Thursday, August 22, 2013


What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Comeback (1997).

From 1962-1974, Donald E. Westlake, using the pseudonym Richard Stark, had written a pile of quite awesome thrillers about a criminal named Parker and the meticulous, detailed, highwire capers that he would pull, often in conjunction with other criminals, most of whom couldn't be trusted. Westlake retired the character after '74's Butcher's Moon and resumed other writing.

Parker was revived in 1997 for a series of five novels with overlapping titles. (Comeback, then Backflash, then Flashfire and so on.) In this story, Parker has only been retired for a short time - as is often the case, the age of protagonists in series fiction is roughly consistent, and doesn't reflect the passing of a quarter-century since his last outing - and comes on board a promising score of $400,000 to be heisted from a disagreeable TV preacher's "crusade" at a small city stadium.

It's impossible to read a good caper story and not be impressed and pleased with the amount of planning and detail. This is a scheme that has every contingency planned for, except for the inevitable betrayal by one of the hoods, who fails to take all the money, but leaves a terrible loose end that Parker has to eliminate before leaving town. And then there's the bizarre arrival of three wet-behind-the-ears criminals who somehow know about their hiding place. Who the heck clued these guys in?

There's considerable similarity between the improvisational, fix-everything-fast nature of Westlake's books and the work of Gregory Macdonald, but Westlake was just eye-poppingly perfect at it. The inevitable showdown between Parker and the hood who has to die goes on a bit longer than I would have liked, but getting there was a thunderously fun and never predictable ride. Recommended, and looking forward to reading more of these.

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