Wednesday, February 27, 2013

7. Deadly Edge by Richard Stark

Now we're talking.  The University of Chicago Press edition of Deadly Edge has a great introduction to Deadly Edge, by Charles Ardai, where he points out how the Parker series softens slightly with the four books ending in "Score" and then kicks into a darker, more intense gear with Deadly Edge and the three that follow it (Slayground, Plunder Squad and Butcher's Moon).  He also points out that for many Parker fans one of those 4 is their favourite.  That was definitely the case with me, with Slayground being my favourite (and the first one I read).  With this third go-around, though, I am holding out on naming a favourite until I am finished. Currently, The Jugger is in first place.

But boy does Deadly Edge make a run for the title!  First of all, it starts out with my favourite heist, the robbery of the ticket offices of a stadium during a rock concert.  The idea is just cool in and of itself, but it is also so well realized. Only Westlake could so effectively put together the constant throbbing of the 60's psychedelic rock, the decaying industrial architecture and the tense execution of this heist.  He portrays the side characters so well (the pessimistic heister and the angry security guard) which adds to the tension and the richness of the situation.  Finally, the entire thing is founded on the value of skilled physical labour, with the opening being entirely focused on the logistical details of cutting into and through a stadium roof.  Just so good.  This is Westlake the master craftsman writing about other master craftsmen, both parties at the very top of their games.

And this is only the beginning. Westlake is not satisfied with this perfectly constructed music box.  He needs to jam his pen right into the middle of the mechanism.  In doing so, he also demonstrates that he is more than just a master crafstmen.  He is also a profoundly observant social critic and her he turns his eye to the idealism of the 60s and its sordid demise.  Deadly Edge is Donald Westlake's Altamont.  It takes the form of the two "hippie" characters, one a sexless psychopath wearing fringed leather and talking about "taking it easy", the other an lsd-blasted man-child as prone to glee as to savagery.  They have discovered Parker's heist and are tracking down the participants one by one, torturing each and taking their money.  Their insanity and ruthlessness trumps the skills of the more experienced criminals (there is an interesting generation gap here as well).  Until they get to Parker of course.

There is a lot of other good stuff to mention as well in Deadly Edge  We get to see Claire on her own again and this time she is not quite as helpless.  She shows her inner toughness and smarts in parrying with the intruders long enough for Parker to get back. There is also a horror element here, reminiscent of the grindhouse movies of the same period (Last House on the Left in particular comes to mind).  Finally, despite the utter depravity of the hippie thugs and the reader's desire for Parker to completely fuck them up, Westlake still portrays their relationship with some humanity.  Their ending does not deliver easy satisfaction for the reader.  Westlake was too realistic for that.

Another Parker tour de force.  I'm into the home stretch here.  Next up, the first Parker I ever read and possibly my favourite:  Slayground.  Going to be hard to wait.

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