Review: Dirty Money

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Through the chill of winter
Running across a frozen lake
Hunters are out on his trail
All odds are against him
With a family to provide for
The one thing he must keep alive
Will the wolf survive?

Louie Perez and David Hidalgo

When the silver Toyota Avalon bumped down the dirt road out of the woods and across the railroad tracks, Parker put the Infiniti into low and stepped out onto the gravel.  The Infiniti jerked forward toward the river as the Toyota slewed around behind it to a stop.  Parker picked up the full duffel bag from where he’d tossed it on the ground, and behind him, the Infiniti rolled down the slope into the river, all its windows open; it slid into the gray dawn water like a bear into a trout stream.

Parker carried the duffel in his arms and Claire got out of the Toyota to open its rear door and say, “Do you want to drive?”

“No.  I’ve been driving.” He heaved the duffel onto the backseat, then got around to take the passenger side in front.

Before getting behind the wheel, she stood looking toward the river, a tall slender ash-blonde in black slacks and a bulky dark red sweater against the October chill.  “It’s gone,” she said.

“Good.”

There.  I’ve done it.  Typed out the final opening from the final Parker novel.  I don’t usually start a review that way.  Seemed to fit here.  But where does this book fit into what is now and will ever remain, a twenty-four book epic?  One novel for each hour in the day.  Not planned.  Destined, maybe.

Not half as good as the one leading into it.  To be blunt, I’d be hard-pressed to rank it in the top twenty.  Flashfire is still the worst.  The best? I could say The Hunter, The Man With the Getaway Face, The Score, The Jugger, The Seventh, The Rare Coin Score, The Green Eagle Score, The Sour Lemon ScoreDeadly Edge, Slayground, Butcher’s Moon, Breakout, or yeah, Ask The Parrot–and mean it every time.  This dark horse is out of the running, in either race.  Neither best nor worst–it’s the last.  For that alone, attention must be paid.

Much of what you find in it is more than good.  It contains many crisp clean clarified currents of prose, like what you just read up top.  Stark can still write like no one else.  But he seems a little confused here, as to what he’s writing about, and to what end.  Maybe because he knows, on a molecular level–this is the end. Nobody runs forever.  Whatever may become of Parker, Mr. Westlake’s string has almost run out, and Stark can’t go on without Westlake.  Anymore than Westlake could have gone on this long without Stark. Package deal.

The book is saying hello and goodbye at the same time; finishing arcs begun in Nobody Runs Forever, and in books before that–and starting new arcs, which we’ll never see the end of, can only speculate about.  It’s designed to be a pivot for the series, but it’s a pivot to nowhere, which I suppose is a fair description of death.

About the title.   I never liked it.  Always wondered what the point of it was.  How is this money any dirtier than what came before?  Because the bills from the bank are new, the law has the serial numbers, and Parker has to find a way to negotiate this marked moolah.  So the problem isn’t that it’s dirty, but that it’s too damn clean.  I guess you could say the money he’s going to get in place of it is dirty.  Or that all money is, by definition.  (Would Filthy Lucre be a better title?  Not for this franchise.)

The overseas market liked the title well enough, since every foreign language edition I’ve found translates it literally.  What you can say for certain is that for the second time in this Triptych, Westlake is consciously recycling the title of a foreign-made crime film.  Not the original title.  The American release title.  Huh.

I’m a longtime admirer of Jean Pierre Melville, Prince of the Nouvelle Vague.  (Wait for Godard all you like.)  His final film, Un Flic (aka Dirty Money) is not one of my favorites, in part because it’s so hard to see a decent print.  First time we rented a (bad) video of it, it was for Deneuve, and she was barely in it.

The dialogue can get a bit too vague, and it’s not tres nouvelle.  The scene with the toy helicopter and the model train is cheesy. He didn’t have the budget to pull the visual off, and maybe he didn’t care–these days, they’d be using CGI, and I’d be yapping about that.  I should probably give it another chance–great cast, some beautiful moments, and with Melville, it’s easy to miss the point.  He’s always got one.  But he hides it under a smoke screen of crime fiction.  Like Stark.  And he’s all about identity.  Like Westlake.

Catherine Deneuve doesn’t have a big role in Un Flic, but she’s still a key player in it–same thing could be said of Claire–who for the first and only time in this series is said to be a blonde–no more born that way than Deneuve.  Claire’s a redhead in Nobody Runs Forever.  No hint of her tint in any other book.  I’m going to go on thinking of her as brunette, and go on wondering why Westlake chose to bring up her hair color twice in the Triptych, after four decades of never mentioning it.

You can’t tell me he didn’t know the Melville film, a noir-inflected bank job yarn that feels more Starkian than anything Hollywood ever cranked out, allowing for the usual dose of existential fatalism that won’t let us have our cake and eat it too.  As with The High Commissioner/Nobody Runs Forever, there’s no direct influence.  But I don’t think this is a coincidence.  Knowing what something isn’t doesn’t prove you know what it is, so that’s enough about the title.

So how about the dedication?  Most Parker novels have none–the two previous books in the Triptych didn’t.  But here, before the title page, we get “This is for Dr. Quirke, and his creator–two lovely gents.”  I’m disappointed at how easy this case was to crack.  Dr. Quirke is the creation of John Banville, writing under the pseudonym Benjamin Black.  A mystery solving pathologist, hopefully less annoying than Quincy M.E. (I’ll find out at some point).  He and Westlake sort of interviewed each other for Newsweek.  Good bit of craic there.

One more thing before we get down to it. After a long rewarding stint at The Mysterious Press, the last two Westlake novels–the final Parker, the final Dortmunder–were put out by Grand Central Publishing.  A division of Hachette.

So let me get this straight.   Westlake’s two most famous characters departed this world via the auspices of a publishing imprint named after a world famous point of departure, under the umbrella of a huge media corporation, the name of which looks like a synonym for ax?  And people bitch about the contrivances in fiction.  The world is not simple enough to understand.  This book might be, so let’s talk about that.

Avalon meets Infiniti by a river (not subtle, still pretty).  Infiniti having been ditched, Parker and Claire head back to their personal Avalon by Colliver Pond, so he can take a short siesta, after which he needs her to drive him to Nelson McWhitney’s bar on Long Island, to talk about Nick Dalesia.  Who is now a major problem, because as Claire tells Parker, he escaped while being transferred to Federal custody–killing a marshal as he went.  The one thing that gets cops most focused on you–when you kill one of them.

Minor continuity error here–not the last in this book.  Parker says they grabbed Dalesia yesterday.  Yesterday he was pulling a heist with Tom Lindahl.  The day before yesterday, he met Tom Lindahl, and was going to pass on the heist Tom proposed, until he saw the news about Dalesia’s capture on TV.  Parker’s tired, sure.  He can make mistakes.  So can crime fiction authors in their 70’s.  (Or crime fiction bloggers at any age, but I’m right about this.)

We get one last physical description, elusive as always--“a big ropy man who looked squeezed into the Toyota.”  (Avalons are full-sized sedans, and he’s in the front passenger seat, so very big and ropy.)

Claire is taken aback when Parker offhandedly reveals that he pulled a second heist while on the run from the first one.  A long heavy duffel, crammed with untraceable cash.  Unlike the very traceable cash still hidden at the church in Massachusetts.  If they’re going to get that, find some way to fence it, they need to move, and soon.

