Saturday, February 02, 2013

4. The Black Ice Score by Richard Stark

The Black Ice Score is my least favourite of the Parker novels (though this may change with my second reading of the second run).  I believe I am not alone in this.  It's actually a pretty cool story, but the tone is just off.  I feel like Westlake was, for once, a bit mixed in his head about which identity was writing this one. It has hints of Dortmunder in it (the New York location, the cast of different gangs, the slight goofiness).  More strongly, it feels like it came about when Westlake was really getting into Africa as a theme (which would later come out more fully realized in Kahawa and to some extent Humans).  He seems more interested in the nation of Dhaba than in Parker.  We see Parker through their eyes, rather than his own.

But what really knocks this one down a peg for me is all the grinning.  One character in particular, who actually is somewhat of a hardcase (though in a civilized, educated exterior) is constantly grinning.  It just doesn't fit a Parker book in general and in some moments seems utterly out of place.  I hate to say it, but it also has a disturbing stereotypical edge to it, the grinning African with his big white teeth.  Finally the white South Africans are the lameos here and should really get their shit handed to them Parker style.  They get off way too easy for pulling a gun on Parker in his hotel room, kidnapping his woman and generally acting smugly superior.  I note that this is the second book in a row where Parker seems a bit restrained.  Was Westlake working through some issues of his own?  These were written in 1969 and 1970, as the tide started to turn on the hippie movement and America began to truly question itself.  Perhaps Westlake too was demonstrating some thematic doubt with the purity that is Parker.  Or perhaps he is just storing the ass-kicking up in order that he will have plenty to unleash in the wave that comes in the following books.

Not to say that there isn't a lot good in The Black Ice Score.  The character of Hoskins as the international criminal sleazeball is well-realized and his role in the job going sour is pretty classic. The job itself is quite cool, with an intricate setting and plan.  And we get to see a bit more about Claire, who, while remaining a bit of a cypher also demonstrates an inner strength that helps the reader start to understand why Parker might stick around.  The characters' names are, as usual with Westlake, absolutely superlative, somehow both very realistic and yet not mundane.

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