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Book Review: Dirty Money by Richard Stark

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Parker (one name only) is a professional thief who’s been played in the movies by Lee Marvin and Mel Gibson. He’s always tough, always a real hard case, and he doesn’t give up on anything. In short, he’s my kind of anti-hero.

I first made his acquaintance when I was a kid haunting the long book aisles of Conda’s Swap Shop, a place where you could find books, hub caps, tools, and car parts. It was the kind of noir place with wooden floors and big sweeping fans. I always thought it was the kind of place where you’d find a man like Parker when he was trying to hide out. For fifteen cents, I picked up Parker novels. It was a steal at that price, and I read those books often.

The books carry the byline Richard Stark. But that’s just a pseudonym for Donald Westlake, who’s known more for his comedic novels than the rough-and-tumble lifestyle of Parker. If you read books under Westlake’s name, you may be surprised to see the difference in the writing styles. Somewhere deep inside, Westlake has the soul of a professional thief. I’m glad that he’s starting letting Parker out to play again.

Dirty Money picks up with Parker trying to get money from a past armored car robbery that he didn’t quite get away with in Nobody Runs Forever. The last few Parker books have been tied tightly together but spaced two years apart. It’s an interesting take, but I like seeing new faces in the Parker books.

The way a Parker novel normally works is this: The reader meets Parker and some of the people he’s going to be using on the job, almost like a Mission Impossible scenario. Then the job gets explained, and the opposition shows up. Invariably, something goes haywire in the job; an unexpected threat shows up or – as happens most of the time – some of the thieves Parker has allied himself with turn out to be too greedy for their own good. Or at least, Parker’s own good.

Dirty Money is a tad slower-paced than most of the other Parker novels, but the author spends some time exposing the world of money laundering, one of the biggest white collar crimes currently going on. I found it interesting, but I missed the gunplay and the tension. I like the books most when Parker is up against the wall, trying to figure out how to keep himself from getting killed by “partners” or captured by the police or other bad guys.

The money from the armored car job has been marked. Parker knows it’s not worth recovering. However, there’s a money launderer willing to give him a cut on the cash and he’ll move it overseas where the marked money won’t get found out as easily.

From that point on, the book turns into a chess match between Parker, his partners, an FBI agent, and the local police. Maybe the action isn’t quite up to par, but this is Parker. I still like watching him work, and Stark/Westlake’s pared-down prose reads so easily I was done before I knew it. It’s a great book for fans, but I’d recommend reading some of the earlier novels to readers that haven’t met Parker before.

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