As this crime thriller opens, a criminal called Parker is leaving a New Jersey flophouse. He has arranged to meet with a man who has an idea for a heist.
If the idea pans out, Parker will put together a gang of like-minded hoods to carry out the crime, but first there is someone following Parker and that needs his immediate attention.
Parker leads the person following him into an isolated part of the warehouse district, and turns on him. When the man fights back—Parker chops him across the windpipe, killing him instantly. Violence is quick and clean in this unsentimental novel.
Here is the scene in the author’s words:
As they passed, Parker on the outside, Parker turned on his left foot and drove a right hand across the side of the guy’s jaw. It turned him, threw him off balance and sent him failing forward into the loading area to wind up in the shadows there on his hands and knees.
Parker went in after him, to ask him questions and be sure he was getting the right answers. It shouldn’t take more than a couple of minutes.
But it wouldn’t work that way. There was a clicking sound, and the guy came up with a knife. He didn’t waste any time, just lunged.
Parker had no weapons on him but his hands. They were big hands, to go with the rest of him. He moved to the left to limit the guy’s knife-arc, pretended a left-hand grab for the knife, and stepped in fast, bringing the edge of his hand in under the guy’s jaw.
… Chapter 1, The Score
And just like that, the violence was over. But now Parker had new problems: he couldn’t get any answers to his questions. Who was that guy? Why was he being followed? The questions begin to pile up in Parker’s mind and in the reader’s mind also. This is pretty good writing; it moves right along and holds your interest.
Parker is a ruthless career criminal who is the protagonist of 24 and counting Parker novels. He is efficient and professional, cold and methodical, and, as we just saw, not adverse to murder. If Parker has a first name, it is never mentioned—he is just Parker, and that seems to fit.
The Parker series is the product of prolific crime and pulp fiction author Donald E. Westlake writing under the pen name Richard Stark. The first Parker novel was The Hunter written in 1967. That novel became a noir movie classic, Point Blank, under the direction of John Boorman (with Lee Marvin playing Parker). The DVD has commentary by John Boorman and Steven Soderberg. The film was shot on location in San Francisco with scenes at Fort Point and Alcatraz Island.
The Score is the fifth novel of the Parker series. In this caper Parker will put together a gang of a dozen hardened criminals including several safe crackers. The gang will raid an oil refinery to steal the payroll, and while they are at it open every safe in the company town built up next to the refinery. The crooks plan to open safes in two banks, a jewelry store and several other businesses, while holding the fire, police and telephone systems captive. Imagine that!
Of course, this ambitious crime gets complicated and as in all Parker novels, something goes wrong. That is when we see Parker at his best. To be sure, this is pulp fiction, but it reads well with no frills, no long descriptions of the scenery or inner dialogs of the victims—you can read this on your iPad or other eBook reader and enjoy the misspent time.
The University of Chicago Press has re-published the Parker series (all 24 novels) in paperback and in eBook formats. I downloaded The Score as a free eBook in Kobo format from their web site. It was an easy and error free process; I was reading the book on my iPad a few minutes after I registered.
I found the Kobo reader app for iPad to be easy to use and the highlighting and note taking features are fully functional. There is a choice of type-face and font size; I chose Georgia for readability, but Baskerville, Trebuchet and Verdana also look nice on the iPad screen. The Kobo reader is every bit as good as the Kindle reader or the Apple iBook reader.
If you like pulp fiction with an ample dose of clean violence and don’t mind that the criminals seem to fare somewhat better than the police, you might want to give the Parker eBooks published by the Chicago University Press a try.
Day 71: The Score, Richard Stark (1967, eBook 2010).