Onyx reviews: Flashfire
by Richard Stark
Parker is a cold-blooded, incorrigible thief who does not flinch at murder to
settle a score. He has no sympathy for the victims of his crimes and little for
anyone who gets caught in the crossfire.
There is an entire subgenre of crime fiction where the protagonist is a
criminal. This is hard to pull off, because the average reader is not going to
have much sympathy with or liking for a guy who would steal everything of value
from someone's house just to finance his other illegal operations. Most writers
who venture down this dark road offset the natural repulsion for a leading
criminal by injecting large doses of humor into the story. With a wink and a
nudge, the writer says, "See, he's not such a bad guy after all."
Richard Stark, a pen name used by Donald E. Westlake, does not provide such
relief. Parker (played with comedic intent by Mel Gibson in the recent movie Payback) is tough, antisocial, lethal and deadly serious.
Flashfire starts with Parker and a trio of co-conspirators in the
midst of committing a robbery. Parker is seen casually lobbing a Molotov
cocktail through the window of a convenience store to provide a diversion as his
colleagues rob a bank.
When the take proves to be less than expected, Parker's partners in crime offer
him only one-tenth of his share. The rest, they say, is needed to finance an
even bigger heist in Palm Beach. Parker who knows Palm Beach, knows how tightly
the island resort community can be zippered up by the police, wants nothing to
do with their plan.
Unfortunately, he is outnumbered and left behind with the promise that the rest
of his share will be forthcoming when the second job is done.
Parker is not the kind of man to take this kind of treatment lying down. He
becomes his own one-man crime spree as he meanders across the country,
accumulating enough money to finance his revenge on his ex-partners. The fact
that he easily acquires far more money on this binge than is owed to him never
occurs to him. It's not about the money—it's about honor among thieves.
Well, maybe it is about the money—there is a lot of it at stake. The Palm
Beach job involves jewelry worth over twelve million dollars. Even at a dime on
the dollar, the proceeds from this caper would be over a million and Parker
plans to walk away with all of it.
While creating a new identity to use in Palm Beach, Parker runs afoul of a crime
lord who is using the same identity merchant. The crime lord does not want
anyone to remember who he used to be, including the man who provided him with
the false papers and background. Including Parker, who was in the wrong place at
the wrong time.
In Palm Beach, Parker quickly becomes enmeshed in a complicated dance between
his former partners, the local police, a steady stream of hit men, and an
accidental accomplice in the form of a real estate agent who smells in Parker
her chance to get away from her going-nowhere life.
Stark's novels are all about plot. The characters are thinly but clearly drawn.
They are rarely described physically but the reader comes away with a strong
sense of who they are at what motivates them. It is a testimony to Stark's skill
that he is able to get the audience to enthusiastically cheer for Parker in
spite of the fact that he is a scoundrel without any redemptive characteristics.
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