Showing posts with label Donald Westlake. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Donald Westlake. Show all posts

Monday, April 17, 2023

Brother and Sister

Do you remember the Don Pendleton series The Executioner? Of course you do, don't be ridiculous. Even a perfect stranger completely alienated from men's action-adventure literature will know who Mack Bolan is. Probably. Anyhow, in the debut of that series, War Against the Mafia, Mack Bolan is in the U.S. military and serving in Vietnam. He receives a letter from home advising him that his parents are dead. So, he comes home and starts banging on mobsters. 

But, if there was a PornHub take on War Against the Mafia, say 17 years before Mack Bolan and 30 years before the internet, it could have a U.S. military serviceman receiving a letter from home telling him that his parents are dead. So, he goes home and starts banging his sister. That's the introduction of Brother and Sister, a Monarch paperback original from 1961 authored by Edwin West, who is none other than the famous Donald Westlake who uses the name Richard Stark to pen the Parker series, the best heist books of all-time. 

Seventeen year old Angie's child-body has developed into voluptuous womanhood. So, she's consistently fighting off the sex-starved Bob by the dim light of the dashboard radio every Friday night. But, she's finally had enough lip-puckering and wants to totally take a low blow. So, she informs heavy-handed Bob that her parents are gone and if he can slip in and out really fast, they can successfully liberate her body from its virgin prison. But, when Bob pulls into Angie's driveway, all of the house lights are on and an old aunt is in the doorway. Angie learns that her parents have both died in a horrible car wreck. Bob's receipt of the news is equally devastating, but in a different way. 

Paul is twenty-one and an Airman Second Class in the United States Air Force. After bedding down a young woman in Germany, he marries her and they both live happily ever after for four consecutive months. But, one day Paul arrives home early and finds his wife serving as a blow-up doll for a another hump-happy Airman (see what I did there?). Paul divorces his slut of a wife, and after a few months receives the devastating news that his parents have died in a car wreck. The only thing he can think of is his little sister Angie. He has to come home quick.

After the funeral, Paul and Angie decide to just live together in their childhood suburban home. When Bob comes over to provide Angie physical therapy to mourn, Paul punches his lights out and sends him packing. After a few days, Paul begins to think of Angie in a different way. Angie begins to substitute Paul for Bob in her own mind. Before you know it, Paul and Angie are doing the nasty and pretending like they are married. It's a lot of incest. I mean a lot.

Thankfully, Westlake throws in a bit of crime-fiction when Paul and Angie's devious uncle appears to claim the house as his through a series of neglected loan payments. Apparently holing up in your dead parents' house committing acts of incest does come with a price. There's a mortgage payment and bills to screw with too. Ultimately, the book's second-half is like a countdown to madness as Paul and Angie begin to question their own sanity. The book's closing pages will be stuck in my mind forever. It was such a wild, crazy romp to the finish with a climax that borders on dark psychological horror. 

Despite how you feel about incest (hopefully we aren't bipartisan on this), Brother and Sister was a thrill to read. Westlake is a masterful storyteller, and even when he wasn't writing crime-fiction, he could stir the emotional suspense. If you love Westlake, this is an easy recommendation. But, if you just want a wild and crazy leap into a PG-13 level sexcapade (nothing graphic here), Brother and Sister is the way to do it.

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Paperback Warrior - Episode 83

On Episode 83 of the Paperback Warrior Podcast, we discuss the evolution of sexual content in genre paperbacks. Also discussed: Carter Brown, Adult Westerns, Ardath Mayhar, John Kildeer, Frank Cannon, Sam Spade, Wade Miller, Lawrence Block, Donald Westlake, Jonathan Craig and much more! Listen on your favorite podcast app, at or download directly HERE 

Donate to the show HERE


Listen to "Episode 83: Paperback Sex" on Spreaker.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Parker #02 - The Man with the Getaway Face

Richard Stark was the popular pseudonym of Donald Westlake, and his Parker heist-adventures may be the best series of the genre. The second book in the series is The Man with the Getaway Face from 1963, a direct sequel to the opening installment, The Hunter.

Evidently in the 1960s, there was a burgeoning underground industry of plastic surgeons who would change your face if you were on the run from the mafia or the law. Earl Drake did it. Mack Bolan did it. And in the opening scene of Parker #2, our hero has the procedure to stay one step ahead of the mob bosses he upset in the previous book.