Parker doesn’t trust the makeshift ID Lindahl made for him, useful as it was over the past two days.  His better-quality fake ID that he used in Massachusetts is now known to the law, worse than useless.  He’s got to get new papers, a new identity.  He’s coming to grips with the fact that things have changed, and it’s harder to slip through the cracks than it used to be.

For him to go on operating in this brave new digital world, he’s going to need 100% top-drawer ID work done.  Which is going to cost him.  So we’re back where we started, but with a switch.  In the first book, he made his own driver’s license at the DMV, forging the official stamp with a ballpoint pen, and he could open a bank account with it.  In the second book, it was plastic surgery.  Now, in the final book, it’s just a better grade of plastic.  That will hold up to all but the most intense scrutiny.

As they drive out to Long Island, late in the day, he fills her in on what’s happened since he last saw her, which involves obliquely mentioning that there’s been a fair bit of premature mortality going on, which has always been the part of Parker’s life she didn’t want to know about.  She’s been loosening up on this rule more and more, but he’s still surprised when she says she wants to come into the bar–same bar where Roy Keenan was murdered, by the bar’s proprietor. Not that he told her that, but she’s got more than an inkling.

Sandra Loscalzo is there, still trying to get her reward money for Harbin.  McWhitney gave her the location of the body, she’s waiting to hear if it was found.  If it isn’t, she figures she can turn Parker and McWhitney in for a reward.  She’s real upfront about that.  I’d say she takes no prisoners, except that’s exactly what she does.  Dead or alive.

They’re all sizing each other up, distrust running in more than one direction, but Sandra’s the odd woman out, since she’s the only one who talks to the law.  Claire makes it clear that if the cops come to her door, she knows how to lie, and men love hearing her lie.  Sandra’s hand is in her pocket while she’s talking.  She knows Parker isn’t going to let her walk out of there if she’s going to the law. She respects that.  But she’s getting her money.  One way or the other.  He respects that.  Impasse.

Sandra has an idea about the bank money–why doesn’t she go get it?  For a share, of course.  Parker points out that even though there’s no warrant out on her, the cops could be sitting on the cash, waiting to see who comes for it–and if they get her, they’ll get everything she knows. The impasse is put on hold when she gets a callback–they found Harbin.  Everybody leaves, and Nels locks up.

Next day, Parker stashes the cash from the track, and comes back to see FBI agents are paying Claire a little social call.  They are following up on a lead–Nick Dalesia called the house, several times.  She convinces them she doesn’t know the man, he was never there, and they leave. No mention of her brother, Mr. John B. Allen, now wanted for bank robbery.  No mention of a Lexus registered to her, that he was driving, and she reported stolen.

So you can justify this by different law-enforcement bureaucracies not playing well together–still a thing, even today–or say that these hunters are being patient.  Or you can say that the justifications are getting too hard to justify.  Too much work to make it work.

In fairness, the area around the house is deserted–the summer people are gone–nobody else there the G-Men can talk to, about any gentlemen callers the charming Ms. Willis might have.  But you have to figure that they’re going to find out she was connected, under a different last name, to the armed robbery of a coin collector’s convention in Indianapolis.  (How many years ago?  A lady never tells.)

It’s getting to the point where the house in New Jersey is getting impossible to justify.  Parker accepted, long ago, that the house was essential to Claire, and she was essential to him, so they’ve done a lot of workarounds.  This book seems to be the beginning of where it becomes impossible to make it work anymore.  Something’s got to give.  (Turned out to be Westlake’s ticker.)

But whether or not the Bureau suspects Claire of harboring a hardened criminal (one way of putting it), something has to be done about that money.  Something has to be done about Dalesia.  Both are to be found near a small town in northwestern Massachusetts.  Parker needs to be there.  He needs Claire to make him look like a tourist–a leaf peeper, as they say. No fleabag motel this time. Best look extra-legit.  They’ll check into a bed and breakfast.

“You folks here for the robbery?”

The place was called Bosky Rounds, and the pictures on the website had made it look like somewhere Hansel and Gretel might have stopped off.  Deep eaves, creamy stucco walls, broad dark green wooden shutters flanking the old-fashioned multipaned windows, and a sun god knocker on the front door. The Bosky Rounds gimmick, though they wouldn’t have used the word, was that they offered maps of nearby hiking trails through the forest, for those leaf peepers who would like to be surrounded by their subject.  It was the most rustic and innocent accommodation Claire could find, and Parker had agreed it was perfect for their purposes.

Mrs. Bartlett, the matronly owner of this twee establishment, bears a marked resemblance to Mrs. Krutchfield, proprietress of The Sewing Kit B&B in upstate New York, who appeared in Westlake’s Smoke.

This being Stark, not Westlake, the comic elements are more muted, but still present.  She’s all agog about the bank robbery (she doesn’t come out and say it will give a little boost to business, but she’s thinking it).  Keeps talking about how they used bazookas, and Parker refrains from saying they were Carl-Gustafs. Same basic kind of tool, what does he care?

The idea of Claire being there is not only that she’s got real ID she can get through roadblocks with, but that she’s such a stunner, the cops will be looking at her, not Parker, so they won’t be comparing him to that sketch on the wanted posters.  This theory is put to the test when they meet Terry Mulcany, a freelance journalist who does ‘true crime’ books.

He’s there interviewing anybody he can find who knows anything about the bank job.  He’s so busy chatting up Claire, he doesn’t notice Parker, who is standing right there.  While Parker is thinking about what he’s going to do to this guy if he ever does notice something besides Claire (but that, again, is one of the great advantages of having Claire around).

Under the pretext of driving to a local seafood restaurant, they pass the church twice–no sign of surveillance.  They get back, and Sandra Loscalzo is now ensconced at Bosko Rounds.  Different kind of surveillance.  She suggests they go have a few drinks together.

Sandra’s problem was not solved by finding Harbin’s remains, because there were so many law enforcement agencies after him, offering money for him (dead or alive), that they now need to work out whose budget line Sandra’s money comes out of.  This is the kind of shop talk Parker likes, because it means there’s still cracks in the system for him to slip through.  This may be The Information Age he’s living in now, but more information means more confusion.

So she again points out that she could expose Parker, and he again points out that he could kill her and her girlfriend in Cape Cod, who Sandra says has gone on a little holiday (which when you think about it, is exactly what Claire does when Parker is involved in something extra-heavy.)

Claire dusts off her diplomatic skills, and the way it works out is Sandra just wants a taste of the bank money–not all of Nick’s share–just half of it.  She could be useful.  Parker can’t deny that.  But he’s nowhere close to trusting her.  And he knows she’s going to try and follow them when they leave the bar.  Which makes it not too difficult to shake her in the dark–at which point he goes to check out the church, while Claire drives around in circles, ready to pick him up.

The money’s still there, hidden under hymnals.  Nobody sitting on it.  No cops, no Dalesia. Good.  And when he gets back to Bosky Rounds, Sandra is there on the porch.  She knows he’s been checking on their money.  And he acknowledges, verbally, that part of it is hers.  Her offer has been accepted.

