The New Year’s Eve passing of Donald Westlake — Mystery Writers’ of America Grand Master or something like that — made me realize I’d never read one of his many, many crime novels. No time like double-bonus month at eReader.com to make up for that deficiency, so I downloaded a bunch of his thrillahs: Some of the comic Dortmunder heist series written under his own name, and some of the un-comic Parker series bearing the nom de plume “Richard Stark.”
Good thing I bought a bunch. It turns out the first book I read, Nobody Runs Forever (2004), comes to a screeching halt right in the middle of a high point in the action — action, I might add, which has been gently accelerating from page one onwards and which would have had me frantically turning pages if I had been reading a paper book instead of an ebook on my PDA.
I would have been one frustrated suspense fiction devotee had I not been able to immediately open the next volume in the series, Ask the Parrot (2006). Westlake’s loyal followers during his lifetime would have been left hanging (truly in suspense) from 2004 until 2006, but I, coming late to the late author, was able to go directly from our loathsome anti-hero Parker’s scrambling for his life ahead of baying hounds and squads of eager police, climbing up a densely wooded hill in the boondocks of Massachussetts [THE END, credits] to what happens on the very first page of Ask the Parrot when our still-clambering anti-hero Parker gets to the top of the hill and finds…
Folks, this is straight-ahead, “cheese-it-the-cops,” excite-o-fiction we’re talking about here. It just goes. And don’t look for socially redeeming values either. The protagonist, Parker, is a no-good, murdering thief engaged in no-good murders and theft. You can’t root for the rat, but still, you do want to see if he’ll pull off the job — in this case, robbing a convoy of armored cars — and see how many bystanders will be scrunched in the process. But don’t worry, they’re only chess pieces in Westlake’s intricate game — lifelike chesspieces, true, but not quite human — so it’s all just happy-noir funnin’ around.
Nobody Runs Forever By Richard Stark
(Mysterious Press, Hardcover, 304 highly illegal pages)