Tuesday, March 01, 2011

12. The Handle by Richard Stark

I have finally started on the next set of 3 University of Chicago Parker reprints that I got for my birthday this year. I think that it is possible that I had only read The Handle once before. It is one of the series that I have never owned, so I must have borrowed it from a friend. In any case, I remembered almost nothing about it beyond the basic premise: Parker is hired by the outfit to rip off and burn down a private casino island off the coast of Texas, but actually in Cuban territory.

The heist here is one of the better ones. The isolated island, filled with rich party-goers and yachters, is a great target. Westlake, as always, makes it come alive with detail (love the little cockfighting pit in the rear, put in place to further heighten the air of exoticism for the guests) and colour. He also clearly describes the layout so the reader is encouraged to start thinking of the best way to hit it as Parker is.

However, I'm going to have to say that this is possibly one of the more flawed episodes in the series. The complications are just a bit too large and preposterous. Parker is already working with the outfit, hired by Karns, the guy who got to the top because Parker took out his predecessor, which seems a little off. Their motivation is because the island is competition they can't touch and they want Parker to take it out. I just don't like to see Parker cooperating with the mob, even if he is ultimately going to screw them. But then the feds show up and they know everything about Parker and his crew. They also want the dude who runs the island and want to use Parker to that end as well.

Finally, we have Grofield. Now, I like Grofield, but he always seems out of place in a Parker book. He's just too fruity and goofy. I get the feeling that Westlake was struggling with some other literary desires whenever he put Grofield in a Parker book. You see these tears in the Stark fabric that shine the light of Dortmunder into Parker's world. I don't want the light! The ending is this slightly unreal helicopter pursuit in the Mexican desert that just didn't feel plausible or like Parker at all. He even ends up on a navy vessel! I am having a hard time understanding how he doesn't just get arrested after this given the info the feds have on him now (they know his current alias and all his past aliases and link him up with 8 other robberies). Maybe it gets explained in later books.

Also, the heist itself goes down awfully quickly. The owner of the island, an ex-nazi with a really rich and colourful past, is set up nicely and then ends up not really doing a whole lot. He also has a disturbing right-hand man who is offed all too easily. I think I would have been happier to have not had the feds in it at all and stick with the other complications.

Still and all, a great read. I had wanted to savour it and I am trying to go to bed on time, but once the heist started, I couldn't put it down and ended up with the head lamp on staying up a good 45 minutes after my bedtime. A slightly-flawed (in the eyes of a hardcore Parker nerd) Parker is still a work of fucking art. I mean there are sentences in here that I just had to read over again a few times, as well as a few moments of badassedness I noted down for future dealings with annoying people (like when Parker tells the slightly officious outfit manager "I don't even want to be reminded of you.").


Buzby said...

It's too bad that it isn't as high quality as the others because it is the next book on my shelf. But I agree with you that a mediocre Stark/Parker novel is still better than most other good novels.

Wallace Stroby said...

There's a major Hammett reference in THE HANDLE, one of the most obvious homages Westlake/Stark ever did. Curious if anyone spotted it.

OlmanFeelyus said...

Argh! Now you are going to make me re-read it again! But I think I have a memory of a fleeting moment that did trigger something. Is it to the Maltese Falcon? I have a vague memory of a reference to the bird itself. Okay, off to flip through the pages. Thanks!

Wallace Stroby said...

No, it's a little more obscure than that. I sense a contest coming on. Trent?

Trent said...

I think a contest is a fine idea. I'll work with Wallace to put something together.

Trent said...

OK, we've put together a contest. W is out of town at the moment, but I'll put it out there over at my place when he returns. So if you know the answer, wait a week or so to give it so you can score the prize. ;)

OlmanFeelyus said...

Exciting! Looks like I am going to have to delve back into The Handle. Man, I wish I had the short-term memory of my youth, then the contest would be in the bag.

Anonymous said...

I don't care for that business with the feds knowing all about Parker either, it's thankfully never mentioned again in any of the later books. Retconned I guess.

I think back then people had the idea that government was some highly competent functioning machine that at least at some kind of idea of all major crime and events going on everywhere. What a crazy idea huh?

OlmanFeelyus said...

Glad to hear it doesn't come up again. Confirms for me perhaps that even Westlake thought he might have gone a bit off the path with that idea.

Interestingly, one of the marks of the Stark series (and Westlake's writing in general) is his profound cynicism towards all institutions and especially the government. That's why it rings so false when these guys come in and seem to have a vast, efficient intelligence network, especially after Parker totally faces them in that apartment.

Wallace Stroby said...

The Hammett/HANDLE contest is off and running over at Trent Reynolds' great VIOLENT WORLD OF PARKER site. Prize is a new, signed trade paperback of my novel GONE 'TIL NOVEMBER.Details here.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Blogger is eating posts, so I don’t know if this will appear.

Wallace, I spotted the Hammett reference, and I’ve entered Trent’s contest.

Omlan: Grofield’s clownishess was useful as a counterweight and spur to other characters, as here, from The Score:

Littlefield leaned closer to him. `You're a young man, you can still learn. Pay attention to this. You can steal in this country, you can rape and murder, you can bribe public officials, you can pollute the morals of the young, you can burn your place of business down for the insurance money, you can do almost anything you want, and if you act with just a little caution and common sense you'll never even be indicted. But if you don't pay your income tax, Grofield, you will go to jail.

I don’t much like him as a lead character in his own books, though.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

OlmanFeelyus said...

Peter, that is a fantastic quote. I actually copied it into my little quote book. It really is a kernel of truth in real life, but it's also a subtle reinforcement of the general theme of the individual versus the establishment that runs through the Parker series. So yes, point well taken!

Dang it, I need to get on this contest!

Wallace Stroby said...

Reminder: Tonight (4/11) at midnight Central Time is the deadline for entries in the Hammett/HANDLE challenge mentioned above. Prize is a signed copy of GONE 'TIL NOVEMBER. Details here here.