The Mourner is the second novel from the Parker series by Richard Stark that I’ve read and I enjoyed it more than Slayground. Chronologically, it’s the fourth book in the Parker series, following The Outfit and preceding The Score. It’s important to mention this because plot elements found in The Mourner are taken from Parker’s first few stories, primarily The Outfit.
Remember Bett Harrow from the opening pages of Darwyn Cooke’s adaptation of The Outfit? It turns out she took a gun with Parker’s prints on it during their time together and with Bett’s help, her father convinces Parker to steal a small statue for him in exchange for the gun and fifty thousand dollars. There is a problem, however. The statue is in possession of Karpo a diplomat who has been stealing money from his home country of Klastrava. The government of Klastrava sends their top agent, Auguste Menlo, to dispose of him and steal back the stolen $100,000. Realising they are in each other’s way, Parker and Handy McKay choose to work with Menlo to each other’s benefit. They do so knowing full well that Menlo will attempt a double-cross.
The job is planned and executed as in many other Parker stories but Menlo’s actions keep things interesting. In fact, Menlo keeps much of the book interesting. He’s a strange and fascinating character. He’s very capable and resourceful but he’s out of his comfort zone working in a criminal environment. There are things about American culture he simple doesn’t understand. Richard Stark does a good job of writing Menlo. He doesn’t make Menlo look dumb or foolish. It’s made quite clear that Menlo has decided to turn a new leaf and that this change in his character is quite difficult for him.
Out of all the characters in The Mourner Menlo is by far the most interesting and Stark was clearly aware of this. This book like all others in the Parker series is divided into four parts and Menlo gets one part entirely focused on him. It also happens to be the longest part of the book. Not to worry, Parker still plays a big role in the book. I don’t wish to make it sound as if Parker is predictable but it’s clearly been established at this point that Parker will come out on top sooner or later. It’s the difficulties that Stark puts in his path that make it interesting for the reader.
The Mourner was more interesting than Slayground because the story takes place on familiar ground. Parker is doing his job and dealing with the complications. Stark also adds new story elements that embellish the story nicely by adding motivation and conflict for Parker and it all ties up nicely in the end. The thing Slayground does that The Mourner doesn’t is make things look like they’re challenging for Parker. Then again, he does get shot and left for dead in this one and we’re not entirely sure Handy McKay will survive either. Oh well, I’d much prefer a fully fledge character like Menlo than twenty faceless mobsters going up against Parker.