(Reviewed by Guy Savage JUN 5, 2008)
“You boys are cute, in a destructive kind of way.”
I suspect that Donald Westlake never leaves his computer, but he must get bored writing under his famous name, and perhaps that’s what explains why the prolific Westlake keeps cropping up with a series of pen names. Dirty Money appears under the name Richard Stark--a name that debuted in 1959. Westlake, as Stark, then wrote a series of Parker novels from 1962-1974. Stark then disappeared--reemerging in 1997. Dirty Money is the twenty-fourth Stark novel to date featuring cold-blooded career criminal Parker. I should add that there are also a few spin-off Grofield novels written by Stark. Grofield is a fictional acquaintance of Parker’s.
Dirty Money is the follow up novel to Nobody Runs Forever (Parker adventure #22). In Nobody Runs Forever, Parker and some accomplices knock off over 2 million in a robbery. When things turn sour, the crooks escape with the loot but then hide it until things cool down. In Dirty Money, Parker and his pals return to get the money that is hidden in boxes of hymnals inside of an abandoned church in New England.
With 2 million (in marked bills) up for grabs, a number of people try to get in on the action. Soon Parker finds that his gang of three has expanded in ways he’d rather not contemplate. Parker and his girlfriend Claire descend on a quaint New England bed and breakfast known as Bosky Rounds, but the place is swarming with the police. Parker has to dream up a way to get the loot and to escape a police cordon that has placed a stranglehold on the area.
One of the reasons I enjoy reading the occasional Westlake novel is for the splashes of unlikely humor he tends to lace into the plots of his novels. Unfortunately, all humor appears to be absent from Dirty Money. There is, however, a tough-talking female bounty hunter who covers Parker’s back in order to secure her share of the loot. But with double-crosses and triple-crosses galore, it seems uncertain whether or not Parker is going to live long enough to enjoy his ill-gotten gains.
The author steadfastly avoids any examination of morality here, so there are no regrets at the body count. Hard-core crime fans will enjoy this aspect of Dirty Money, but on the negative side we never really get inside the characters’ heads. Apart from a shared unquenchable desire for riches--at any cost--the characters possess an alarming lack of dimension, and this leaves a host of interchangeable crooks--with the odd physical description thrown in for good measure. Ultimately this lack of character analysis creates a dull read, with uninteresting hoods driven by brain stem impulse. I just finished Westlake’s Somebody Owes Me Money from Hard Case Crime, and since I read both novels in the same week, I couldn’t help but compare the two. Somebody Owes Me Money is the vastly superior book--and that’s partially due to the protagonist, an engaging New York cab driver whose wisecracking wisdom and personality made the pages crackle.
- Amazon readers rating: from 15 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Dirty Money at the author's website(back to top)
(Reviewed by Bill Robinson NOV 30, 2002)
The anti-hero of the novel is author Richard Stark's man of one name. Parker a man of few words, is world-wise, if not world-weary. He has definitely been around the block more than once. He and most of his cronies are portrayed less as evil, rather as amoral. Their ethics are what might at best be called "situational."
These are simply career criminals who chose a life of crime for reasons long forgotten in a past too distant to remember. However, Parker and his immediate circle generally operate as if they adhere to Bob's Dylan's 60's adage: "To live outside the law you must be honest." They are as honest as they can afford to be and still survive in the harsh, noir world they inhabit.
As the title implies, much of the story involves getting out of undesirable places. When the book opens, we find Parker an unwilling guest in a large, bleak, "inescapable" Midwestern prison. Parker's immediate task is to put together a "crew," a small group of inmates, with the intelligence to deal creatively with their captive condition, i.e., to escape to freedom.
They are successful in this task. However, once free, as part of the escape plan, the former convicts have decided to rob a local jewelry wholesaler--this to give them a "stake." The establishment is located in an old, restored armory. This unique setting creates a series of breaking-and-entering difficulties and a unique set of challenges.
Parker never thinks the robbery plan is a good idea, but he is forced to participate to gain cooperation for the jailbreak. Much of the book finds Parker making the best of bad situations. Of this he is a master. He may be a man of few words, but he is definitely a man of decisive actions.
Author Stark is a master himself. His genius is in structuring the novel in a way that supports the plot and keeps things moving swiftly and with interest. Little, if anything, is extraneous. If a chapter should be brief to communicate concisely and succinctly a particular event or action, it is a short two pages long. All the book's dialogue is uniformly crisp and to the point. Adjectives and adverbs are generally absent. Absent also is any verbiage which might take the reader's mind off the here and now.
Parker and his little crew (it dwindles down to three members as the book progresses) become quite tight as they successfully overcome various post-jail obstacles. However, when it is necessary for one of the three to bid the others a fond adieu, he does so without a second thought. It is obvious that the greatest skill a would-be outlaw can possess is the ability to take things in stride and as they come.
Stark does an excellent job of communicating this transient and often exciting nature of criminal life. The author is successful in a way that makes this a genuine page-turner, even if the characters are at times a bit one-dimensional. However, this reader has to admit that he was pulling strongly for a very real Parker as the book came to a fingernail-biting conclusion. The book is the 20th in the "Parker Novel" series with the mystery Grand Master Donald E. Westlake writing as Richard Stark. A sequel is probably in the works. It is eagerly awaited.
- Amazon readers rating: from 19 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Breakout at MostlyFiction.com
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
The Parker Series:
- The Hunter (also called Point Blank and Payback in 1999) (1962)
- The Man With the Getaway Face (also called The Steel Hit) (1963)
- The Outfit (1963)
- The Mourner (1963)
- The Score (also called Killtown) (1964)
- The Jugger (1965)
- The Seventh (also called The Split) (1966)
- The Handle (also called Run Lethal) (1966)
- The Rare Coin Score (1967)
- The Green Eagle Score (1967)
- The Black Ice Score (1968)
- The Sour Lemon Score (1969)
- Deadly Edge (1971)
- Slayground (1971)
- Plunder Squad (1972)
- Butcher's Moon (1974)
- Comeback (1997)
- Backflash (1998)
- Flashfire (2000)
- Firebreak (2001)
- Breakout (December 2002)
- Nobody Runs Forever (November 2004)
- Ask the Parrot (November 2006)
- Dirty Money (April 2008)
The Alan Grofield Series
Movies from Books:
- Made in the USA (from The Jugger) (1966)
- Point Blank (from The Hunter) (1967)
- Mise a Sac (from The Score) (1967)
- The Split (from The Seventh) (1968)
- The Outfit (1974)
- Slayground (1984)
- Payback (1999)
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- Wikipedia page on Donald Westlake / Richard Stark
- Thrilling Detective on Parker
- First Lines to Richard Stark's Parker Books
- MostlyFiction.com page on Donald Westlake
- A review of a Dortmunder book by Donald Westlake at MostlyFiction.com
- MostlyFiction.com review of Memory (Westlake's last novel published after his death)
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About the Author:
Richard Stark is one of the preeminent authors--and inventors--of noir crime fiction. Stark's recent Parker novels Comeback and Backflash were selected as New York Times Notable Books of the Year. His first novel, The Hunter, became the classic 1967 movie Point Blank. Thirty years later The Hunter was adapted again by Hollywood, in the hit Mel Gibson movie Payback. Richard Stark is an alias for the Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Donald E. Westlake who lives in upstate New York.
Donald E. Westlake died December 31, 2008 of a heart attack while vacationing in Mexico. He was 75 years old.