The action quickly shifts to new-face Parker being invited to execute an armored car heist with a five-man crew. The original plan was garbage, so Parker agrees to help only if he can rework the scheme and streamline it to a three-man job with bigger shares for each participant.

For the first time in the series, the reader gets to see Parker’s methodology in the planning and execution of a heist. The author walks us through the site survey, bankrolling, gun purchases, vehicle acquisitions and the post-heist location choices. We also get to meet the unreliable team members who sometimes gravitate to this line of work. In this case, the wild card is a dame named Alma who Parker suspects is planning a double-cross.

The heist story forms the core of an excellent Richard Stark heist novel, but there’s an important side plot about someone tracking Parker through his plastic surgeon to settle a score. There’s also a detailed summary of the events from the previous novel, and The Outfit isn’t done with Parker. As such, you should definitely read The Hunter first. Consider yourself warned.

The Man with the Getaway Face is another outstanding installment in this nearly-flawless series. I’m really looking forward to reading the third novel, The Outfit, which ties up loose ends from the first two books. After that, you can pretty much read the series in any order. For the uninitiated: Jump in. Trust me, you’re going to love this series.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, October 9, 2020

Parker #01 - The Hunter

Donald Westlake had been writing professionally for several years when his first book as Richard Stark debuted in 1962. The Hunter (later reprinted as Point Blank) was a monster success and launched a 24-book series over the next 46 years with several movie adaptations along the way.

As the novel opens, Parker is pissed. He was left for dead in a post-heist double-cross orchestrated by his own wife and the novel’s primary adversary, a loathsome weasel named Mal Resnick. Adding insult to injury, the backstabbing lead to Parker serving a stretch in jail. The heist itself is a mere footnote to the plot as The Hunter is really a story of betrayal, vengeance, and settling accounts.

Even in this earliest iteration, Parker is a fully-formed, stoic violence machine. He’s like a Terminator in the famous sci-fi series - always moving forward towards the target. The physical descriptions of Parker as a big man with giant hands who doesn’t need a gun to kill are vivid and paint an intimidating picture of the legendary anti-hero.

By the same token, Resnick is a fantastic villain who inspires revulsion in the reader as Westlake fills us in on his own back story. The short version is that he betrayed Parker to steal Parker’s wife and $80,000 in heist proceeds to repay a debt to the mafia, famously known as “The Outfit” in the Richard Stark Universe.

As an organization, The Outfit is the third leg of the stool making The Hunter stand tall as one of the best crime fiction novels ever. Syndicate bosses set up shop in a hotel serving as a high-rise safe house for the mobsters to plan and scheme without fear of violence or the law. It’s an innovative idea borrowed decades later in the John Wick franchise of action films.

The Hunter is also the first in a trilogy of interconnected novels followed by The Man with the Getaway Face and The Outfit. After the first three paperbacks, the series generally showcases stand-alone Parker adventures with a few exceptions toward the end. As such, the first three books in the series should definitely be read in order. This shouldn’t be a hardship as they are all masterpieces.

But start with The Hunter. Don’t sleep on this book. If you read the book decades ago, do yourself a favor and pick it up again. It’s a reminder of how good crime-fiction can be. Highest recommendation. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, September 14, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 61

Would you believe that there are series characters from Lawrence Block, Donald Westlake, John D. MacDonald and others that you know nothing about? We drop some serious knowledge bombs on Episode 61 of the Paperback Warrior Podcast with reviews of The Best of Manhunt 2 and A Great Day for Dying plus a special bonus unmasking of T.C. Lewellen. Listen on your favorite podcast app, stream below or download HERE:

Listen to "Episode 61: Hidden Series Characters" on Spreaker.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 43

On Paperback Warrior Episode 43, we countdown the blog’s 10 most popular reviews chosen by our readers. Tom discusses new finds by old authors Robert Colby and Andrew Frazer. Eric laments the horror of moving thousands of vintage paperbacks and shelves to a new home. Listen on your favorite podcast app,, or download directly HERE. Listen to "Episode 43: Top 10 Review Countdown" on Spreaker.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Parker #10 - The Green Eagle Score

By the time 1967 rolled around, Donald Westlake had really found his groove with the novels he wrote under the name Richard Stark starring a hard-nosed, emotionless thief named Parker. The commercial success of the series had far outpaced the popularity of the comedic crime novels Westlake authored under his own name, and the quality of the Parker stories showed no indication of deteriorating. That was also the year that Parker’s 10th paperback adventure, “The Green Eagle Score,” hit spinner racks.

