The Hard Word Book Club meets the last Wednesday of each month to discuss the best of hard-boiled and noir crime fiction. On Wednesday, August 30, at 7 PM, the Hard Word Book Club will meet on BookPeople’s third floor to discuss Comeback by Richard Stark.
- Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery
The August 30th discussion of The Hard Word Book Club will look at the return of of one of the hardest of hard boiled anti-heroes. In the aptly titled Comeback, Richard Stark (the pen name of Donald Westlake) brought back his heist man Parker after a twenty-three-year hiatus. As the book proves, the bad man hasn’t slowed down.
Stark hits the ground running with the robbery in progress. The mark is a big time evangelist at a stadium revival. Things go wrong, gunfire erupts, and Parker is separated from the money by one of the gang members, Liss. To track down the double crosser and the loot, he takes the guise of an insurance investigator to team up up with the church’s head of security chasing the gang down. Full of reversals, terse dialogue, and visceral violence, this is Parker returning in full form.
Comeback gives us much to talk about. Some of the topics will be how Parker and the books have changed over the twenty years, the series in general, and heist novels. We will be meeting on Wednesday, August 30th, at 7PM on BookPeople’s third floor. The books are 10% off for those planning to attend.
You can find copies of Comeback on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.
- Review by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery
A good series shows more and more focus with each book. The nuances of the lead characters show patterns and changes as a subtle arc becomes apparent and the themes more vibrant as the light of each facet bounces off the other. Following a strong series character is like watching a skilled artist work on a mosaic, each story is a step toward a bigger picture. Timothy Hallinan’s King Maybe reminded me of this, showing what I often think as a collection of light-hearted caper novels has a lot more going on.
For those unfamiliar with Junior, he is a Los Angeles burglar who at times is forced to be an ad-hoc private eye for other criminals. As often in the books, King Maybe opens up with Junior in the middle of a job. This one involves lifting a rare stamp out of the home of a mobster, something that becomes more complicated when the man and his henchmen come back early. The outcome of the situation leads from one burglary job to another as well as a murder. It all swirls around a movie mogul known as “King Maybe” for the way he dangles the hope of a green light without ever committing to a project. To mention anymore would give away the entertaining twists and turns Junior is put through.
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1970 didn’t just usher in a new decade, it also brought us a new era of crime novels. That year gave us at least three books that would transform the genre by cracking it into sub-genres, bringing different readers to the fold.
The Hot Rock by Donald Westlake
Originally concieved as a story for his hard-as-nails detective Parker series, Westlake discovered that the story– a diamond that has to be stolen over and over– was too silly for that series. He changed Parker to Dortmunder and not only created a second popular series character, but popularized the comic caper novel.
The Friends Of Eddie Coyle by George V. Higgins, Dennis Lehane
Fictional criminals would never be the same again after this book. A former attorney and reporter, Higgins knew the bureaucracy and politics of the justice system as well as the beleaguered cops and criminals caught up in it. His story about an aging mob soldier that is being played by both the law and his lawless cohotrs, has a work-a-day atmosphere of crime and punishment. This novel has some of the most vivid dialogue put on paper. It has influenced modern writers like George Pelecanos and Dennis Lehane. Elmore Leonard credited the book for his appraoch to writing crime fiction.
The Blessing Way by Tony Hillerman
By using his knowledge of the Native American Tribes in the Four Corners area and a little influence from Australian writer Aurthur Upfield’s mysteries, Hillerman introduced the world to Navajo tribal officer, Joe Leaphorn. The series opened up the west as a setting for crime and murder, giving big cities a run for their money; and it paved the way for other Native American mysteries by the likes of Margret Coel and C.M. Wendelboe. Even more important, it introduced the idea of the mystery anthropology sub-genre where the “whodunit” story investigates a culture as much as the crime.
While Richard Stark’s (aka Donald Westlake’s) Parker books have been adapted into almost half a dozen films, notably Point Blank and The Outfit, film producers have never been able to use the character’s actual name because no one wanted to make the whole Parker series, as Westlake wanted, only one book at a time. That will change this January with Parker, the new movie based on the book Firebreak. Starring Jason Statham as the bad ass heistman, it is planned to be the first in a series of films based on the books.
Their has been some debate about having a Parker with a British accent (watch him try to pass himself off as a Texan), but I’ll argue he brings the attitude. You can be the judge by looking at the trailer. If for some reason you haven’t read a Parker book, pick one up immediately, they are diamond hard with dialogue you can use to hammer a railroad tie.
The Devil’s Odds by Milton T. Burton
This posthumous novel by the great Texas author looks at the state during World War Two. It tells of the fight over Galveston gambling when a Texas ranger is caught between the legendary Maceo Brothers and New Orleans mob, trying to save a red haired damsel who may or may not be in distress. This is noir Lone Star style.
The Comedy Is Finished by Donald Westlake
This recently discovered Westlake book has a Bob Hope-style comedian kidnapped by revolutionaries in the Seventies. A smart, sobering view of the post-Watergate era.
The Plot Against Hip Hop by Nelson George
A great schooling of hip hop culture via a strong hard boiled mystery, this novel provides a look at what happens when art, culture, commerce, and politics meet. A great read even if you’re not into rap music.