Extensive polling of Men’s Adventure Fiction fans has firmly established that the Parker series of heist novels by Donald Westlake (writing as Richard Stark) is the most popular series of all time. The ninth book in the series, “The Rare Coin Score”, is a great example of why this is the case.
This 1967 installment finds Parker set for money but restless and bored. He’s running through loose and disposable women like old Kleenex while he awaits an invitation from his broker to join a promising heist crew for a good score. Instead, he meets Billy.
Billy is an amateur and a fool putting together a crew of professionals to knock over a rare coin convention in Indianapolis. It’s a challenging heist because the convention will be in a hotel guarded by Pinkerton men. Moreover, collectible coins are hard to steal because they require the thieves to be able to distinguish the valuable ones from the dead weight. And then you’ll need to fence the coins with someone who will give fair value for the plunder. Despite his legion of shortcomings, Billy knows coins has the hookup for the fence, so Parker and other pros go forward with the planning despite their misgivings about the guy.
“The Rare Coin Score” is also the Parker novel where our hero meets Claire, the woman who becomes a significant figure in Parker’s life for the remainder of the series. Parker’s interest in Claire provides the tension of the novel because Billy has his eyes on her as well. Can everyone just set aside their pettiness, puppy love, and jealousy to rob a coin convention like professionals?
It’s not too much of a spoiler to tell you that the heist goes sideways. The Parker novels generally follow the same narrative structure in that most of the novel is told in third-person narration from Parker’s perspective. However, there’s always a section that puts the reader into the head of the other characters leading up to the heist before returning to Parker for the action-packed conclusion. It’s this insight into the secondary players that always reveals the egos, spite, and hidden agendas that ultimately undermine the smooth success of the job. Westlake was an amazing writer, and this literary revelation trick never fails to deliver excitement.
Some Parker paperbacks need to be read in specific order (the first three, for example) and others stand alone nicely. “The Rare Coin Score” is one of the better books in the series that does not require any historical knowledge of previous books. It’s a great origin story for Parker’s girl, and a damn fine heist novel by the master of the genre. Highly recommended.