The story opens with Parker and his woman sunning themselves on a Puerto Rican beach when a visitor from Parker’s past arrives with a business opportunity. Fusco is fresh out of the joint after doing a three-year stretch and his ex-wife is dating a U.S. Air Force paper-pusher named Devers. The relationship between Fusco, Devers, and Ellen the ex-wife is surprisingly cordial, and they’ve stumbled upon an opportunity for a $400,000 payroll heist at an upstate New York Air Force base. Pulling a theft on a military installation poses some logistical hurdles, so they need an expert planner like Parker to make it happen.

Parker has the appropriate misgivings about working with amateurs, but he leaves the beach and his girl behind, so he can assess the viability of the score in New York. As always, Parker is the consummate, stoic professional, and his time spent in New York casing the base and weighing the pros and cons of the heist make for some predictably outstanding scenes.

Westlake shifts the third-party perspective quite a bit in this installment, and along the way the reader is treated to scenes where ex-wife Ellen repeatedly overshares with her therapist unwittingly tipping the shrink to the upcoming robbery and getaway plan. Could this create a problem for the crew down the line?

There’s a lot of build-up and character drama leading up to the heist. I found it all very interesting, but it wasn’t exactly action-packed. Once the execution of the job is underway and the plan goes sideways, fans of the series will feel right at home. Overall, this wasn’t the best Parker novel, but that’s only because of the high watermark set by the rest of the series. If “The Green Eagle Score” was a stand-alone novel, it would be regarded as a masterpiece of the heist genre. Instead, it’s just an average installment in a masterpiece of a series. You should definitely read it, but be aware how it stacks up in the Richard Stark canon. Recommended.


An exciting book bonus abridgment of “The Green Eagle Score” was printed in the July 1968 issue of “For Men Only” magazine under the name “The Young Bedroom Raiders” with some sweet men’s adventure magazine illustrations.

You can check out some screen grabs of the piece at: LINK

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Sin Hellcat

Lawrence Block and Donald Westlake are two of the most beloved writers in crime fiction. However, most fans are unaware that they co-authored three books together when they were young men starting their writing careers in New York City. The trio of paperbacks fell broadly into the category of “sleaze fiction,” and the best of these collaborations is said to be “Sin Hellcat,” a 1961 Nightstand paperback written under the name Andrew Shaw that’s currently available as a paperback reprint and cheap eBook.

Harvey is living a mundane, split-level suburban existence with his frigid wife and a job as a mid-level Manhattan advertising executive. He likes to remember his college years when he was a sexual, albeit inexperienced, young lover with his girlfriend, Jodi. The novel’s opening act treats the reader to generous flashbacks from Harvey’s college years when he and Jodi were first exploring one another sexually and later when he was trying to get laid at the ad agency as a mailroom clerk. These are the sexy - but never overly graphic - scenes that comprise the first half of the book in a rare example of actual genre fiction character development.

In present day, Harvey reconnects with Jodi who is now a high-end prostitute - a plot twist disclosed in the novel’s opening paragraph (which, honestly, sorta took the oomph out of what would have been an interesting twist). After spending the night at Jodi’s place, Harvey is awakened by a goon with a camera and a blackmail proposition. I won’t give it away, but I was happy to read that Block and Westlake chose to add some intrigue and muscle to the sexy mix with a plot involving international smuggling of sorts.

As a huge fan of both Block and Westlake, I had fun reading this early collaboration by them before they made it big. There were sections of the novel where I recognized each of their narrative voices in their tadpole states. Most of the paperback toggles between flashbacks from Harvey’s checkered past to the current, genuinely intriguing situation with Jodi on an international mission.

Is “Sin Hellcat” a lost masterpiece? No. But it’s way better than a 1961 sleaze paperback deserves to be. There’s enough titillation to keep the dudes flipping the pages, and enough edgy, adventurous content to add some substance to the work. Meanwhile, the writing style(s) is pretty excellent and genuinely funny and insightful at times. It’s not top-tier Block or Westlake, but it was a nice way to kill a few hours. Recommended. 

