How many masterpieces are there in the Parker series?! Christ, I'd forgotten how great The Green Eagle Score is. It has vaulted into my top 5, possibly top 3 of the series. I'm going to need to sit down and think about how it ranks, but there is no doubt that this is one of the good ones. The heist is just great, the characters rich, the antagonist deliciously hateful, the Alma also hateful and maddening and the little insights into Parker's character are crucial as well.
The setup here is that Parker gets an invitation to participate in an audacious job in upstate New York to hit an air force base and rip off their payroll. The touch comes from Marty Fusco, an old colleague who got sent up. When he gets out, he finds his ex-wife shacking up with a young dude called Stan Devers. It is Devers who points out the job to Fusco. Parker is skeptical at first (as usual), but with some scouting starts to warm to the job.
SPOILERS AHEAD. IF YOU ARE AT ALL INTERESTED (AND HAVE ANY BRAINS OR TASTE AT ALL) YOU SHOULD JUST STOP READING HERE AND GO OUT AND READ THE BOOK. RIGHT AWAY. ACTUALLY, YOU SHOULD GO OUT AND START READING ALL THE PARKER BOOKS FROM THE BEGINNING UNTIL YOU GET TO THIS ONE AND THEN READ IT AS ALL RIGHT-THINKING PEOPLE SHOULD (AND WILL WHEN I BECOME EMPEROR).
Almost every book in the Parker books has two elements, that I refer to as the Mal and the Alma. The Mal is the antagonist, the person or group that you as the reader just really hate and can't wait for Parker to fuck up. Often, it is the Outfit. It can be a wide range of other characters as well (such as the sheriff in The Jugger). They are an interesting character to look at, because they give insight into who Parker is and some of the themes that Westlake addresses in the series. The Alma is the lame character whose emotional weakness spells disaster for the heist. You always hate them for being so lame, but you also understand that they are weak losers who can't help themselves, unlike the Mals who deliberately choose to cause trouble.
In the Green Eagle Score, the Mal comes from a suprising source. It's the psychiatrist who is treating Fusco's ex (and Devers' current), Ellen (who is herself quite clearly the Alma here). She is a messed up individual, with all kinds of fears and insecurities and to help herself, she is in analysis. It is there that she begins to talk about the planning of the heist, as much of it takes place in her home (and is a source for a lot of her anxieties, reasonably so as her last husband went up because of such an undertaking). What makes this book so delicious is the slow way that Westlake reveals to the reader that the psychiatrist may be interested in the heist itself. I really wish I was reading this for the first time or had my mind wiped, so it would come as a surprise to me at what point I would realize that the psychiatrist was fishing around.
His role is a fascinating one. Often, I feel that in the Parker books, Westlake is taking a shot at certain segments of society. He hates middle-men, people who control and make decisions without doing any real work. In many ways, Parker is a true working class hero. Here, the psychiatrist plays a similar role in that he isn't doing any real work. He waits and listens and plans to take advantage of other people's labour. Is that the ultimate sin in Parker's world? And I wonder how much of a shot is Westlake taking at the practice of psychiatry in general?
There are also a couple of other really cool moments. I love the introduction of Kengle, one of the heisters who is going to be brought on to help with the job. Westlake spends the better part of a chapter describing the struggles this guy is going through since he got out of jail, trying to sell encyclopedias door-to-door, living in a fleabag hotel. Then he gets a phone call.
The voice said, "Jake?"So great! In some ways, this moment encapsulates why we read these books in the first place. Westlake takes us into Parker's world and takes the heavy weight of mundanity and the straight world off our back for a moment where rulebreakers are the ones in the right.
Kengle recognized it, and a heavy weight seemed to lift off his back.
Finally, Ellen speaking to the psychiatrist becomes a vehicle through which Westlake can explore the Parker character. When probed about her fear of him by the psychiatrist, she says:
He's cold and ruthless and he doesn't care about anybody, but that's because he cares about things. Not even the money, I don't think. It's the plan that really matters to him. I think the thing that counts is doing it and having it come out right.Again, I think this plays into the notion of Parker as a working class hero. What is important to him is the job, how well it is done and that it is completed correctly. He is always fighting against individuals and groups who are either incompetent for a variety of reasons or want to take advantage of his hard work. The target here, the Air Force, is portrayed as being basically pretty useless, just a lot of bureaucrats with nothing to do but keep each other busy uselessly now that there is no actual war on. It's ironic that Parker is a criminal, all of whose hard work is done outside the law, but he seems to be someone with a profoundly protestant working principle.
The way the book ends is just perfect. Perhaps this little quote captures perfectly Parker and his world (and is a good lesson for us all):
Devers said, "Thanks. This isn't the way I had it planned, but what the hell."
"That's right," Parker said.