in during a period of peak traffic, right around 5:00pm, when the AP’s (Air Police) at the gate are under pressure to avoid a bottleneck. They disguise themselves (in gold tunics no less) as ‘Ernie Seven and the Four Score’–a dance band. They have a letter forged on stationary Devers obtained, saying they’ve been engaged to play at the Officer’s Club–and the Major in charge will be most displeased if they are late. Works like a charm.
They have to hang around until midnight to make their move–they get dinner, meet up with Devers, and catch a movie–twice. Parker pays no attention to the movie either time. He couldn’t tell you what it was about if he saw it a hundred times. Just light, color, sound–nothing else. Some stage manager he’d make.
Midnight comes–there’s just a sliver of the new moon in the sky. They take out the guards at the payroll office–badly wounding one in the process, but raising no alarm. There’s six of them–Parker recruited Philly Webb, Jake Kengle, and Bill Stockton for the string. Solid pros, who do their job perfectly. It all goes off exactly the way Parker planned, except for this one guard who had to play cowboy and go for his gun, making Kengle shoot him–they hope he won’t die. That brings down more heat. They bandage his wounds. And leave him there. Some things you can’t control.
Before he got the call about this job, Kengle was trying to sell encyclopedias door to door. Another element that shows up in the first Dortmunder book–many of the Stark heisters are very human, but that chapter about Kengle, who plays a pretty minor role in the story, almost seems superfluous in this context–bits of Westlake breaking through the Stark facade. Something about this story is making it harder for him to be Stark all the time.
They breeze back past the gate, back in their gold tunics, in a short bus with specially painted banners on it, and almost 400 large hidden under their musical instruments. The hideout is an abandoned hunting lodge, not far at all from the base–but Parker and Webb lay a false trail, making it seem like they crossed over into Canada. Devers heads back to Ellen’s house. Fusco, Kengle, and Stockton will guard the cash. A near-perfect job. And then it all goes sour. Again.
Parker and Webb get back to the lodge, and find what we knew they would find–all three of their confederates are dead, and the money is gone. They head for the house, and find Devers in bed with Ellen–obviously they suspect him, but it’s increasingly clear he’s as shocked as they are. None of them, however, are nearly as shocked as Ellen–when she realizes what’s happened. And her already-fragile mental equilibrium collapses on itself.
“Marty isn’t dead,” she said.
Parker said, “Devers, slap her face. I want her awake.”
But then Ellen shrieked, “Why would he do a thing like that? Face contorted with rage, she leaped off the bed and tried to run out of the room. Parker grabbed her and she twisted and squirmed, trying to get away, shouting “I’ve got to talk to him, I’ve got to find out! I’ve got to know why he did it, why he’d do something like this!”
Parker slapped her with his free hand, open palm across the face, and she sagged against him, her body abruptly boneless. Holding her up, Parker said “Who? Who did it?”
“I was supposed to be able to trust him,” she said, her eyes closed, her body slack with defeat.
Parker shook her. “Who?”
Devers said, “For Christ’s sake, Parker, don’t you get it? She’s talking about her analyst!”
No, of course Parker doesn’t get it. He’s never needed to confide in anyone–he’ll never be that human. We all understand perfectly well the need to confide, to share the thoughts and emotions we can’t openly express, the darker side of ourselves, the sins we’ve committed, the sins we wish we’d committed–with a family member, a friend, a soulmate, a priest, or if all else fails, a paid professional. All else had failed for Ellen Fusco.
If Parker truly knew what it was to be human, to have that weakness, he would have seen this coming–he knew she was going to see a shrink. They all did, but Marty was blinded by guilt, Stan by lust–Parker, whose most important function in any heist is always to see trouble lurking around each corner, was blinded only by the fact that he’ll never fully understand people. You tell somebody your deepest most dangerous secrets–and you pay him to listen? Lord, what fools these mortals be.
And this mortal was fool enough to think he could finish this review in under 6,000 words, but it doesn’t look promising. The stage manager in me thinks it’s time to take a break, and come back for act two next week. End scene–lower curtain–smoke ’em if you got ’em.
25 responses to “Review: The Green Eagle Score”
Westlake attended the now-closed Champlain College in Plattsburgh, NY (about a half hour from the Canadian border), a town that used to have an Air Force base. I’ve been to Plattsburgh a few times and am pretty certain that’s the town Monequois is based on (at least, the Monequois in this book). Living an hour north of Albany (where Westlake grew up), it’s always fun to find Westlake’s many references to places along the Route 9/I-87 north-south route.
