Thursday, 13 June 2013

The Outfit by Richard Stark review

It’s a credit to Richard Stark’s skill as a writer that I can so thoroughly enjoy a novel for which I’ve already read the comic adaptation (more than once!). His no nonsense prose, his ability to grab the reader’s attention and not let go until the last page is turned, along with this superbly well thought out plots, I can’t help but be transformed into an evangelist of Stark. Unsurprisingly to me and to those who have read some of my previous Parker reviews, The Outfit was excellent.

As I mentioned in my review of The Man with the Getaway Face, the first three Parker novels form a neat trilogy and you could easily consider the fourth book, The Mourner, an epilogue of sorts. The Outfit is the third part and what a finish to this first multi-novel Parker story. In this third Act, Parker puts in motion the threat he gave the Outfit in The Hunter after the said a hired gun after him. He writes letter to all his past associates asking them to knock off an Outfit job if they have one. He doesn’t want a cut of the take, he doesn’t want to pull the job with them (he’s got his own job in mind). All he wants is for the Outfit to lose a lot of money to show them they never should have fucked with him. As if that wasn’t enough, Parker also personally sets out to find Bronson, the head of the Outfit, and put an end to his career.

I've read a large enough number of Parker books to start to see little in-jokes. For those who've read the comic adaptation of The Outfit, remember the little VW from the Club Cockatoo job? Well that's a modified getaway car designed to be much faster than what a VW should be able to go. The work was done by a man named Chemy who makes a living procuring and modifying stolen cars to be used for a variety of illicit means. It was a neat little world building element I really enjoyed. I'd love to see Chemy appear again in one of the later books.

In my review of The Hunter I mentioned the formula of the Parker novels. The formula is limited to the plot but there is also a formula for the structure of the novel itself. The novels are always divided into four parts, each one roughly the same length though not always. In The Outfit, Stark plays with another structure formula. In one part each novel, usually if not always part three, Stark writes from a point of view of another character other than Parker. In the first novel it was Mal Resnick, in the second novel it was Stubbs, the plastic surgeon’s punch drunk handyman. For The Outfit, Stark gives us a glimpse into the mind of Bronson but he also gives it a spin by writing from the point of view of several other characters, all of them acquaintances of Parker's, and the various Outfit jobs they knocked off. It’s like a Parker heist anthology in the middle of a Parker novel. Absolutely fascinating and every job is a sheer delight to read about. Part of me wanted to slow down and really savour each job. One of the things that make Richard Stark such a great writer is that despite sticking to the formulas he establishes for himself, he regularly tweaks them in satisfying and meaningful ways.

Darwyn Cooke did and particularly superb job adapting the third part of the novel. He really flexed his storytelling muscles in an extended sequence of heist after heist. He uses a variety of style and techniques that contribute to each job feeling unique and it also grabbed the reader’s attention because Cooke’s clearly showing off a little but I loved every page of it. The Club Cockatoo job was an excerpt of Stark’s novel accompanied by Cooke’s drawing. It makes me wish some of the Parker novels had illustrations every fifty pages or so.

Stark provides a satisfying conclusion to the story that began in The Hunter. The series continues in The Mourner, which I reviewed here, which has Parker trying up some loose ends from the opening of The Outfit and pulling a job against his will. There is a sense of "what happens next?" after finishing the third and fourth books. Parker's world has undergone some serious transformations. How does Stark continue to write a series that doesn't feel like a letdown after the tremendously good three part introduction and the epilogue book? Well, he gives us The Score, a book about Parker doing what he does best, planning and knocking off a job, a really big, complicated and risky job.


  1. The movie adaptation of The Outfit isn't bad, either. Starred Robert Duvall, Joe Don Baker, Robert Ryan, Karen Black and a supporting cast of old noir actors. Script is pretty faithful to the novel & only sags when the script-writer "improved" things. Made in 1973, it still holds up. Duvall as Parker is better by far than the lame attempts recently by Mel Gibson & Jason Strathan. Duvall gets Parker; they don't. Worth a look. For Parker fanatics, available on DVD from Amazon.

  2. Thanks for the recommendation. I've been meaning to watch it. I'll probably write up a post when I do. Keep an eye out for that.