In this same chapter, while they’re driving to the church, Parker makes it clear that if the Feds get any more interested in her, they’re both going to have to leave Colliver Pond for good.  Claire says that if she has to abandon her house, change her name, go back to living like a gypsy all year, she’ll do it.  She won’t like it.  Parker will go further out on a limb for her than anyone (in that he will go out on a limb for her at all).  So he’s still holding out hope that the exodus can be averted.  Whether he believes that is another matter.  (Speaking as a reader, I don’t.  The house is already half-burned.  At least.)

Now it’s time for the other good-looking nosy blonde in this Triptych to reemerge.  Detective Gwen Reversa, of the MA state police.  She comes into Bosky Rounds at breakfast time, making her rounds, and Parker has Claire block his face with her newspaper.  Sandra notices all this from her vantage point, figures out what it means.

As she figures out what Parker means, when he asks Mrs. Bartlett for directions to a scenic overview of the area, while she is sitting right there listening.  He wants a meet.  Up at the lookout, the three of them discuss the options.  Parker has to leave the B&B.  Claire has to stay, keep up a front.  And Sandra will drive Parker back to Long Island, so they can bring McWhitney into the picture.

Sandra gets them there by mid-afternoon. McWhitney, not the most chivalrous guy you’ll ever meet, will not say he’s pleased to see her, though a pleasing sight she remains. Thought they’d concluded their business when she got her body (and he knows he’s never getting hers). Nor is he pleased she’s getting a split of the take.

But as they fill him in, he realizes there’s no choice, other than letting it all go.  And while she’s in a different business than them, she’s got a talent for planning, logistics, finding cracks to slip through  Again, reminding me of someone.  Point is–

Parker said, “You’ve figured out a way to get our money out.”

“I think so.” To McWhitney she said, “You pretty well know the business operations around this neighborhood.”

“Pretty well.”

“Do you know a used-car lot, maybe kind of grungy, no cream puffs?”

McWhitney grinned for the first time since he’d laid eyes on Sandra.  “I know a dozen of them,” he said.  “Whadayou need?”

“A truck.  A small beat-up old truck, delivery van, something like that.  Black would be best, just so it isn’t too shiny.”

“A truck.” McWhitney sounded disgusted.  “To move the stash.”

“That’s right.”

“What makes this truck so wonderful?  It’s invisible?

“Pretty much so,” she said.  “Whatever color it is, and I really would like it black, we use the same color to paint out whatever name might already be on it.  Then, on both doors, in white, we paint Holy Redeemer Choir.”

“Holy shit,” McWhitney said.

“We’re the redeemers,” Sandra told him.  “It’s okay if the name on the doors is a bit amateurish, but we should try to do our best with it.”

McWhitney slowly nodded.  “The choir’s coming to get their hymnals.”

“And we’ll get some, too,” Sandra said, “in case anybody wants to look in back.”

“Jesus, you always gotta insult me,” McWhitney said.  “Here I was thinking you weren’t so bad.”

“I was used to dealing with Roy,” she said, and shrugged.

McWhitney says she should thank him for breaking up the partnership, i.e., knocking Roy’s brains out with a baseball bat.  She doesn’t bat an eye.  Who is this broad?

We get a serious clue, as she and Parker stop to eat on their way back.  He’s noticing that she’s not quite like the people he usually deals with.  She’s more like–well–him.  But unlike him, she’s living in the straight world, catching crooks, working with the law.  And now she’s getting throwing in with bank robbers.  He needs to know she knows what she’s doing here.  Who she is.  What she is.

While they waited for their food, Parker said, “This whole thing is the wrong side of the street for you.”

Sandra grimaced.  “I don’t think of it like that,” she said.  “What I think, there’s no sides to the street because there is no street.”

“What is there?”

She studied him, trying to decide how much to tell him, moving her fork back and forth on the table with her left hand. Then she shrugged, and left the fork alone, and said, “I figured it out when I was a little girl, what my idea of the world is.”

“What’s that?”

“A frozen lake,” she said.  “Bigger than you can see the end of.  Every day, I get up, I gotta move a little more along the lake.  I gotta be very careful and very wary, because I don’t know where the ice is too thin.  I gotta listen and watch.”

“I’ve seen you do it.”

She grinned and nodded, as though more pleased with him than herself.  “Yeah, you have.”

They were both silent a minute, and then their food came.  The waitress went away and Sandra picked up her fork, but then she paused to say, “You go see a war movie, the guy gets hurt, he yells ‘Medic!’, they come to take him away, fix him up.  Out here, you get hurt, you yell ‘Medic!’, you know what happens?”

“Yeah, I do.”

“There’s no sides,” she said.  “No street.  We just do what we’ve got to do to get across the lake.”

I can’t imagine a more perfect metaphor for how Parker lives his life.  If he gave a damn about metaphors, neither could he.  (And as Greg just reminded me, he trotted out that exact metaphor in The Green Eagle Score,  though he was a lot less wordy about it.  Maybe Sandra had a year or two of college on her lake.)

And what you have to ask–what he’s asking himself, as he listens to her–is she like him?  Is it possible he’s not alone in this insane world after all?  She figured all this out when she was a child.  As he must have done.  When you’re that different, you figure it out early.  And you start figuring out how to make that work for you.  Because you don’t have any choice.

Like him, she lives from score to score.  Like him, she returns to a woman and a house after each score.  Like him, she hides what she really is, blends into the herd, because she can never have a pack.

But she went another way with it.  Makes sense.  Maybe he could have gone that way, in a different life, a different time.  Right now, she’s starting to go his way, as their paths across the lake converge.

They get back to Bosky Rounds, and Claire quietly says they have to leave. Reversa was here again.  No doubt what side of the street she’s on (or that she believes there is a street).  She gave Mrs. Barlett wanted posters to put up there. If people can compare the police sketch with Parker, sitting there having breakfast, somebody will make the connection.

Parker tells Claire she can’t check out yet.  Leave tomorrow, so it doesn’t seem like she’s running.  He’s going to hide out at the church, with the money.  Sandra drives him there.  For all their mutual understanding, there’s still plenty of distrust (which is what you expect from two carnivores who pair up to take down something too big for a lone wolf).

She gives him a mover’s pad, to serve as a blanket.  It’s going to be cold in that church.  She’s got some bottled water as well.  He’s going to be hungry, but he’s used to that.  He checks everything out after she drops him off.  Nothing changed.  Just have to wait for McWhitney to come with the truck.

It was a long empty day.  For part of it he walked, indoors or out, and other parts he sat against a wall in the empty house or curled into the moving pad again and slept.  He woke from one of those with the long diagonals of late afternoon light coming in the window and Nick Dalesia seated cross-legged on the floor against the opposite wall.  The revolver in his right hand, not exactly pointing anywhere, would belong to the dead marshal.

Parker sat up.  “So there you are,” he said.

Somehow, even when you’ve got a gun on Parker and he’s barehanded, it always feels like you’re the one in danger.  Dalesia’s got the drop on him, and he should drop him.  But he needs a car.  Does Parker have one parked nearby?  (Damn, again seeing why Westlake sometimes regretted choosing that name.)

They’re five feet apart.  Parker has to play this just right.  Stay calm, wait for the opening.  Nick keeps asking questions, trying to figure out what Parker is doing here.  Then he knows–Parker is waiting–for back-up–and to kill him.  He hesitates.  Just for a moment.  They’re friends, aren’t they?  Oh Nick.  You know better.  The job is over.  You killed a cop.  You want all the money now.  The rules have changed.  For all we know, this is what happened to Handy McKay.