Enjoyed the first half of your review, looking forward to the rest. Keep up the great work!
I mentioned Champlain College in an earlier review–I didn’t know about the air force base–or maybe I did once and forgot–damned interesting. They have an airport there now. There’s still a SUNY campus. Plattsburgh is a mite small to have been the inspiration for the Monequois we see in The Seventh, which I think is more like Binghamton. Parker really is never going back to that Monequois–Detective Dougherty has a jail cell with his name on it.
I like to joke that Monequois and its environs are like Westlake’s version of Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County–maybe he made the same joke for all I know–both Indian names. But I think Faulkner went into a lot more detail–Monequois is always kept a lot more vague and shifting in its size and character, to suit the story being told. It’s like a set on a back lot he can alter to his specifications. He used it more in the Stark novels than the ones under his own name. Grofield will be up there in a few more years.
But he was using it before he ever published a novel under his name or Stark’s–it’s in at least one of his ‘sleaze’ books. He just loved that name.
Many thanks for the intel.
The actual physical location of this Monequois lines up pretty closely with Moira, NY, however.
Except Moira is a lot smaller than nearby Malone, which doesn’t track with what we learn about the Monequois in this book. No mention of there ever being a military base nearby. As a matter of strict fact, there is no Air Force base in New York State, and apparently never was. Fort Drum, the only army base near the Canadian border in New York, is quite a good distance from Malone.
I don’t necessarily think this Monequois is based on any town Westlake knew in upstate NY. It’s probably based on towns he knew from his stint in the Air Force, meaning not in New York State at all, though obviously the general locale is based on his knowledge of upstate.
If I remember correctly, this is my favourite GM Parker novel. Not the least role played in that relative absense of Claire.
The main heist is masterfully plotted, Devers is a likebale character, and crookedness of the analyst is scaring, add to the mix a couple of psychos, and we’ll get first-rate Parker adventure.
Another pleasure of this book is dialogues between analyst and Ellen. You can only dream of something like that, that Parker’s character will be dissected and analyzed not in a blogpost but in a novel.
I’d argue Claire is a very powerful absent presence in this book–we know something about him that Ellen and Godden do not–that he has feelings for her, but he would never put them on display–they’re not relevant to the work he’s doing, but they do seem to have a stabilizing effect on him. We can’t really know exactly what those feelings are, but we can tell this much–Claire is rarely absent from his thoughts.
I think you could stick Parker in a prison hospital with a hundred of the best psychiatrists who ever lived, and by the end, they’d have a hundred different opinions, and none of them would be right–oh, and Parker would escape, of course. Probably killing quite a few of them in the process. The rest would probably end up going insane from trying to figure him out.
Probably my favorite GM Parker is the last one. Which is not very far away now.
Claire always gets on my nerves. It’s better when she’s out of the picture.
What matters is not that no one will ever be able to figure Parker out, but that someone has tried it here. It’s just fun to read how amateur and a pro discuss Parker. If Parker stood at the door and listened in on their talks, he wouldn’t try to argue with them. He wouldn’t give a damn.
Except Claire has figured Parker out better than either of them (if not completely) in the previous book. They see him from a distance, and misinterpret him rather badly. For most of the series, Claire understands him the best, while still not sharing his way of looking at the world, and at people. Anyway, if you like it best when she’s out of the picture, this should not be your favorite GM–it should be The Sour Lemon Score. And he’s way back on his heels in that one.
I’ve occasionally had discussions with people who try to slot Parker into this or that psychiatric category–sociopath, psychopath, etc. I’m convinced one point of this book was to say “No psychiatrist could ever take Parker’s measure,” though Godden is hardly meant to represent the pinnacle of his profession, and he never gets to talk to Parker as a professional. I agree that one of the fascinating aspects of this book is seeing Parker analyzed in his absence–but strangely, the layperson seems to do a better job than the professional.
Godden tells Parker that Ellen described him very well, and that he wasn’t listening closely enough to her–he assumed she was projecting her own fears onto him, but once he’s met Parker, he realizes she was right, and he badly underestimated his opposition. Greed made him do that–he had to believe he was smarter than these men he was about to rob, or he wouldn’t dare to go for the money, and he needed the money so badly.