Purchase a copy of the book HERE

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Parker #08 - The Handle (aka Run Lethal)

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.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, October 29, 2018

Parker #07 - The Seventh (aka The Split)

“The Seventh” by Richard Stark (a pseudonym of Donald Westlake) was released in 1966 as the seventh book in the Parker series. The book was re-released in 1968 as “The Split” - with far superior cover art - coinciding with the movie adaptation starring Jim Brown in the Parker role.

As the novel opens, Parker is laying low in a girl’s home with the cash proceeds from a recent seven-man heist. He steps out for a few minutes to run an errand and upon his return, finds his hostess/sex partner murdered with a ceremonial sword and the heist proceeds missing. Did someone come to steal the loot and decide to kill the girl? Or did someone come to kill the girl and hit the jackpot by lucking into $134,000 in heist proceeds? This is the novel’s central mystery for Parker to solve.

Like many Parker novels, “The Seventh” is told in a manner that is unstuck in time. The reader gets to see selected scenes multiple times from the perspectives of various characters. It’s a narrative stunt that works because Westlake could write his ass off.

The flashback to the heist makes for awesome reading. The seven-man crew successfully robs the gate receipts from a stadium on college football Saturday. The plan was for Parker to hold the dough until the heat subsides and then each member of the crew would get their seventh. The theft of the money from Parker’s hideout throws a monkey-wrench in that plan.

Parker plays detective as he tries to solve the murder of his temporary girlfriend and recover the money with the assistance of his irritated crew. Meanwhile, the local police are also trying to solve both the homicide and the robbery of the stadium cash room. It’s a legitimate whodunnit executed perfectly by Westlake with the best scene being Parker’s brazen and audacious handling of the local cops.

There’s plenty of blood and gunplay in this one, and the violent ending set piece is among the best in the series. Westlake was at the top of his game with “The Seventh” and fans of the series should consider it a “must-read.” Highly recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

High Stakes

The intersection of gambling and crime is fertile ground for fiction writers and serves as the theme for “High Stakes,” a 2003 anthology of eight short stories edited by Robert Randisi. Three of my favorite authors are among the contributors, so I decided to read and review the stories by Lawrence Block, Donald Westlake, and Randisi himself.

“Let’s Get Lost” by Lawrence Block

Block’s contribution features his popular NYC private eye Matt Scudder, the hero of Block’s most acclaimed series of novels. This particular story originally appeared in the September/October 2000 issue of “Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.”

“Let’s Get Lost” is a throwback to a time when Nixon was president, and Scudder was a married NYPD detective who drank too much. One night watching a baseball game at home, Matt is summoned to the apartment of a prostitute with whom he has a personal relationship (Elaine becomes a significant character in later books of the series). As a favor to a client, she needs Matt to clean up a mess at a home poker game in a Manhattan brownstone.

The mess in question involves one of the poker players who winds up with a switchblade buried in his chest - dead by the time Matt arrives. The unusual circumstances of the murder cause Matt to advocate staging the crime scene along with the poker guys to create a more coherent story for the soon-to-be-responding officers. Is Matt being a crooked cop or does he have an ulterior motive?

Matt Scudder stories - long or short - are always fantastic, and this one is no exception. The Scudder P.I. novels contain many references to his days on the NYPD, but it’s interesting to actually read a story where Scudder is on the job as a cop and Elaine was just his favorite hooker.

“Breathe Deep” by Donald E Westlake

Westlake’s entry in the anthology first appeared in the July 1985 issue of Playboy where you also could have seen Grace Jones naked if you had $3.50 burning a hole in your pocket.

Chuck is a Las Vegas blackjack dealer standing at attention behind a $10 table with no players at 3:30 in the morning. Out of nowhere, he is approached by an old man that Chuck suspects is a derelict who wandered into the upscale casino on the Strip.

The conversation veers toward the urban legend (which may be true, for all I know) that casinos pump oxygen onto the gaming floor to keep the gamblers energized and awake. The story poses the question: what if someone wanted to use that knowledge as a weapon?

Westlake is always a good author, but at seven pages, this story was too short to really build up any momentum or tension. And without spoiling the ending, I’m not sure that the violent plan being executed would have actually worked in real life.

“Henry and the Idiots” by Robert J. Randisi

As the creator of several highly-regarded mystery series characters (Miles Jacoby, Nick Delvecchio, and Joe Meough, to name a few) Robert Randisi knows his way around a good crime story. “Henry and the Idiots” appears for the first time in the “High Stakes” anthology and has also found a second life as a $2 Kindle eBook.

