Wallace Stroby gave us one of the best heist books in quite some time with his novel Cold Shot to the Heart, featuring heist-woman Crissa Stone. Early this year, he gave us another Crissa book, Kings of Midnight, featuring the legendary Luftansa heist. Not only does Wallace write great crime books, he’s a well informed fan of the genre, a natural to call in for our History Of Mystery Class discussion of Richard Stark and his book The Outfit. We asked him to give us a list of five strong heist novels. As a writer who delivers more than you expect, he gave us six.
(Notice how half of the books were by Westlake/Stark. Before our 6pm discussion we’ll be viewing the movie version of The Outfit, starring Robert Duvall. A couple years ago, Wallace wrote a piece about the film for Noir Of The Week. )
The Asphalt Jungle by W.R. Burnett (1949). The granddaddy of heist novels, by the prolific Burnett, who also wrote Little Caesar High Sierra and the screenplay for Scarface. Ex-cons plan a jewel robbery. Doesn’t end well.
Hell Hath No Fury by Charles Williams (1953). Lust, passion and bank robbery in a small Texas town. Filmed in 1990 as The Hot Spot, starring Don Johnson and Virginia Madsen.
Clean Break by Lionel White (1955). Pulp master White out-Tarantinoed Tarantino 35 years before Reservoir Dogs. A carefully planned and executed robbery at a N.Y. racetrack is told from the point of view of different participants via a fractured timeline. Became Stanley Kubrick’s first major feature, The Killing, with a script co-written by Jim Thompson (the book was later reissued under that title).
The Rare Coin Scare by Donald E. Westlake, writing as “Richard Stark” (1967). For my money, the best of the Stark books. Parker heads up a crew plotting the robbery of valuable coins on display at a convention in Indianapolis. Controlled but dynamic writing, and a beautifully structured plot. This is the uber-Parker.
The Sour Lemon Score by Richard Stark (1969). The template for 40 years of heist-gone-wrong novels that followed. The actual robbery – of a Midwest bank – takes place in the first few pages. The rest of the novel is Parker trying – mostly unsuccessfully – to recover the money, and track down the partner who betrayed him.
Kahawa by Donald Westlake (1977). After years of writing comic capers such as The Hot Rock and Bank Shot, often alternating them with the deadly serious Stark books, Westlake merged his dual personas in this novel about the hijacking of trainload of coffee from a remote African nation (“Kahawa” is Swahili for coffee).