Maybe the point is that psychiatrists are just human beings, with the same weaknesses as the rest of us, and it’s a mistake to invest them with such great powers of perception. They have some training, some knowledge, that they can use to help or hurt their patients–Godden is not shown to be a complete incompetent.
But faced with something outside their experience, their training, they’re as helpless to understand as any layman. Their belief that they are authorities on the mind can work against them–make them overconfident. Nobody is an authority on the mind. Nobody knows enough about how it works.
This is my favorite (by a rather large margin) of the “The ____ ____ Score” period, for many of the reasons Ray mentions above. I like the heists that depend on a variety of strategies, including disguises, cons, and brute force (see also: Backflash). In an earlier review, you alluded to a conversation Parker has with Marty about his ex-wife and child, and I assume you’ve got more to say about that scene, so I’ll let that keep for now, except to say that it’s the closest Parker comes to making a joke*, until you realize: Nope. He’s perfectly serious.
*There are a few one-liners Parker drops as he’s dispatching an enemy (“Now you’re the message”; “I came here to tell you your problems are over after all”; “We live and learn, Ray”) that technically qualify as jokes, and while I enjoy them, they do seem a little out of character. The Parker I know wouldn’t bother with the one-liner. What’s the point? Wasted energy.
I have a hard time imagining Parker in that shiny gold tunic. Fortunately, he’s not in it very long. One thing we should remember, in terms of the lax security at the base is that even though the country is at war (Devers specifically says he joined the Air Force with the intention of not ending up in the jungle getting shot at), nobody really expects any kind of attack. They’re theoretically aware of the possibility, but nobody really believes it will happen.
These days, I’m pretty sure they’d call to make sure Ernie Seven and the Four Score were for real. I sure hope so. My brother worked for a contractor, and spent two years at the Bagram air base in Afghanistan–there were many attacks, but nobody ever faked his way in to attack it. “What do you mean, you have to call the officer’s club? We’re Osama bin lovin’ and his Improvising Devices! Look at our shiny gold burkas!”
Parker’s repeatedly expressed willingness to kill absolutely anybody during the course of this book will have to be addressed, yes. I agree he’s dead serious, but I’m not completely sure he means it the way it sounds.
I don’t think Parker jokes, exactly. There is a sense of humor there somewhere–he laughs at the end of The Seventh–he sees the absurdity of the situation. He laughs at some of Claire’s one-liners. Wolves have a sense of humor; why shouldn’t he? You should see the expression on my dog’s face when he drops his ball someplace he KNOWS I’m going to have to scramble to get it back, and he just sits back and watches me, with a big grin on his face. Dogs laugh–this is a real thing–there’s science behind it–if you don’t believe me, ask Google.
Parker does a lot of things that aren’t quite pragmatic–like, you know, taking on an entire criminal organization over a sum of money he could far more easily obtain elsewhere. He’s more of a pragmatic professional than those around him, but less of one than he likes to think, as Claire figured out in the previous book.
To me “Now you’re the message” is not a joke. The mob guy doesn’t understand why he’s about to die, and Parker tells him. Murder is not nothing to him–taking a life, for Parker, is always a significant event. He has to have a good reason. He may, in some situations, share that reason with his victim–in the case of that poor unlucky schmuck he comes back to bump off in Backflash, he is, I suppose, making a bit of a good news/bad news joke, but I don’t think he’s mocking the guy–it’s sympathetic humor. The one he kills a bit later, who deserves it, he’s just telling him the score.
But that review is a few years off. That’s going to be a tricky one. And yes, I like it too. And this one. But I can’t wait to get to The Sour Lemon Score. Of course, I have to go through The Black Ice Score to get to it. Oh well, maybe I’ll like it better this time.
I’ll have more to say about TBIS when the time comes, but not much of it will be good. And no, “Now you’re the message” isn’t a joke, exactly. But it is a bit of wordplay. (It’s also among my favorite moments in the entire series.) Sorry to stray off-topic so much. I tend to (like you, I think) see the series as a collective whole, and am prone to make associations through the decades. Back on topic: I’m actually a Claire fan, and I think this exchange for TGES is useful: “I only walk where the ice is thick.” “You walk on ice.” Which, as Parker points out, she knew going in, and it’s part of what drew her to him in the first place. He has a point. But so does she. A person doesn’t have to be just one thing. (Parker isn’t. He’s completely practical, except when it makes sense for him not to be.) It’s likely Claire couldn’t be happy with a partner “on the square,” but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t kill her inside a little to have to live so connected to that danger all the time.