Parker tosses the water bottle towards Nick, and just for a moment it catches his eye.  A moment is all Parker needs.  He throws the makeshift blanket, and makes his move.  A bullet pierces the mat.  End of Part One.  I’ll do Parts Two and Three next time.  Then Part Four.  And then we’re done with Stark.

I don’t know if the frozen lake thing is a coincidence.  Los Lobos came out with that song back in 1984.  It was pretty popular.  Westlake could have heard it. And very different minds sometimes run along parallel lines.  If you believe in lines. Do you believe the wolf will survive?

I need to.

 

(Part of Friday’s Forgotten Books)

48 Comments

Filed under Donald Westlake novels, Parker Novels, Richard Stark

48 responses to “Review: Dirty Money

  1. As we discussed in the comments section of your review of The Green Eagle Score, the ice metaphor harkens back to Parker’s discussion with Claire about the risks he works under. “I only walk where the ice is thick,” he tells her, his attempt to reassure her. “You walk on ice,” she counters, not reassured, illustrating the distance that still exists between them, as close as they are. Sandra was an interesting addition to Parker’s rogues gallery. A semi-rogue. A lone wolf. Entirely unlike anyone we’ve seen before in this series. Except maybe one guy.

    • I’ve noted that parallel before, but you know, sometimes things get misfiled. I still think maybe he heard the Los Lobos song. 😉

      Maybe it’s this simple. Westlake probably wasn’t going to kill Parker off, maybe not even if he lived to write another twenty-four books. But knows this could be the last one. He’s going to give himself some room to run, in case he’s wrong. All he has left now is Parker and Dortmunder, and he can’t write without those voices.

      He tended to change up the supporting players a lot more when writing as Stark. But he does want there to be some continuity between the books. He seems to feel he’s done enough with the Mackeys. The earlier string members feel too retro. So he’s got to create new ones. McWhitney is far from my favorite sideman, but he’s not bad. The bar has some potential, Parker’s equivalent of the OJ, with McWhitney as a criminal Rollo. Could have worked out.

      Sandra, I’m entirely convinced now, is meant to be Parker 2.0–he’s never put that question to Parker before. What if you met somebody who was like you?

      And it’s an interesting question. Wolves in the wild tend to have uneasy working relationships. Wolf packs are basically nuclear families–the reigning pair and their pups. Very tight and loving, but inherently unstable, and they tend to peter out after a few generations, be replaced by new packs.

      Wolves who aren’t closely related can work together on a score, but they don’t become friends. Stanley Coren summarized the results of one study in Psychology Today–

      They concluded that among wolves, except for individuals that were related to one another, their social interactions could be described as uneasy alliances between individuals with both shared and conflicting interests. It is much more like people working in the same corporation who work together toward similar goals while each has his own ambitions to get ahead of everyone else. There are clearly social interactions here, but not true friendships except with those other wolves who are bound by direct kinship.

      “Uneasy alliances between individuals with both shared and conflicting interests” sounds a lot like your typical Stark novel. It also sounds like the majority of interactions between humans. It must be the way nearly all human ancestors lived. Warily circling each other with their hands on their knives.

      But we modern humans can make friends, and so can dogs–because together, during our long partnership, we’ve created this idea, of an enlarged sense of community, crossing family and racial and species lines. Which also keeps breaking down under stress. Nothing’s perfect.

      Parker and Sandra don’t have this. Not because they’re sociopaths. Because they’ve wolves, who got born into the wrong bodies. And who see how unreliable our social system really is. They’re not going to trust it. The ice is too thin.

      I’ve questioned many times whether Westlake saw it this way, but the further I’ve gone into the books, the more I believe he did. Too many hints to be just coincidence. It may have come on him by increments, but it came.

      So yeah, he’s dropping that in there, referring back to what Parker said in The Green Eagle Score, without being too obvious about it. Parker isn’t going to exclaim “Hey, I was saying the same thing to Claire, back before I robbed this army base!” It goes without saying (and a lot of people reading this book won’t have read the other one). One wolf recognizes another. They’ve been sizing each other up the last few meetings, and now they’re sure.

      What do they do about it? They’ve both got mates. What’s going on between them isn’t about sex, at least not for the moment. Parker has always had to allow for the fact that even his most reliable colleagues can’t really understand him. Neither can Claire. Sandra can. Because she’s out on the lake with him.

      Maybe the point is, when Parker’s finished running, there’ll be others to continue the crossing. Westlake needed to believe that. Because he knew his run was just about done. He could hear the ice cracking.

      • I believe Westlake intended this to be the last Parker novel, or at least knew it would be whether he intended it or not. There’s a big fat clue pointing me towards that conclusion, which I’ll discuss in the next part (or more likely, the one after that), but more than that, there’s a sense of Westlake settling his affairs with this novel, of him tying off the last of the loose ends, tidying up before he goes.

        • Yes and no. He’s tying down loose ends while creating a bunch more. He’s setting up for future plots. The new ID, and the new possibilities it creates (maybe Parker could pull a job across the puddle, with Lou Sternberg, and Canada would be a cinch). The dangerous arrangement with Cosmopolitan Beverages and what’s behind it. Claire’s increasing involvement in Parker’s work life, and the increasing impracticality of staying in that house much longer. McWhitney and Sandra.

          To know it’s coming doesn’t mean you know when. If it turns out he gets a year or two more than he thought, he wants to spend that time writing books. Because that’s who he is. What he is. Every time but the last time. You can’t know it’s the end until it’s too late to do anything about it. So you just keep walking across the lake.

  2. I’m hard pressed to pick a favorite Parker, though this one certainly isn’t it. I tend to divide the series into groups (they group fairly cleanly by publisher, until the very end, when that falls apart). These are my favorites today (likely to change):

    Pocket Books: The Score
    Gold Medal: The Green Eagle Score
    Random House: Slayground, Butcher’s Moon (tie)
    Mysterious Press (Comeback to Breakout): Backflash
    Mysterious Press and Grand Central (Final Triptych): Ask the Parrot

    • Can’t argue with any of those. Pretty sure that if I absolutely had to pick a favorite, it’d be one of the Pockets (there’s a certain mystique there). But that I’d consider several books from each publisher says a lot about how consistent this series was across the years.

      Maybe at some point I’ll do a follow-up piece on the different publishing eras. I’ve already talked some about how the series changed over time, but we could get more specific about it. I think with each new turn of the screw, Stark would add a new layer. Ask a new set of questions.

      Sometimes it got too complicated, too far off the reservation, ala Flashfire. But when it worked–as in Backflash, or Ask The Parrot–even if you don’t think it’s as good as The Score, or Butcher’s Moon, you still feel like it deepens the overall effect. Like an addition to a Cathedral that took generations to complete. The initial purity and intensity of focus is diminished, but is replaced by perspective that only comes with time and thought.

      There’s nothing harder to write than this kind of series fiction, where each book has to stand completely on its own, while still fitting into the larger design, like one block in a patchwork quilt. Maybe this last block is hinting at a whole new quilt.

      (Hmm, that would be an interesting arts & crafts project. One block for each novel. I must check Etsy sometime to see if anyone’s tried that.)

    • mikesschilling

      I’d put Comeback slightly above Backflash, but otherwise concur.

