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Another fine mess

Reader fan critic teacher reader fan.

Currently reading

Ottessa Moshfegh
Knife Fight and Other Struggles
David Nickle
Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity
Andrew Solomon
The Good Lord Bird
James McBride
Ancillary Justice
Ann Leckie
Our Underachieving Colleges: A Candid Look at How Much Students Learn and Why They Should Be Learning More (New Edition)
Derek Bok
Dissident Gardens
Jonathan Lethem
Nightmare Movies: Horror on Screen Since the 1960s
Kim Newman
The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood
James Gleick
Complete Novels
Dashiell Hammett, Steven Marcus
Dirty Money - Richard Stark About halfway through the book, the understated glory of Richard Stark's long-lived antihero Parker gets a representative moment. A character who's been making Parker's relationship to some stolen money and the cops quite complicated must be dispatched, and after that character shouts,

"Parker [knew] which way he was moving. And then his ragged breath gave him the spot, and then Parker had his hands on him.

This had to be fast, and then he had to find that window and slide the plywood open just far enough so he could find his way back to the stairs and collect the flashlight. Bring it back, shut out the daylight again, switch on the flash, shine it quickly around.

There. Across the rear end of the room had been a kitchen. The appliances were long removed, making broad blank insets in the Formica counter that ran all across the back, but the sink was still there, set into the counter, with closed cabinet doors beneath. They opened outward to the left and right, with no vertical post between them.

Parker opened the cabinet doors and saw that the pipes for the sink were under there, but nothing else. Plenty of room.

He dragged [the character] across the linoleum floor, bent him into the space under the sink, and shut the doors. Then he went back upstairs and outside, . . ."

I pass on that lengthy quote because I got to the "dragg[ing X] across the linoleum floor" and had to look back over the passage to see what I'd missed. Parker's not just unflappable, carefully surveying the environment, undistracted by the person he's meanwhile strangling--he's a machine made for controlled criminal mayhem. He sets his eyes on a goal and then refuses all the empty jabber: of casual conversation, of explaining or providing motives for every action, of getting caught up in the performance of an action which can be done simply without any conscious attention. (Parker was played brilliantly by Lee Marvin in John Boorman's excellent "Point Blank," and I have trouble reading these books without hearing the implacable tap of footsteps on hard floor or seeing Marvin's blank grim face tilted just a degree or two forward of his marching body.) A guy gets strangled, and the only marker in the text is a comma placed between thinking about the action and the stuff that must be done afterward to clean up.

Stark (aka Donald Westlake) at his best wrings a similar neat magic out of such gaps, making his prose a kind of legerdemain where you suddenly realize, amidst the uncluttered observations of his realist descriptions, there's some sinister stuff afoot. But even at his merely-competent (and this is lesser Parker), these books are quick, smart crime novels. There is alas often too little of the great Parker, skipping for a long stretch into various subplots meant to heighten the tension but which simply remind us about the guy we wish were with, and the book is actually a continuation of plots left mid-juggle over the course of the last two in the series. I wouldn't start here. But once you're sold on Stark/Parker, you'll probably end up here, eventually.