While playing Caribbean stud poker on board a Mississippi riverboat casino, Henry Simon wins $257,000 in one hand and plans his escape from his miserable nag of a wife and her idiot brothers who all share the same trailer. Instead of going home with the money. Henry takes the cash and splits on a tour of casinos west of the Mississippi en route to Reno.

Meanwhile, back at the trailer, Henry’s wife dispatches the idiots to find Henry and figure out why he didn’t come home from the casino the night before. When she catches wind of Henry’s big gambling win, she’s ever more motivated to find her husband - and the money. Things come to a head in Reno once the idiots catch up with Henry and the security of the money falls into serious jeopardy.

The lighthearted story ends up with some fun twists and was a nice way to kill a half-hour.

The other five stories in “High Stakes” were written by Leslie Glass, Jeff Abbott, Judith Van Gleason, and Elaine Viets, and I’m sure they are all solid mystery tales. Based on the three stories I read, this fun anthology is an easy recommendation. Nothing revelatory, but some enjoyable short stories from a handful of the genre’s modern titans.

Buy a copy of "High Stakes" HERE

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Parker #06 - The Jugger

Most of the novels in the 'Parker' series by Richard Stark (a pseudonym of Donald Westlake) are straight-up crime stories that follow Parker and a crew of professional thieves through the planning, execution, and aftermath of a big-dollar heist. However, the sixth installment of the series, “The Jugger” from 1965, is a very different kind of adventure for Parker: an actual mystery to be solved.

The mystery concerns an elderly colleague of Parker’s named Joe Sheer. Fans of the series will recognize the name because Sheer was a former “Jugger” (the underground parlance for a safecracker) who left his career behind for retirement. For several of the early installments in the series, Sheer serves as an answering service for Parker. If someone wants Parker to join a crew for an armed robbery, calling Sheer will get the message delivered.

After receiving an uncharacteristic and worrisome letter from Sheer indicating he was in trouble and needed help, Parker travels to Sheer’s adopted hometown only to learn that Sheer recently died of natural causes and was buried right before Parker’s arrival. For reasons mostly of self-preservation, Parker sets out to learn Sheer’s actual cause of death and the problems that prompted the letter sent to Parker. 

Along the way, Parker encounters a police chief with an unprofessional interest in Sheer’s life as well as a fellow thief also investigating Sheer’s final days. Could there be a missing fortune to recover? Why would Sheer break normal protocols and send such a worried letter to Parker? What was Sheer’s actual cause of death?

The excellent website, “The Violent World Of Parker,” disclosed that “The Jugger” was Westlake’s least favorite installment in the series. This is where I part ways with the author. Although I wouldn’t recommend starting the series with this installment, I found the novel to be fascinating and the mysteries driving the plot forward were completely riveting. Bearing witness to one of my favorite anti-heroes in crime fiction shift gears and play detective was a fascinating change of pace.

Although the plot is completely unique within the series, the format of “The Jugger” remains true to the Stark formula. The action follows Parker through third-person narration until the Part Three flashback where the perspective changes and the motives of others are revealed to the reader. In this case, the payoff (i.e. solutions to the underlying mysteries) is outstanding.

If you’re considering skipping this one for fear that a mystery novel starring Parker may lack the visceral brutality of other volumes, rest assured that there is plenty of bloodshed for you to enjoy here. In fact, Parker’s solution to one of the book’s central puzzles concludes with an act of brutality so extreme and unexpected, it will stay with you for quite awhile. You’ll know what I mean as soon as you read it.

If you’re in the mood for a traditional heist novel, perhaps “The Jugger” isn’t the best choice. If, however, the idea of an exciting crime novel exploring the occupational hazards of being a criminal safecracker in retirement sounds interesting, you’ll probably enjoy this one as much as I did. It’s a shame Westlake didn’t like “The Jugger,” but he wrote it for you and me, not for himself. Highly recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Parker #12 - The Sour Lemon Score

The twelfth installment of Donald Westlake’s 'Parker' series - published in 1969 under the pen-name Richard Stark - is a fantastic hardboiled crime novel with a plot that significantly diverts from the formula of a standard heist story with favorable results.

Unlike previous books in the series, the paperback opens mid-heist with Parker in a four-man crew successfully executing a bank robbery during an armored car delivery. The thieves flee to a hideout to split the cash when a violent double-cross occurs sending the betrayer, George Uhl, into the wind with the stolen loot. Parker survives the ordeal with a new mission: Find Uhl and get back the money.

