Slayground is the fourteenth book in the Parker series written by Richard Stark. It is the first book I’ve ever read in the Parker series, not counting the comic adaptations by Darwyn Cooke. I picked this book instead of all the others for two simple reasons. I just read the adaptation of The Hunter, The Outfit, and The Score and I felt as though I was familiar enough with Parker and a handful of secondary characters to be able to start with any other book in the series. The second reason is that Slayground is said to be one of the best Parker novels. I’m not entirely sure I agree, which is a bit odd considering it’s my first Parker novel.
I’ll break down my review in four parts, each part concentrating on one of the book’s four parts. In part one there is the setup, pure and simple. Parker, along with Grofield and a man named Laufman rob an armoured truck. Things go awry and Grofiled and Laufman are left unconscious while Parker is running off with the money. On his way into a nearby amusement park closed down for the winter he is spotted by two police officers and two men in dark overcoats. Parker soon discovers there is only one way in and out of Fun Island. He’ll be receiving visitors soon and prepares for the arrival of either the cops or the men in overcoats or both.
Part two is an exercise in patience and it’s one of the better parts of the book. We’re introduced to the two men in overcoats: Caliato, a cool headed and patient mobster. He is next in line to run the mob in town and he’s a worthy adversary for Parker because his patience and calculating mind makes for a seamless execution of his work. Because he’s a patient and calculating man he won’t make the mistakes Parker wants him to do; mistakes that would allow him an easier escape. Caliato also has an interesting second in command in Alfred Benniggio. They share an interesting relationship.
In a way Stark is forcing us to live what Caliato, his crew and Parker are living. We’re preparing for the inevitable confrontation. We want to see the gangster go into Fun Island and we want Parker to outsmart and outgun them and get out. But we have to wait. We must be patient. There are things to prepare for and we must quickly do those things and then we wait. Stark does an excellent job making an interesting book out of a bunch of characters waiting for one another to act, each situated on opposite sides of a road, divided by fences.
The third and fourth part tell the story of the first confrontation that happens during the night and the second confrontation that happens the following day. It’s what the reader has been waiting for and Parker, as always, proves to be smart, resourceful and strong. He outsmarts the gangsters more than he outguns or outfights them. He’s grossly outnumbered and his strategy relies more on hiding and outsmarting than it does on fighting. That might come as a disappointment to some readers but how else was it going to realistically be played out? I liked it and I think it worked.
I don’t think it’s the best Parker book because it concentrates too much on one small event in Parker’s life and it’s not one of his proudest achievements. Parker gets away with less than what he had at the start of the book and it’s disappointing. The way it happened isn’t disappointing, it was very entertaining actually, but it’s not a victory for Parker. The story is also very straightforward and focused compared to other Parker stories such as The Hunter and The Outfit which had a lot going on. A story like The Score is also straightforward but it’s a story about Parker and what he does, thieving, and it’s fascinating to see him and his crew do their jobs. It’s also a very special job and that’s also interesting. Slayground is the story of Parker trying to get out alive with or without his money. The only elements of his career that show up in the book appear in the first forty pages and it’s almost exclusively plot setup.
There is a sequel to Slayground and that makes sense because the story begun in this book is incomplete. I want to read it, and I will in time, not only because I’d like to know the rest of the story and not only because it will most likely be a revenge story, but Parker needs to get his money back. He only did half of what he sent out to do in Slayground. He got out alive but he got out with empty hands. I can easily understand if any readers also felt the same way after such an abrupt ending by Stark.