The 8th entry in Donald Westlake’s series about a professional thief named Parker (written under the pseudonym Richard Stark) is ‘The Handle’ from 1966. The book was also released under the title “Run Lethal.” For those of you who don’t moonlight with a heist crew, a “handle” is slang for the suitcase of proceeds from a successful robbery - usually cash, sometimes jewels. By this point of the series. Westlake really hits his stride and takes some creative leaps forward in developing the violent world of Parker into a universe unto itself.
This time around the target location is a casino on a small island in the Gulf of Mexico. The island is ostensibly Cuban territory, but that’s more of a legal nicety than a police concern. For all practical purposes, the island and it’s casino are the domain of Wolfgang Baron, a German who has been in exile since picking the wrong side during WW2. Baron is a king on his island - making a mint without oversight from any government or the mob.
Predictably, The Outfit isn’t too pleased with Baron’s lack of a financial tribute. A mafia leader friendly with Parker presents our anti-hero with an opportunity: destroy Baron’s entire operation and keep the money (“The Handle”) as compensation for his efforts. Parker accepts the deal and gets busy amassing the right crew for the job, including stage actor, Alan Grofield, who returns to the series following his debut in Parker #5: “The Score.” Grofield is my favorite side character in the Parkerverse, and I suspect that he was Westlake’s favorite as well. In the intertwined Richard Stark chronology, Grofield stars in four spin-off books of his own beginning with “The Damsel,” which takes place immediately after “The Handle.”
Some pesky FBI agents with their own agenda begin nosing around the heist planning in Galveston, Texas. Watching Parker and the crew run circles around the feds made for some fun reading, and the heist itself was among the most explosive action sequences in the series thus far. Overall, “The Handle” is an excellent entry that fans will definitely enjoy reading. Highly recommended.
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