Stranded with no cash, no car, and no gun, Parker uses his resourceful mind to hunt Uhl up and down the east coast in a multi-state, high-stakes game of cat and mouse. What follows is part treasure hunt, part vendetta tale, and part man-on-the-run story. Parker also leads the reader through a tour of the criminal underworld filled with gun-selling black marketeers, fences for stolen items, duplicitous homosexuals, and an underground banking system where guys like Parker can stash their nest eggs.

“The Sour Lemon Score” is a testament to Westlake’s versatility as a storyteller as the criminally-minded Parker serves as his own private investigator in a missing person case that, if successful, will culminate in the murder of his prey and the re-theft of ill-gotten gains. Westlake’s invention of a subculture where an informal network of professional thieves can be manipulated and leveraged against one of their own is utterly fascinating and filled with colorful characters and great moments.

On the hunt, Parker is perpetually irritated by the exasperating array people he encounters as he chases the leads to locate Uhl. For the most part, Parker lacks the charm, patience, and people skills to engage in the normal slow-dance that brings fictional investigators closer to the truth. However, a manhunt investigation conducted “Parker-style” makes for some exciting reading while turning the traditional P.I. genre novel on its ear.

The ultimate confrontation between Parker and Uhl is incredibly satisfying and fraught with further complications for our anti-hero. “The Sour Lemon Score” is a short book that seems even shorter because the propulsive nature of the events makes it hard to put down. Like all the Parker capers, consider this one required reading for fans of classic men’s adventure and crime fiction. Highest recommendation.


Check out the helpful blog from our friends at for more in-depth literary analysis of the Richard Stark Universe.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Parker #09 - The Rare Coin Score

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.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Parker #05 - The Score

“The Score” by Richard Stark (a pseudonym of Donald Westlake) was the 1964 entry in the series starring the gruff and businesslike thief known only as Parker. The novel was later released under the name “Killtown,” and in the book’s opening scene, Parker kills a man with his bare hands while walking down a New Jersey street. This sets the tone for both Parker as a no-nonsense character and the events that follow.

He’s in New Jersey to be pitched a plan for an audacious and complex heist promised to bring in $250,000. The idea is to take over an entire desolate North Dakota town and steal everything - the bank vault contents, loan company cash, the jewelry stores, and the payroll of the local mining company. To pull this off, a lot of good men will be needed for the job. The problem: the guy who identified the target and assembled the initial team is an amateur with unknown motives. Can he be trusted?

Parker devises a plan that would rely on 12 men working in concert over one night to paralyze the town and make off with the loot. The dozen trusted thieves assembled for the job are a wonderful cast of characters - especially when they are chewing the fat about their chosen profession. One conversation about the importance of paying income taxes on ill-gotten gains was particularly hilarious and insightful.

“The Score” also features the first appearance of Alan Grofield, the summer stock actor who finances his dramatic pursuits by pulling heists. Grofield serves as the comic relief in this novel, and the reader is treated to his origin story. He reappears in later Parker installments and even had a four-book spin-off series of his own. In this one, Grofield makes some problematic choices along the way that compromise the success of the mission, and the reader learns a lot about him as a person. 

“The Score” is structured pretty much like other Parker heist novels: Recruitment, Planning, Execution, Getaway, Resolution. Part Three of the story places the reader in the narrative heads of characters other than Parker, and this was especially fascinating because of the intricacy involved with the moving parts of a 12-man crew. The weaving of the female characters into the story arc was particularly well done and served to humanize the hardboiled guys in the story.

A heist novel without bumps in the road would be tiresome, and some curve-ball compilations arise in “The Score.” I won’t give them away here other than to say that the problems that manifest themselves in this one were my favorite parts of the story and elevate this paperback among its genre cohorts.

Although this was the fifth entry in the Parker series, it stands alone nicely as a self-contained novel without reliance on prior installments. It’s a fairly perfect series, and pitting one installment against another is a fool’s errand - you might as well read them all. In any case, suffice it to say that “The Score” is absolutely essential reading for hardboiled fiction fans. Highest recommendation.


Fans of the Richard Stark books would be well-served to visit the fan site “The Violent World of Parker” which dissects his work with an impressive academic rigor.

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