When we’re discussing a Parker novel, nothing related to any of the novels can ever be off-topic. One thing we should remember, though is that we enjoy an advantage over earlier readers of the books, and over their author–we can look back over the whole twenty-four of them (and four Grofields), and make those associations, find patterns to bind the narrative together. Westlake had to figure it out as he went along. Small wonder there are occasional inconsistencies.
That exchange about ice is all the more interesting when you remember the much later exchange between Parker and Sandra Loscalzo, in Dirty Money–without any prompting, she says life is like walking over a frozen lake, and you have to stop and listen to make sure the ice is thick enough to hold you. And Parker is listening intently–finally, somebody else who gets it. He thought he was the only one. Claire understands him pretty well, but from a certain distance–Sandra shares his outlook. She’s a female version of him.
Sandra’s a lesbian, with a partner. Parker has Claire. Where would that relationship have gone if there had been just a few more novels? I doubt even Westlake knew for sure.
Wordplay may not come naturally to a wolf, but neither does gunplay–Parker learns to use whatever human tools he needs to survive. Within limits–I really can’t see him ever going online. 😉
Westlake was against authority (the reason why almost all his cops are crooked and incompetent). Psychiatrists in a way also are authority figures, claiming authority over our minds. Maybe that’s why Westlake made Godden crooked.
If he was completely against authority, then Anarchaos would have been a paradise–instead, it was hell. Westlake distrusts authority, but sees it as a necessary stabilizing factor–that the individual must rebel against when it threatens his identity.
One thing that bugs me about The Lion King is that the other animals are shown making obeisance to the lions–like the lions actually rule them, like they’re grateful to be eaten. That’s not how animals in the veldt feel about lions–they wish the lions were not there. The lions are not a good thing in their eyes–but they’re animals, so they don’t think about it that way. They accept the lions as part of their environment–a part to be avoided when possible–and the lions are part of how things stay in balance–how famine and starvation are avoided. And there are things keeping them in check as well. It’s only when modern civilized humans come into the picture that the balance is seriously threatened. Because we have a hard time accepting limits.
Westlake feels that way about authority–he’d rather be totally free, but he knows that freedom can never be absolute, as long as there are other beings to contend with. So authority helps keep things in balance–those that can accept it, do–those that can’t, rebel–but their rebellion is limited. When authority and individuality get out of balance–in either direction–you have a bad society. When they are in balance, things may not be perfect, but there’s the chance to achieve something as an individual–the existence of laws, limitations, makes freedom possible. It’s a paradox. But it’s the way things are, at least unless we become a very different animal than the one we are now.
I like that simile in the opening paragraph, “and he looked like a rip in the picture.” Total Parker. The aesthetic beauty of the Puerto Rican beach is not relevant. The presumably aesthetic beauty of pretty girls in bathing suits is not relevant (something that Travis McGee, for example, would not help but notice and comment on in the same situation). The “picture” is not relevant. The only thing that is relevant is the guy in the suit, the “rip.” Because he,whatever or whoever he is, represents something out of the norm. Could be danger, could be opportunity. Either way, deserving of Parker’s full concentration.
Yep – a classic bit of Starkian prose is right on.
p.s., Dortmunder would see the rip and wouldn’t notice the girls either (but Kelp would remind us the girls are there). In a Dortmunder book the simile would be more like “and he looked like a bug in a bowl of cornflakes” Meaning he “looked disturbingly out of place” more so than “he looked like something I have to focus on to the exclusion of everything else.”
Good point, except Dortmunder wouldn’t be on the beach to begin with–not at the start of the book, anyway. He did make it to Puerto Rico once, at the end of Good Behavior, and we’re told his scrawny physique in a bathing suit is reminiscent of a birdcage, or something like that. As you say, he operates under a very different set of rules, and if he sees trouble in the distance, his response isn’t to focus on it, but to run like hell away from it.
The neat thing about Puerto Rico is that you don’t need a passport to fly there from the U.S.–so it’s a way for Westlake to send a character we have no reason to think could get a valid passport to an exotic ‘foreign’ locale, without having to justify ingress or egress–Claire can go to Europe on her own, but only in the very last book is it implied Parker might consider joining her there.
Still, judging by how often it comes up, and how glowingly it’s described, Puerto Rico does seem to have been a place Westlake knew well and enjoyed deeply. Only been once myself, as a kid. Probably should go back sometime.
the titular seductress
I know what I said. 😉
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I totally forgot about that Kengle chapter. Maybe because there were similar chapters in The Seventh.
I like the question-and-answer sessions of Godden-and-Ellen, and Parker-and-Devers being so close to each other. Godden is ostensibly trying to guide Ellen through her emotions, but is really using her for information about the heist. Parker is probing Devers about his past embezzlement to figure out whether or not to take on the heist, but it turns into more of a teaching moment. Parker is more honest about what he’s after when asking his questions, and his decisions certainly turn out better for him.
Nice insight! Parker has no understanding of therapy–the notion of exposing your most vulnerable side to a stranger is, to him, insane (and he doesn’t really have vulnerabilities the same way we do). That’s why he doesn’t anticipate the problem from Godden.
However, he does see the value of being able to probe someone else for weakness–potential enemy or ally–figure out where the chinks in the armor are. The same way a wolf carefully scans a herd, picking out animals with minor health issues you or I would totally miss. Even dogs, as you must know, never stop watching us–because minor changes in our behavior could be crucial to them. Focus.
So a contrast is being drawn, you’re quite right. Modern psychology vs. primal. I missed that, and you got it. You have some wolf in you yourself, perhaps. 😉
Is this the way Parker thinks, or just the way Stark is interpreting his thoughts for us? ——— Good question. My strong sense is Parker knows the heisters will usually have a case of the nerves right before a job but as planner/leader of the heist, he will not. He can’t afford to allow his nerves override his mind in continually thinking through the details, forever alert to what’s happening around him. No likening himself to a stage manager for a play – that’s Stark’s thinking.
No matter how carefully the guards are briefed, they can’t help but get bored and caught up in the daily routine. The bigger and busier the installation, the less secure it is. Well, we know that now, right? ——– Very true. 9/11 case in point. And the numbness and stupidity extends to company people. I vividly recall an interview with the guy at the ticket counter in Maine. When he saw a group of those terrorists checking in, he knew intuitively something was definitely wrong, the vibe was so negative, those guys were up to no good. But, being a good company man, it wasn’t his job to call security (“shucks, I shouldn’t be suspicious just because they look Middle Eastern). Little did he know the dire consequences of his inaction and not listening to his inner voice and inner feelings.
Well yes, but one could cite countless other instances where people’s instincts were wrong, and there are consequences to that as well. People can look angry for all kinds of reasons. But in any event, Parker and his crew aren’t giving off a bad vibe of any kind (because they’re pros), so I don’t quite see the parallel.
Our national security shouldn’t depend on the gut instincts of ticket counter guys. I’m skeptical about that interview. There were a lot of more reliable ways the 9/11 perps could and should have been caught, well before the day it happened. He’s just writing himself into the story there. Munchausen by Proxy. I mean, I could be wrong. Just my gut instinct.
No, I wasn’t making a parallel to Parker and his gang – just using that ticket guy as an example of organization people accepting their mindless role as a cog in a big machine.
I agree re 9/11 and our National Security.
Re gut instincts et al – since I’ve been retired for 5+ years, I have a clearer view of how I had to turn off (or at least reduce) my inner voice/inner feelings as a survival technique when working in a suffocating industry as a young man.
Well sure, we all know about that, unless we’re very lucky.
However, I think Westlake’s main point here is that domestic Air Force bases (which he was well familiar with) weren’t really all that secure then (couldn’t say about now). It was a more relaxed time, in spite of some unrest, and nobody was all that interested in the Air Force. It was a relatively new part of the military, and had a somewhat lower status. Still does, really. (There’s no Air Force/Navy game.)
He was just remembering his own days on such bases, and thinking of various weaknesses Parker could exploit. As you say, the biggest one is complacency. But probably after this happened, in Parker’s universe, there was a lot of tightening up in the security department. So really, you could say he and the string were doing them a favor. For a nominal fee. Less than a consultant would have charged, I bet. 😉