Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Dirty Money Trilogy

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 Nobody Runs Forever, Ask the Parrot and Dirty Money (Mysterious Press, 2004 / 2006 / 2008).

Even after I finished reading Richard Stark's 2006 novel Ask the Parrot, I had no idea that it was the middle book in a series. It begins with Stark's (Donald E. Westlake's) famous rock-hard thief, Parker, on the run from a job that went bad, but in one of these novels, that wouldn't be anything new. Capture is all but certain until he runs into a poacher who offers him shelter, and a chance at a new job, turning over a race track. Ask the Parrot is tremendous fun for anybody who enjoys watching the protagonist of a story dig himself out of a deeper and deeper hole, while other people keep shoveling more dirt atop him.

The situation in this rural community gets worse with every hour. Parker and the poacher, who had been fired from the track years previously and dreams of revenge, but is too much of a coward to work without major help, concoct a believable cover about how Parker's an old friend who will be staying with him for a few days, and are almost immediately asked to join a posse looking for Parker and a fellow robber, who's still on the loose. Then one of the men in Parker's party shoots and kills some tramp in the woods. Then two dumb meth-heads figure out who Parker is. It's a hugely entertaining cascade of one problem after another.

So a week or so later, I started reading Dirty Money, and while the case in the book I'd just finished was settled and Parker was on his way home, it turns out that there are still unresolved issues from the job that had originally gone bad, and two million dollars in marked money left in hiding in western Massachusetts. Worse, the third man on that job is back on the run after killing an FBI agent and escaping custody. The money still needs to be found, and something done about that criminal, and about finding a reliable buyer who will give them ten cents on the dollar and move the marked cash out of the country. And then there's a bounty hunter, and... heck, I missed a book, didn't I? Let me go back...

Each of the three books in this series can stand alone, but together they form a loose trilogy about a high-risk and high-reward job that gets fouled up and must be salvaged at any cost. Rollercoaster isn't an unfair description. This thing is all over the map, with more and uglier parties involving themselves in the search and rescue of the two million. Dirty Money doesn't really conclude so much as finally get to a point where there isn't actually anybody left to pose a challenge, and no more loose ends beyond the few that the author wants the reader to use imagination to resolve. It's a terrific cap to a very fun series, and while I've only read the 1997-2008 Parker books and haven't yet had the pleasure of sampling the original run from 1962-74, I believe these three books did the character justice with a fitting and satisfying sendoff. Recommended.

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