      • Comeback has a more interesting nemesis (a sort of twisted mirror image of Parker, who poses as a cop, complete with squad car, as Parker did in The Score). Backflash has the better string, a more satisfying heist and Westlake was writing on his home turf, which always helps.

        It’s very close. Firebreak and Breakout are also top notch. Flashfire‘s the only dud in that batch, and it’s not awful. Just sub-par. The movie was awful. That’s on the producers.

        • mikesschilling

          And both had engaging and believable descriptions of the organizations being robbed. I found the televangelists more interesting than the gambling boat. De gustibus.

          • Cherchez les femmes. Comeback has Brenda Mackey at her captivating conniving best, and the curvaceous choir chick ain’t bad.

            But Backflash has the redoubtable Noelle Braselle, and her possible post-heist hookup with Wycza. Susan Cahill’s a decent eyeful, but a bit on the chilly side. Advantage Comeback, but just barely.

            (If I ever get in trouble with the PC police, I’ll know the blog is finally popular.)

            • mikesschilling

              Possible best non-Parker line ever: “I’m not a game.”

              (Also a good caption for a Magritte painting of a soccer match.)

  3. mikesschilling

    Random thoughts:

    Worst title in the series. Far too generic, and it should have three words.

    This is the most we’ve seen of Claire in a long time, and the first we’ve seen her as an actress since Rare Coin Score. It’s fun.

    Parker would never saddle himself with a partner, much less one as dumb as Keenan. Perhaps that’s a comment on how difficult it is for a woman to establish herself with no man present. That, together with her obviously having been the brains of the outfit, makes Sandra a sort of Laura Holt. Though I think Laura would have had a least a few bad days if Remington Steele had been clubbed to death, unlike Sandra, who seems fine with it.

    In previous books, there didn’t seem to be much danger associated with part of your string being arrested. When the police got wosshisname in The Seventh (the one guy who wound up in jail rather than dead) , Parker’s not worried at all. Here he assumes that Dalesia will sell both him and Nels for a reduced sentence (before Nick become a cop-killer, anyway.)

    • Same with Mike Carlow in The Rare Coin Score (though Mike had a far more disagreeable crew member to rat out). Back in those days, there was no handle on Parker for anyone to be able to trade. They could give police Parker’s name (if that actually is his name), but no fixed address, no phone number, nothing. Parker’s settled now, easier to get a bead on. Fred’s right. It’s not sustainable. Sooner or later, those walls on Colliver Pond are gonna come tumbling down.

      • Mike knew he’d get out at some point.

        Otto Mainzer would know Parker had his share, and he’s not the type anyone wants to make deals with.

        Dalesia killed a marshal, and honestly, I have a hard time seeing them cutting any deal with him after that, but he’d be scared enough to try.

    • Yeah, he broke numeric sequence there, not sure why. Maybe because of the American release title for okay foreign crime films thing, but Ask The Parrot was never the title of anything beforehand, that I can find.

      Parker had to saddle himself with much worse than Keenan, but never for very long, and he could always kill them himself. When Nels jokes about how he did her a favor, Sandra’s probably thinking yeah no kidding. But she’s not a killer, at least not yet. She didn’t have to go down that road. The Remington Steele thing occurred to me as well, but Keenan’s never going to be James Bond.

      Parker is resisting technology, like Dortmunder. He doesn’t seem to trust cellphones, though people around him are using them. Of course, the new technology hasn’t been entirely conducive to privacy, has it? What he needs to learn is not so much how to employ it, but how to get around it.

  4. Agree that Dirty Money is the worst title in the series, though Slayground is close. (Seriously, that’s like the title of an ’80s slasher flick, and it’s a pun to boot.)

    Best titles in the series:

    The Hunter
    The Sour Lemon Score
    Butcher’s Moon
    Ask the Parrot

    • Slayground is an oddity, being the only one-word title, and I don’t know if it was Westlake’s choice–we know that The Man With the Getaway Face was Bucklin Moon’s idea, and Westlake was going to call it The Mask. I’m of two minds about that, though I know Mike isn’t.

      All the Pockets had those two word titles, a noun preceded by the definite article of speech. I seem to recall that there was some reason Westlake switched to four word titles ending in ‘score’ when he moved Parker over to Gold Medal, but I can’t remember what it was (the two reprints of books that had been adapted just took the movie titles, irritating, but commercially unavoidable).

      Random House titles were all a noun proceeded by a descriptor. In the case of Slayground, it’s one compound word. Hyphenated in the first edition, and a few others, but not the U of C edition. If it had been two separate words, it would be less like an 80’s horror movie, but since it got turned into an 80’s horror movie, I suppose there’s no point kicking about it.

      The titles from a given batch of Parkers tend to match up with each other in some way. But now and again, one sticks out. Maybe those outliers are the ones some editor had a hand in. Or maybe Westlake couldn’t find a title he liked that matched the template he’d been working from.

      What would you call Slayground? Unfair Ground, maybe? Inducement Park? (too Jane Austen). Nothing I can think of would sell as many books as the original. Which is, after all, what titles are there to achieve. Otherwise you could just call it Parker #14. Which seems a tad pedestrian.

      Dirty Money begins as a book about getting the loot out of that church and dealing with the problem of Dalesia. It ends as a book about finding a way to unload the cash, and dealing with some kibbitzers who want to deal themselves in. The one consistent throughout is the money. So a title referring to the money makes sense. And given that he’d started the Triptych with a title repurposed from a movie, he probably figured he’d end it the same way.

      And again, what would work better?

      Follow The Money would match the previous two panels. It seems to have been used for a whole bunch of other books, none of which look very good.

      Of course, the same could be said of The Hunter.

      How about What’s In A Name? Doesn’t address the story, doesn’t match the previous two books, but isn’t it strange that somebody who loved The Bard as much as Westlake never made any of his titles a Shakespeare quote?

  5. The Mask is a great title, and would have provided some symmetry to the first eight, but the series isn’t really about symmetry. There are all these bumps and outliers along the way. The Man With the Getaway Face is also a great title. In that case, I’m happy with either one.

    Alternate titles for Slayground
    Dangerous Game (though maybe that makes the Connell connection too explicit)
    Fun and Games (Too cutesy? Yeah, maybe.)
    The Island (back to the Pocket Books convention, though then people might confuse it with The Handle)

    Alternate Titles for Dirty Money
    Break the Bank
    Make Ends Meet
    Frozen Lake

    All right, I didn’t say I was any better at coming up with titles, just that those are the two worst in the series.

    • I have to tell you, Slayground may not be the best title, but it has quite a few supporters out there (it’s the only Parker novel I’ve seen listed in a mainstream magazine article about cool stuff–Esquire, I think). Anybody who tried to change it now would probably end up under the ground, hopefully after being slain. Maybe just lobby for it to be split into two words. Lose the hyphen.

      (I suppose Fun Island could work, but it’s so on the nose.)

      Break the Bank fits the template, but they already broke it. Not what this book is about.

      Make Ends Meet sounds like a heist novel written by Suze Orman, after she read a whole lot of Dortmunders.

      Frozen Lake–you’ve maybe got a piece of something there–I really like the idea of invoking Sandra’s metaphor in the title (and that matches up with Ask The Parrot). Make it a three word declarative statement, and you’ve got it.

