Wednesday, 22 July 2015

The Seventh by Richard Stark review (Unread 016)

It’s always a delight to read a Parker book by Richard Stark. I tend to space them out between other books I read for a couple reasons. I love them dearly and I don’t want to rush myself to read them all right away. I also use them as a way to remind me why I love reading when I get a little burnt out on longer and unnecessarily drawn out books. That happens regularly since I read a lot of fantasy and there are many long books in that genre. Reading something by Richard Stark immediately following a large or slow paced novel can really give you an appreciation for what Stark manages to accomplish in the slim volumes of the Parker series. The Seventh is no exception as it maintains the high level of excellence as the rest of the series. I’m simply fascinated by the rapid pacing, Parker’s hypnotizing amorality and focus, the tight plotting and, of course, the narrative structure Stark gives to each of his books. 

I have to admit, I’m a definitive fanboy of this series. It scratches an itch that no other books can touch. There is a precision to each and every book and they all fit nicely together in a way that many other authors try to do with their series but never manage to pull off. To clarify, when I say the books fit well together I don’t mean in it in the way that they’re all set within a clear universe with recurring characters and familiar locale, thought that happens to be true, too. I mean the books fit together well in contrast to each other. There is a structure to each individual volume but there is also a structure to the series. Each book highlights a particular facet of Parker while also fitting comfortably with what has come before.

Let’s break it down by book, shall we?

In The Hunter, Parker wants revenge. Someone tried to kill him and steal his money. He’s certainly out for the money on this one but he’s more focused on setting things straight, as he sees it.

In The Man with the Getaway Face, Parker’s goal is to recreate an identity for himself by getting a new face. His new identify is almost immediately threatened and he fights to keep it safe and protected.

The Outfit is a fight for freedom. After the troubles he caused for the criminal organization during The Hunter, the titular Outfit is making it hard for Parker and his fellow thieves to do their work. It’s a showdown between freelancers and corporate goons in one of the best Parker novels I’ve read.

The Mourner is an attempt to get back to regular work, meaning planning and pulling off a job (hopefully) without complications. Of course, complications have a way of finding Parker and another event from The Hunter gets in his way. Parker has to put past mistakes to rest while making sure he gets his money at the end of the day.

The Score, another great book, is the most straightforward of the books so far. Parker and his associates plan and execute a job. The twist here is that the job should be impossible but the payout is so alluring few can walk away from the opportunity.

The Jugger is the most sentimental of the Parker books so far. It’s a lesson in friendship and how it could get you killed. A friend’s cry for help mixed with a dirty cop’s curiosity make for a dangerous situation and Parker slips up and walks right into trouble and struggles to get out without incurring any loses.

In that framework, The Seventh plays with an idea we’ve already seen in some respect, but it plays it front and centre. It’s mainly about getting his cut of the take, following the chaos that occurs after the heist. Admittedly, Parker’s focus is always to get his money, but this time it’s the sole driving force of the events that take place in the book. There are no secondary goals. The past isn’t haunting him and his identities (both his real identity and his cover-up identity) aren’t at stake. The job itself isn’t so complex that it goes sour. Nobody is hunting Parker for personal or professional reasons. This book is streamlined and solely focused on Parker getting his seventh share of the loot.

The book opens with Parker getting back to his room where he’s laying low after a job. The job itself barely matters. He and six other people steal the entire box office money during an out-of-competition football game for which there was no advance ticket sales. The take is a cool one hundred and fifty-four thousand dollars. Their getaway plan is to hide out for a few days until everything cools down. They’re to meet up after five days, split the money, and part ways. Because of his reputation, Parker is in charge of keeping the money. Only problem is, when he gets back to his room after a quick trip for cigarettes, he finds his woman dead, impaled on a sword, and the money gone.

The rest of the book focuses on the problems the gang faces. The cops are involved because of the murder. The criminals are trying to find the man who stole the money and they have practically no leads. Due to the mounting tension between the thieves and the relentless energy of the cat and mouse pursuit, The Seventh makes for a slightly chaotic but very engaging page turner. The third part of the novel, the part that typically provides point of view chapters from one or many characters other than Parker, is excellent. We get to follow along some of the thieves while they try and track down the guy who stole their money. We also get the point of view of a cop that is working on the murder investigation. He was interesting and provided a neat contrast to Parker who is a hard and intelligent man working solely for himself. The cop is also intelligent but he’s got a weakness Parker doesn’t have: he’s a family man. Stark gives us an insight into the man who broke into Parker’s room and he’s a complete amateur. Just an idiot who stumbled on some money and guns and that didn’t belong to him and was dumb enough to think he could steal money from a man like Parker, a consummate professional criminal, and get away with it.

The Seventh seems like a straightforward book, which it is, but it also has quite a bit of substance. It’s formulaic while also being unique when compared to the books that precede it. There is a relentless energy to the book. Parker has a goal in mind and despite the obstacles that keep piling up, he cuts a pretty straight path to this money. His personal interests are what keep him motivated. He’s cold, he’s mean, and he accomplishes what he sets out to do. Aside from Parker’s characterization, one of the other things I really liked was getting to know the rest of the thieves that worked the football stadium job. Thanks to the chapters in the third part focusing on the point of view of the other members of the heist team, we get to have some backstory on the other men. My favourite was Kifka, a large Scandinavian man who spends most of his time in the book naked in bed, trying to get over a really nasty cold. His interactions with Parker are a delight and he exudes a very different kind of criminal lifestyle that doesn’t match up with Parker’s, yet you also get the sense that they work well together. The nice thing about this book is that it frames Parker in a criminal context that highlights what makes his different from the rest. It’s not real surprised that by the end of the book he manages to get his seventh, while all the others suffered different fates. 

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