Monday, May 02, 2011

27. The Rare Coin Score by Richard Stark

Well what a delicious tonic that was! After the bummer that the last book I read was, I needed something to cleanse the palate and though I felt it may have been a bit too indulgent, I also knew the Stark would deliver, so I went right to the next Parker book on my list: The Rare Coin Score.

I have definitely read this one before, but I have never owned a copy, so it is possible I had only read it once before, because I barely remember any of it, which is a great thing! The Rare Coin Score is an important book in the series because it marks a significant transition in Parker's romantic life. He meets Claire. I have mixed feelings about Claire and the role she plays in Parker's life. Though early on in the story, I became worried about how Parker was behaving, this is nevertheless a great heist story, from beginning to end, arguably in the top 5 of the series (though I'll need to quantify such a claim at some point).

The book begins with Parker at loose ends, not financially, but psychologically. He has money and really should be laying low after all the heat generated by the heist of the gambling island of Cockaigne in The Score. But he's restless and nervy and wants to work. Bedding a series of different women in party towns does nothing to calm the restlessness either. So when he gets a call from an old colleague about a job to hit a rare coin collector's convention, he goes for it, even though the finger man is a complete amateur his contact is fresh out of the joint and too desperate. Even more out of character, Parker hooks up with the woman who is behind the finger man and keeps hooking up with her during the planning of the heist!

Stark justifies this change in Parker's traditional patterns through both Parker's own psychology and Claire's intrinsic qualities. It makes sense for me how Parker, as cold as he is, still has a need for an intimate partner in his life. But I remaink somewhat skeptical about Claire's character. First of all, she is kind of a cipher. All of Parker's interactions with women are filtered through the cultural mores of the mid to late 60s as well as Parker's own particular way of dealing with them (basically telling them what's up as bluntly as possible, waiting for them to come on to him and then accepting or rejecting as the case may be). So Claire doesn't get a whole lot to say and what she does say is made up of those weird curt little phrases that seemed to pass for relations between the sexes in the '60s. She does demonstrate a strong will when dealing with men she doesn't want and she knows her role and plays it cooly in the planning phase.
She was a good woman, good to look at and good to be with. Sensible and independent. Not full of foolishness. [page 72]

You don't get a whole lot more than that, but it's enough for me and for Parker. Where I get skeptical is when shit gets violent, Claire totally freaks out. She actually goes into a state of severe shock, first catatonic and then talking childish nonsense. The end result is that while she is ethically completely okay with Parker's method of supporting himself, she herself can't stand to be anywhere around it. I'm not quite sure exactly what it is, but I don't totally buy it. She understands from the beginning the implications of what she was getting into and is totally cool about it, but somehow the violence when it actually happens totally freaks her out. Wouldn't there be at least some trepidation about that beforehand? The extremes just strike me as being too far apart in the same person and that, coupled with their stilted conversations, result in me never really feeling like I have a grasp on who Claire is. I will investigate this further in the forthcoming books.

I would like to point out another staple of these books: Parker reading some new acquaintance and implicitly judging him (usually correctly). As the reader, you can almost always tell who is going to be competent and who incompetent by Parker's initial impression of their physical appearance. Here is new heister Jack French when the string is first introduced:
He thought French looked all right; lean and rawboned and self-contained, maybe thirty-five, with level eyes and an expressionless face. French said, "Good to know you," and sat down again.[page 15]
Among other things, it's the levelness that is important to Parker, both physical and mental. Not only is his body self-contained, but so is his speech. No need for a joke here or any other verbiage. Just a greeting and let's get down to business.

Same with Wemm, the black sign-painter working at the shady auto-body shop who has been given the job of doing the fake lettering on the side of the getaway truck:
He had the self-contained movements of a man about to be asked to show how good he is, a man who knows he is more than good enough. His hair was gray but he had the face of a young man. [page 62]
(note to self: spend week practicing being self-contained). I think the gray hair and young face is also an indicator of Stark's world view: the positive combination of physical youth and mental wisdom. First impressions do count and Park can judge a book by its cover.

Finally, I am going to share two more great Westlakian metaphors with you:

Billy was at his most nervous, looking around like a possum coming out of a hole. [page 72]

When he saw Claire, a surprised smile creased his face, looking strange there, as though it had been delivered to the wrong address. [page 73]

That's Ninja-level writing right there.

I have distracted you all with some side analysis because I don't really have a lot to say about the meat of the book, which is the heist, its planning and execution. I don't have a lot to say, not because there isn't a lot to say about it but because it really is just much better for you to go ahead and read it. I can talk about those beautiful ribs on the bbq, how the sauce was made, how long I smoked it for, and so on, but wouldn't you rather just dig in? This is a good one, that's all you need to know.

No comments: