Sunday, 9 June 2013

The Man with the Getaway Face by Richard Stark review

"He was a big man, flat and squared-off, with boxy shoulders and a narrow waist. He had big hands, corrugated with veins, and long hard arms. He looked like a man who'd made money, but who'd made it without sitting behind a desk."

The Man with the Getaway Face is the second book in author Richard Stark’s Parker series. Perhaps unsurprisingly to reader of The Hunter, this is an excellent book. The events flow directly from the first book in the series. Parker gets a new face by going under the knife of a disgraced plastic surgeon that still has a licence to practice but no longer has any reputable patients. Parker got a new face in order to avoid being caught by the Outfit after they put a price on his head. He’s got a new problem now; he’s low of funds and needs to find a job to do in order to make some money. The job he finds seems good at first but the pot is too small and it needs to be split a few times too many. He’ll have to rework the job in order to make it profitable but his troubles don’t end there.

The job seems simple; rob an armoured truck while the drivers and guards make a pit stop at a diner somewhere on the highway. The more Parker looks into the job though, the worse it starts to look. The finger, Alma one of the waitresses at the diner, is trouble. Parker goes along with it though because he’s working with long-time collaborator and the closest thing Parker has to a friend, Handy McKay and he really needs the money. He also thinks he has a good handle on her and the cross she’s planning.

Stark must of have a stroke of genius when he thought of Alma. She's not your crime fiction femme fatale type. Physically she’s has a hard figure, round but uninviting. She’s not a stoat woman but she kind of looks it despite her height. Stark describes her as having somewhat of a German built. She's a hard woman, controlling, opinionated and angry at the world because she hasn't gotten what she thinks she's due. She's a good match for Parker, not because she's good at what she does, but because she's hard headed enough to not listen to reason and take reckless actions that really  only seem to benefit her but she’s got no chance to really pull them off. She's not so much stupid as she is reckless. She doesn't want to admit that Parker and Handy are professionals. She doesn't want to be told she's going about this all wrong and that's what makes her a threat to Parker. She also has another work acquaintance of Parker’s, Skimm, under her thumb. Alma is a threat to Parker because she’s a serious liability against the success of the armoured car job.
Unlucky for Parker, Alma and a job that’s quickly going aren’t his only problems. The plastic surgeon who gave him a new face was murdered and his punch drunk handyman is out to find his murderer and since Parker was the surgeon’s last patient he’s been deemed one of the prime suspects. Parker doesn't have time for this. He needs to do the job because he needs the money but he also needs to keep his new face a secret so that the Outfit doesn't track him down and that’s exactly what Stubb’s, the doctor’s handyman, is threatening to reveal.  Parker’s got too much on his plate and he's having a hard time keeping it straight, even with his trusted friend Handy helping out. But soon it’s apparent they also have to keep an eye on Skimm who appears to have lost his edge.

Stark does two things in The Man with the Getaway Face: 1) gives Parker so that he can hide from the Outfit and 2) has his plan and execute a job. It’s smart because Stark shows us just how big a deal it was for Parker to go after the Outfit in The Hunter. There are going to be some serious and lasting repercussions for messing with the men at the top of the Outfit. The armoured car job accomplishes something different. By the second book I think Stark wanted to show readers that Parker isn’t just a hard man, he’s also a very skilled man when it comes to thieving. It was a smart move to include such an event because it’s very informative as to what a Parker book is and will continue to be. The Parker novel heist formula is more clearly established here than the shuffled up version that exists in the first book. The more important part of the book though, is the complications that arise from the plastic surgeon’s death. The threat isn’t Stubbs, the handyman. The threat is the knowledge of his new face being leaked to the Outfit. That's something that continues to play a larger role the third book, The Outfit. It's pretty clear to me now that the first three Parker books form a neat trilogy that's pretty focused on Parker butting head with the Outfit, Stark's version of organized crime in the 60s era United States.

When I picked up The Man with the Getaway Face, I was expecting to read a new Parker story, a story for which I hadn't read the comic adaptation for because I didn't think there was one. I was partially wrong on this. Nearly half of this book was included in Darwyn Cooke's adaptation of The Outfit. It's really interesting to compare both stories and to see how Cooke uses his art to tell the story in comic book shorthand. I say this because the armoured car job is told in less pages in the comic than it takes in the novel. It's one of the segments that can provide considerable insight into Cooke's method for adapting Stark's Parker novels. 

The Man with the Getaway gives us a look at a side of Parker we haven’t seen yet. He’s vulnerable and so in need of money that he willingly puts his life and the job at risk because he doesn’t feel he has any other choice. Stark also shows us just how much Parker put at risk while going head to head with the Outfit in the first book. Although not as intense as The Hunter, The Man with the Getaway Face was a fantastic read because it gave us insight into another side of Parker. He’s less violent and more calculating which were required of him in order to survive the events of the book.

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