Thursday, August 24, 2017

21. Stop this Man! by Peter Rabe

Always pick up a used Rabe if you find it, is a good general rule.  Original paperbacks of his are getting pretty hard to find, but Westlake's posthumous literary respect has resurrected Rabe's career tangentially and we are seeing more of his stuff getting reprinted.  This version was from Hard Case Crime, whom I know little about except that they seem to be doing exceptional work in putting out great new and old crime fiction. 

I struggle somewhat with trying to understand Westlake's love of Rabe.  It's not that I don't like it, on the contrary.  It's just that Rabe's books always seem somewhat meandering.  They lack the diamond structure of a Stark novel.  I think reading Stop this Man! helped me to better appreciate Rabe and understand why Westlake loved him so much.  That and the wisdom of age.  To appreciate influence, one has to also appreciate the cultural context of the time.  My father loves Godard while I have always been a bit mystified and sometimes annoyed by what looks to me today like french intellectual masturbation.  I realize, though, that my father was growing up in a cultural wasteland when it came to movies and so much of the irreverance and absurdity that is commonplace in cinema today is because of Godard. For a young person seeking something original in the late 50s, Godard must have come as such a welcome change.  I suspect this was similar for Westlake and Rabe.  The characters in Rabe's books just do.  Often, they are not good people. It's nihilistic at times.  Even the darkest noirs of the 50s and 60s had a lot of moralizing and hand-wringing in them.  With Rabe, and especially in Stop this Man! there is none of that.

The "hero" is an older jugger (safecracker) who has just got out of his third run in jail and gets signed up to a too-perfect job, steal a bar of gold from a laboratory.  The story starts after the heist, which went perfectly, except we learn that the gold bar is irradiated and basically poisonous to anybody who is near it for any length of time. This sets off a chase as the jugger tries to convert the gold into cash and the FBI try to find him by the trail of radiated bodies he leaves behind.  The jugger is a real carpe diem type of guy. He claims that he wants this to be his last job (he's 50 and one of the sub-themes is how he is behind the times crime-wise) but he is a pretty carpe diem kind of guy for somebody in his 50s, basically taking the ladies he wants and going aggressive against anybody who is getting in his way, including the syndicate smoothies (this theme of the modern, organized syndicate replacing and slowly eliminating space for freelance criminals is a theme we have seen somewhere before, no?).

It's dark and nasty and relentless right up until the end.  Reminded me a lot of The Devil Thumbs a Ride and Lawrnece Tierney could definitely have played the jugger.

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