Sunday, 25 August 2013

The Score by Richard Stark review

I can't help but think that Richard Stark wrote this particular Parker novel for himself. I've mentioned before that books in the Parker series follow a pretty tight formula. Stark's writing packs a pretty mean punch and I imagine he could have written dozens of Parker books by repeating the formula ad nauseum without ever trying to test the boundaries he setup and still have a successful yet predictable series. Lucky for us, Stark has been pushing the boundaries with every Parker book he wrote after The Hunter. With The Score however, he manages to find a story that provides a great challenge for Parker, a challenge for Stark as a writer while also engaging the reader which.

It's a challenge for Parker because if all the angles he and eleven other men have to keep track of before and during the heist. It's also a challenge for Stark for the same reasons. The Score is about robbing an entire mining town called Copper Canyon in North Dakota. Twelve men are planning to rob an entire town in one short night. A big part of the novel is planning the job and it must have been an equally big part of writing the book. It’s important to get all those details just right because so far the Parker novels have such a strong sense of verisimilitude. You get a sense that what happens in a Parker novel could really happen or may already have happened. For all we know, Parker is a real person and that Stark knows him or, better yet, maybe Stark himself is a real life criminal (what do you mean his real name is Donald Westlake?). There’s not Hollywood logic going on here and that’s why robbing a whole town is an incredible heist. That’s also why Parker and his associates have to work out all the angles.

It’s an interesting story because of all the planning involved. It’s also interesting to regular Parker readers because we know that he more complicated a job the more potential there is for things to go wrong. That’s exactly what readers of crime fiction are looking for. If nothing goes wrong it’s just an academic lesson in how to steal things.

Because the job in this novel is so big, Stark takes the opportunity to grow his community of processional thieves. He previously did this in The Outfit which was a complicated enough book to introduce new faces in, that’s pretty much all he did within that novel because we didn’t spend too many pages with those characters. With The Score, we stick with a small group of new characters for nearly the entire book. That gives the reader time to get to know them. And I do want to know more about them. I want to read more about Salsa, Wycza and Grofield.

I think it’s great that we get to see how different people think and operate during a job. How you act before and during a job will have an effect on your work. Grofield is probably the standout new character in the novel. He's a delight and he's also good at what he does. An occasional theatre actor, Grofield likes to goof around but he knows when it times to get serious and get to work and that contributes to his likeability. Since the story provides many opportunities for these characters to interact with each other, Stark gives us just that.

The Score was also published
under the title "Killtown".
I rather enjoyed little scenes in which the thieves argued their differences or just learnt something they didn't know about another person. One example is when Grofield discovers Littlefield and Parker pay income tax. It's a funny scenes but it also tells you something about all three characters. Parker and Littlefield think you can live and work outside of the system but you still have to acknowledge that the system exists and pay your respects in order to help you remain invisible. Parker gets this. Littlefield learn his lesson when he spent some jail time and was caught for tax evasion but Grofield doesn't get it, he thinks it's silly.

The third part of the story which according to the formula is always from the point of view of one or more characters other than Parker was very good. Because of all the planning in the first two parts, the third part being the heist itself needed a little twist to keep it interesting and not simply be a repeat of the planning. Stark keeps its fresh by giving us the point of view of a different character each chapter. We get an insider perspective to all of their thoughts during the job, what makes them nervous? How do they cope with their part of the heist and the difficulties that come with it? It’s a great section of the book.

Where the book disappoints a bit is that not a whole lot goes wrong. Of course not everything goes smoothly either but you never get the sense that Parker is in over his head. He merely seems annoyed by the whole thing. At the end of the day though, The Score still impresses because Stark finds a way to keep the formula feeling fresh while introducing several new characters mixing it together with some a few familiar characters. The Score also introduces Alan Grofield and that’s noteworthy because he’s so endearing. If I wasn’t already convinced to read the solo Grofield novels, I am now. I think I’ll read a few more Parker novels before then though. Next up, The Jugger

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