      😉

  6. John O'Leary

    The money laundering aspects of this book just don’t sound right to me. Parker has just scored something like $100K from the racetrack. He could easily live on that and his previous scores for a couple years, by which time the armored car robbery would be pretty much forgotten. The bank may have recorded serial numbers for bundles of new bills from the Federal Reserve, but the majority would be used bills, and who would write down all those numbers? And what salesclerk would check them? Why give 90% of the score to the mob?

    • All good questions, which Westlake did his best to answer. From the start of this series, there’s been a lingering question mark–why does Parker work so often? To begin with, because Pocket wanted several books a year. Parker would like to lay low for a while after each job–to him, that’s what makes sense, that’s how you avoid too much attention from the law. So why doesn’t that happen? Leaving aside the fact that the author needs to score too, what we get is a series of complications that force Parker to work again.

      The first book introduces the most unique explanation (though weirdly, Dan J. Marlowe came up with something similar in a book he wrote around the same time as The Hunter)–that Parker’s sex drive disappears a few months after a job. It doesn’t bother him, but it bothers whoever he’s shacking up with at the time. He enjoys his work, and he enjoys what comes right after it. He can’t ever retire, not even if he heists a billion. He’d find some way to get rid of it, so he could score again. Dortmunder has the ponies, Parker has his own methods.

      He’s scrambling around trying to get a good cushion set up in the first few books. He’s finally where he wants to be, after The Score. Then The Jugger sets him back to square one. He rebuilds again. He’s flush after the Cockaigne job, but dissatisfied, screwing everything with a pulse, moving around restlessly, unable to relax.

      Claire comes along to relax him, stabilize him. He’s back to his old pattern, from before the first book, except this woman is different–he doesn’t need to pull a job to get it up with her. But Claire has expensive tastes. And he likes indulging her, because then she’s in a mood for love (women have their sexual cycles as well). And she wants a house. And she wants to go to Europe. And she wants a fur coat. And etc. High maintenance. And worth every penny.

      And then there’s a string of failed jobs. He finally makes good in Butcher’s Moon, though it’s by no means a fortune for the early 70’s.

      Starting with Comeback, he has four consecutive heists that pay off (one of which I think probably took place in the 80’s). Then one that’s a bust, and gets him busted. Good heists are getting hard to find, in a cashless economy, a problem that’s been bothering him since the 60’s, getting worse every year.

      He’s still got a lot of cash stowed, but it’s starting to run low. The Triptych is two jobs, close together. As you say, he gets a hundred grand or so from the track. (Much more than he should have gotten, according to what Lindahl said.)

      He uses that to buy new ID–the high-tech kind that costs a lot. This is no different than him blowing the money he got from The Outfit at the end of The Hunter on plastic surgery. It’s a variation on the same theme. Parker has to keep spending money, and as he spends, he needs to get more, and to get more, he needs to keep upgrading his tradecraft, and that costs him.

      He is now convinced that the old ways won’t cut it in the new world. If he doesn’t get something out of the bank job (and in NRF, we’re told basically all the cash being transported was new, maybe a precaution against precisely what happened, and how is he supposed to know which bills are safe?), he’s going to be running on fumes, will need to find another job right away, and there are risks to being that desperate–it forces you to make bad decisions (which often lead to good books–he’s behaving very erratically in The Seventh, and a lot of people think that’s the best one ever).

      If he doesn’t adapt, he’ll go under. And in the early 21st, 100 grand isn’t going to last that long, with a Claire in the picture. He needs her, and he needs to work sometimes.

      It would have been interesting to have a book that was entirely about one of Parker’s inactive periods–that’s basically what The Jugger is, but that was to set Parker way back on his heels, to launch him into the next cycle of stories. There was never a book where he’s got all the money he needs, doesn’t need to work, and isn’t put in a situation where he has to compromise his cover.

      And one has to ask–how popular would a book like that be? What do people buy these books for? He’s not Tom Ripley. Who in fact is also constantly under pressure to keep looking for scores of a different kind, because of his expensive French chateau, with its expensive French wine cellar, and an expensive French wife into the bargain. I would think Ms. Highsmith might well have learned a few lessons from Mr. Stark in that area. But Claire and Heloise could just have been a case of two crime writers dealing with the same problem of motivation, as well as indulging some personal fantasies).

      Is what’s happening this book too busy? I think maybe, yeah. Is it impossible to justify? I don’t think so. The whole point of all these stories is to convince Parker to walk where the ice is a bit thinner than he likes. Without that, there’s no story at all, and we’re not having this conversation. Which would be a shame. 😉

      • John O'Leary

        The ice may be getting thinner on Colliver’s Pond too. It is only about 150 miles from NW New Jersey to NW Massachusetts. If one of the improved wanted posters shows up in the local post office it may be time to bug out. Wonder if Parker has an emergency relocation plan.

        • The notion that Claire’s house isn’t a viable hideout anymore is strongly implied in this final novel (final because Westlake died, not because he considered it a formal conclusion to the series, though I concur with Greg that Westlake believed it might well serve as such).

          Claire’s attachment to the house was well-established in Butcher’s Moon, and as Parker himself admitted, no more impractical (and far less dangerous) than his periodic vendettas relating to money he believes is owed him. He feels like her wanting to live in the same house most of the year is equivalent to him taking on organized crime for a few g’s.

          The problem isn’t geography, because face it, distance doesn’t mean much anymore in law enforcement. Northwestern NJ is a backwater, with very little crime, and thus not much of a police presence. Claire and Parker live at that house when the area around it is largely unpeopled, because it’s a summer retreat. No matter how good the likeness is on that wanted poster, he doesn’t have to worry much about that. And he’s hardly one of the ten most wanted, on the basis of one robbery–he didn’t kill that marshal. Nobody died in the heist itself.

          But he does have to worry about the FBI having come to talk to Claire. And he has to worry about them comparing notes with Gwen Reversa. And he has to worry about the boys at Cosmopolitan Beverages knowing where he lives, though of course they did already, as far back as Firebreak. Point is, they’ll be paying more attention now.

          The law would probably assume Parker lived further away than that. It was him using a car registered to her that really created the vulnerability. A rental would have been better, except then he’d be hard-pressed to come up with a cover story for visiting Elaine Langen. It’s harder to justify him knowing guys who can hook him up with a mace, with papers that will hold up to scrutiny.

          It’s just getting harder and harder to make it work, with police being able to run license plates from their cars. Probably they can do it on their smartphones now. So he’s got to get somebody who can defeat that tech. And that’s why he’s got to get that money. Sure, he can tell Claire it’s time to go, and she’ll comply–perhaps a bit frostily, but she doesn’t want to visit him in prison. None of that solves the long-term problem of how he can practice his profession in a digital world. A problem Mr. Westlake would have tried his best to solve, if life had given him a few more years to work on it.

  7. I’ve read the first two Dr. Quirke books. The prose is marvelous (I’d expect no less), but the plotting is less than marvelous. Each of the the first two books contains at least one rather large plot hole. In the first, a revelation disclosed late in the book is meant to be shocking, but one would have to be very thick-headed indeed not to have sussed it out hundreds of pages earlier. (The characters are surprised, but they shouldn’t be.) In the second book, told non-sequentially, a character appears alive in a scene that definitively takes place after his own murder. I did not read the third.

