Wednesday, January 23, 2013

2. The Sour Lemon Score by Richard Stark

[This review is intended for people who have already read the book.  It's not that there are a lot of explicit spoilers, but I come to some (probably facile) conclusions that are only possibly interesting if you have read the book.  As always, if you haven't read The Sour Lemon Score yet, I can only assume that it is because you are still working your way up to it.  So get cracking!]

I always used to think of The Sour Lemon Score as one of the more archetypical Parker books.  It has the classic structure of heist gone wrong and Parker dealing with the aftermath.  It has no links to any of the cross-book storylines.  Finally, it has The something something Score title.  On this, my third go-through of the series, I am more of the mind that there are no archetypical Parker books.  Each one has its own flavour and style that make it unique.  Upon this re-read, I have learned that while the beginning follows close to what might be considered the Parker formula, it quickly becomes a very different book.  The majority of the storyline is devoted to a double manhunt with a lot of investigation:  Parker trying to find the dude who betrayed the heist while that dude hunts Parker down to eliminate the last betrayee.

Things get complicated, of course and Parker interacts with a wide range of individuals that keep the book interesting.  For me, I find The Sour Lemon Score a bit dissatisfying. It's not that it isn't a good book.  It has the usual rich and fun writing ("Uhl was still as docile as a lobotomized monk"), a couple of neat dips into the straight end of the pool (it's always interesting when Parker enters into the non-criminal world) and a surprisingly deep look into the character of Parker himself and his ethical limits.  It's just that it starts off with such a bang with the heist and then the awesome action of the betrayal (Parker jumping out of the barn window one bullet ahead of his life is just so excellent) that I get all revved up.  I'm so fucking angry with George Uhl and I want Parker to find him and punish him.  The rest of the book holds that tension but adds complexity to it so that it becomes harder and harder to release it.  By the end, when Parker makes the moral choice that he does, you realize that you aren't going to get that simple satisfaction and it's a bit of a letdown.

Thinking about it, I realize that the book could be read as Parker's failure.  He ends up with no cash in a lot of them, but somehow it feels like he tries really hard and is constantly questioning himself as he is doing so.  He ends up with nothing and in a position where he has to make what is perhaps the less efficient moral decision.  It's kind of depressing.  Yet it still adheres to Parker's realism and cold objectivity regarding life and himself.  He knows it as much as the reader does.

Monday, January 14, 2013

1. Casca: The Legionnaire #11 by Barry Sadler

I literally found this book in an alley, along with several other minor little treasures.  The contents of what appeared to be someone's apartment  were strewn about an alley and my eye flashed on a beat-up paperback sticking out of a plastic bag.  I couldn't resist and ended up finding a nice little stash of books from the 60s through the early 80s.  Don't know if somebody had moved out or passed away, but I couldn't let these books go to the dump.

Casca is a fairly well-known and appreciated series among fans of the manly military series books.  It's the story of a legionnaire responsible for putting Jesus on the cross who is then cursed to spend the rest of time until the Rapture being a soldier.  He is effectively immortal and follows history going from war to war.  #11 starts out with him as a Nazi soldier, fleeing the Russian advance at the end of WWII.  He makes his way to the French Foreign Legion and is sent over to Indochina to help stave off the Viet Cong resistance to French colonial rule.

I'm not a big fan of war fiction.  There is often a slightly disturbing pornographic element in it that makes me think of certain kids in high school that I didn't really want to hang around with.  I also find it kind of boring.  Of all the wars, I'd say it is Vietnam that I find the most boring and disturbing when portrayed fictionally.  So I had a bit of a slog at certain points getting through this book.  It wasn't extremely pornie when it came to the guns and violence (less so than the Bruno Rossi books for instance), but at the same time there isn't really a whole lot to care about character-wise.  The coolest part for me was when Casca does actually get killed.  It is about halfway through the book and up until that point there was no explanation of his supernatural status, just a few oblique references to his scarred body and intense, deathly stare.  The description of his resurrection after being shot down in a swamp in Vietnam was compelling and intense.  I got into that part. 

I think if you like this sort of thing, the Casca books deserve their reputation and you should check them out.  It's not my cup of tea, so I am glad I read this one and know how the series works, but that will be it for me.