    • There’s a thriving Irish mystery scene, and they’ve had many successes, but I do have to say, having read the first two comic crime novels of Caimh McDonnell, that I was only half-impressed.

      He made me laugh repeatedly in the first one (A Man With One of Those Faces), which is basically a Nephew book–basically hell, it’s literally a Nephew book, the family resemblance to Westlake’s Nephews is uncanny. There are third act problems, but overall a great beginning. (McDonnell’s a stand-up comedian by trade, this was his first novel.) A lot of timely political satire, which is a plus. He has the usual gaelic gift for slagging the hell out of Ireland and the Irish (you remember what Dr. Johnson said.)

      Then he wrote a sequel (it’s supposed to be a trilogy, again with the trilogies), and you can’t do sequels to Nephew books! The main protagonist, his inner conflicts all resolved in the first novel, has to be put mainly on the sidelines, and McDonnell seems to be focusing more now on the Nephew’s mentor, a drunken irascible Gardai detective. We’ll see how it goes.

      This genre stuff is much harder than it looks. Mr. Banville, with all his high critical esteem, and many a coveted prize, can be forgiven for not seeing that so clearly, going in–bet he does now.

      • I have A Man With One of Those Faces on my Kindle. It looks intriguing enough, but I haven’t gotten to it yet.

        • The first few chapters were so feckin’ brilliant, I was all ready to interrupt usual business here at the blog, and declare that the Comic Caper Crown was now on the head of Caimh (pronounced Qweev, forget it Greg, it’s Irishtown.)

          A very enjoyable bit of reading (and The Girl is a lovely lass altogether), but he doesn’t know how to sustain yet. Hope he gets there.

          Lest we forget, “Beautiful language, incoherent plotting” is a picture perfect description of almost everything Raymond Chandler ever wrote. Mr. Black is in good company there. I would strongly suspect him to be of the Chandler school. And Westlake, of course, was of the older school, the one the Continental Op graduated from.

          Mr. Westlake would have been so charmed by Banville in that interview they did together, so pleased to meet on a position of peerdom with such a highly decorated fellow wordsmith, and an Irishman to boot, that he would want to show his appreciation in some tangible form. Hence the dedication. There’s always something you can learn from a stylist.

          • Banville, of course, returned the favor by writing the introduction to the U of C editions of The Mourner/The Score/The Jugger. In that introduction, he specifically quotes the final lines of Dirty Money, concluding, “And that is about as much as Parker, or Richard Stark, is ever willing to allow to anyone.”

            • A fine bit of reciprocity, that. Though since the U of C editions started coming out while Westlake was still with us, it might have been him returning the favor.

              That was a crucial thing. For him to know Parker would still be out there, in print, after he was gone. I don’t really know if he could ever have killed Parker off. And certainly not Dortmunder. He sort of half-killed Tobin, Grofield, and Holt. Joslyn was too young and pretty to die. Of his series protagonists, only Levine got an unequivocal demise. Of his one-shots, you can make a case for Tim Smith. Is Robert Ellington the protagonist of Pity Him Afterwards? If so, that was a mercy killing. Art Dodge remains alive in body, at least (no mercy there). And Richard Curtis? Depends on how strong a swimmer he is. 😉

  8. Parker not too subtly implies that if Sandra talks, Sandra dies.

    I can’t find this implied threat anywhere in this scene. Maybe it’s pretty darned subtle after all, or maybe I’m just thick. But Parker later tells Claire that he can’t kill Sandra because of the dossiers she’s compiled on everyone at the fateful Harbin meeting, dossiers her lover on Cape Cod will give to the authorities if Sandra develops a bad case of the deads. He goes on to say that if McWhitney found out about Sandra’s little maneuver to cut herself in for a share of the armored car heist, he’d kill outright, dossiers or no dossiers. “Then everybody has to move.”

    McWhitney was never going to be a reliable sidekick or partner for Parker (or Sandra either, for that matter). He’s too volatile, plus he gets some cute ideas sometimes. But we’ll talk more about that next time.

  9. You’re right. He’s being subtle. I overstated. But he’s saying it. With his body language. With his eyes. That’s why Sandra has her hand in her pocket. Where her gun his. She knows she’s taking a risk, and she’s outnumbered.

    And Parker asks about her girlfriend again, a bit later. That’s not subtle at all.

    He could kill her, find the girlfriend, and then tell Claire it’s time to find a new abode.

    Still, he’s increasingly aware she’s a lot like him. And threats never work on anyone like Parker. He knows that. I’ll edit.

    • What I like about that scene is how tense everyone is beneath the surface, waiting to find out if McWhitney lied about the location of Harbin’s body. Even McWhitney’s tense, and he knows he didn’t lie. But he knows that if something went wrong, if Harbin’s body isn’t found, there’s going to be trouble. Bad trouble. Immediately.

      • And what does this tell us about Sandra? She’s getting the callback on her cellphone–she doesn’t have to be in the bar at all. If the body doesn’t turn up where it’s supposed to be, she’s painted herself into a pretty tight corner there. No reason to think she’ll come out on top against Parker and McWhitney (and even Claire could be a problem).

        It’s her style. Never back down. Confrontational to a fault. Go right into the other side’s stronghold, look them right in the eyes, stare them down.

        Who does that remind you of?

  10. Oh yeah. She’d make a hell of a series character on her own. (If Westlake had been younger, he might have considered it, if he wasn’t feeling gun shy after Grofield.) It’s interesting (and frustrating) to think about what might have been, but I’m just glad she showed up before it was all over.

    • I’m not sure Westlake had this all figured out about her, going in. Leaving the push method aside, he wrote this a few years after he wrote Nobody Runs Forever. He’s got two tough blondes in NRF. Creating options. But only Sandra is still in play by the end of this book. She’s the option that paid off.

      Gwen Reversa wasn’t one of his more interesting cops. He tries to give her little quirks, but she never really jumps off the page at you. Too perfect (like most of his blondes, it’s a problem). Not even sexy, because she’s all about the work (Parker goes in for recreation here and there, Gwen is working even when she’s dating that lawyer). What can you do with her? Write her out. She is, after all, an organization woman. Not what these books are about (or any Westlake books).

      When he wrote NRF, he was maybe feeling the wind a bit more, but he still thought he might make it past eighty. He’s outlived the old man, maybe he can keep going, four score and ten. Not forever, but a while.

      As we’ve both intuited, he was a lot less sanguine about the longterm prospects by the time he wrote this. There had been some warning shots over the bow, maybe. He’s not going to kill Parker. But Parker is him, on some level. And Parker is getting old. He may not age normally, but he ages. At some point, the last of the independents will be gone.

      So what does he do?

      Imagines a successor.

      And makes her a woman.

      It would be too cheesy to say it out loud, but Parker got around a lot as a younger man. Sandra’s at least twenty years younger than him.

      I’ve mentioned in the past my suspicion that Westlake quietly yearned for a daughter.

      Just a thought.

  11. Anchor Bay put out a good-looking transfer of UN FLIC on DVD sixteen years ago. The rights then went over to Lionsgate who put out an even better looking DVD. When did you rent the movie?

    • Maybe twenty years ago? Possibly more than that. It was on VHS, as I recall. We were obsessively trying to see every movie Catherine Deneuve was ever in, and worthy an ambition as that may be, there are still a lot of gaps. And man, she made a lot of movies that are worth seeing for no other reason than herself. In this case, I really think she was there for little more than her name on a marquee. I felt like maybe some scenes of hers were cut, but I could be quite wrong about that.

      It’s popped up on cable here and there, but not sure which version that was.

      Some of the problems are undoubtedly with the film itself. But I do believe I owe it another viewing.

      All that being said, I hope to catch Bob Le Flambeur at Film Forum, early next year (even the best possible DVD transfer isn’t the same as seeing it projected, on celluloid). The anti-heist heist film, and short of L’armée des Ombres, my favorite Melville flick. Perhaps Westlake’s as well. After nearly four years, I shouldn’t need to say why. 😉

  12. I have less than a perfect memory. No, you needn’t make false protestations, I know it’s true. I remember things any normal person would forget, and forget things anyone should remember. I was supposed to remember this.

    There is a really egregious undeniable error in this book’s first edition. It jumped out at me both times I’ve read it. I had meant to deal with it in passing when I passed it, but in the throes of synopsis, it slipped right past. I’m nearly done reviewing Parts Two and Three, and belatedly realized–I’d missed it. Went back and found it. Jumped right out again. Part One. End of Chapter 8.

    They passed the church again on their way back from the not-bad seafood dinner, and still didn’t see any sign of anybody in or near the place. But then they walked into Bosky Rounds and there in the communal parlor they did see somebody they knew: Susan Loscalzo.

    Her evil twin? Or the good one? No, it’s Sandra, and she is identified as such in the very first paragraph of Chapter 9, and at all other points in the novel.

    Not a long book. Not a tough mistake to spot. There’s no Susan in this book. Or the last one. Or the one before that. It’s not a name he used that often, but for the record, there’s a Susan in The Hook, in Backflash, in Humans, and in Westlake’s script for The Stepfather. None of them rank among his more memorable creations.

    Turns out Google Books has searchable ebooks for both the Grand Central and the U of C editions. Both have a Susan Loscalzo at the end of Chapter 8. And nowhere else, because there ain’t no such animal.

    It begs the imagination that both Westlake and two separate sets of editors could miss this. Westlake couldn’t have had much of a relationship with whoever he worked with at Grand Central, and U of C has been known to make the odd few typographical errors. But this is a bit more than that.

    Is he just sticking a mistake in there on purpose? The Navajo Weaver thing again? Or did he just type the wrong name, and nobody wanted to say anything about it? They really wouldn’t have to say anything about it, they could just fix it. Unless they weren’t sure it was supposed to be fixed. Or they just didn’t notice.

    Anybody have any thoughts? Or fantasies about a threesome with the two Loscalzos? Maybe Susan’s her straight name. 😉

    • I saw this too. I honestly think this is a mistake nobody caught. The final Parkers were atrociously copy-edited.

      • I don’t remember anything this glaring from Ask The Parrot (and Westlake was having all kinds of problems when he wrote that). It’s the kind of thing that takes you out of the story, just for a moment. There is no author more immersive than Stark, and one of many reasons for that is, Stark doesn’t make mistakes. (Though he did in Flashfire.) You can nitpick anything, but with few exceptions, these are exceptionally well constructed books. And well edited, up to now.

        And thing is, if it wasn’t a planned mistake, a caprice of the author (and it would be kind of a head-scratching joke–Stark forgot her name?)–the author himself was having problems. This book as a whole has problems. Individual parts of it are put together like the proverbial well-oiled machine. But the machine is starting to break down.

        If it wasn’t intentional–and if so, there should be notes somewhere to that effect–it should be fixed. I would assume the ebook from U of C could be edited without much trouble.

        Otherwise, future generations of literary scholars will be trying to make sense of it. “Sandra has symbolically become Susan Cahill from Backflash in Parker’s mind, because he wants to slap her down for being such a pest.”

        And yet the mistake, if mistake it be, has lingered on to a whole new edition. Levi Stahl, if you’re out there, what the hell?

        😉

        • mikesschilling

          I noticed this, and since my memory is now a sieve thought Susan was the sexy blonde cop from NRF. That is:
          * I didn’t recall Sandra’s last name.
          * I didn’t recall either of Gwen Reversa’s names.
          * There aren’t that many female characters, and it’s not Sandra or Claire, so …

          • So Parker and Claire go to jail? Or he snaps Susan Reversa’s neck, and they run for the border. Mrs. Bartlett will be so upset.

            There are too many blondes in NRF and DM. Reversa, Loscalzo, Langen, and finally Claire. Other than Loscalzo, my favorite female character in the Triptych is Suzanne Gilbert, who’s got auburn hair. As does Claire in NRF. I guess I could believe Parker wouldn’t notice she was suddenly an ash blonde, or wouldn’t say anything about it.

            Too many blondes in the Final Eight, you get right down to it. Hell, too many blondes in the last few decades of his career. And the primary suspect in causing this switch is Abigail Adams Westlake. At a certain point, she’d be all he could see. She was the one keeping him alive.

            I’ve had some mad crushes on blondes (never got around to dating one). But Westlake’s blondes, for the most part, haven’t done that much for me. I’ve always preferred his brunettes, his redheads, and those with ‘hair-colored hair.’ Not to mention the several black women he wrote about with great appreciation, all of whom were presumably brunettes (is grouping women by hair color sexist, racist, or both? Well, they do it to us too. Though I read somewhere that hair is the very first thing men notice about a woman. More important than legs, even. Weird.)

            Sandra and Suzanne are both engaging characters. Elaine has a bleak noir-ish feel to her, maybe a bit more like a character from a George Higgins book, which makes sense given the locale, though Higgins never wrote women that well, one of Westlake’s primary critiques of him.

            Claire is more of a presence here than she’s been in a while–and less convincing than she’s ever been before. Maybe Westlake started experimenting with hair colors for her, because he was having trouble writing her. It just never mattered before, because she’d walk into a room, and everybody would notice her. Her femininity. Not just her follicles.

  13. Lee Turnbull

    That Los Lobos lyric brought back an old memory–something like 15 years ago, I went to a Los Lobos concert. It had been years since the boys from East LA had had anything like a hit, and they were one of a series of free community concerts at the county fairgrounds, the perfect venue for the has-beens and never-had-beens, the REO Speedwagons and the Creedence Clearwater Revisiteds of the world. In other words, my hopes were not high, especially when they came out from backstage, a bunch of middle-aged men, most of whom looked as if they regularly went back for seconds at the all you can eat buffet.
    And then they proceeded to all but burn the stage down, in what was perhaps the best show I’ve ever experienced. Dang, were they good.
    Great memories.

    • Never had the pleasure, but I do know they were renowned as a live band. Still are, so maybe I’ll get to see them sometime yet.

      The thing about that song is, on one level it’s about illegal immigrants (that’s what the video highlighted). On another, it’s about outlaws (that’s how Waylon Jennings sings it).

      And on its deepest level, it’s about real wolves–and itinerant musicians. That’s how Los Lobos sings it. I mean, how often do poor people crossing our southern border run across frozen lakes? But a true poet never sticks to the literal. They’re identifying with immigrants, outlaws, mariachis, and wolves, all at the same time.

      And though I’m no Chicano, I identify with big guys who dig the blues, and wear a lot of flannel shirts. 😉

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