I finished up my foray into the mountain of crime books by Donald Westlake last night. Clicked on the last screen of the ebook version of Dirty Money which rounded out the three connected books (Mr. Westlake doesn’t call them a “trilogy,” preferring “triad” or “triptych” or “triangle” or anything but “trilogy”) beginning with the armored car heist Nobody Runs Forever and continuting — sorta — in the racetrack heist Ask the Parrot. In Dirty Money most of the sleazy principals return to retrieve the cache of money they stole in Book One of the non-trilogy. They are followed by dozens of new scalawags, each scalawag intent on grabbing the loot for himself.
As it happens, Dirty Money brings the Parker series to a close (though it seems Mr. Westlake — or his alter ego, Richard Stark, is still producing more entries from the beyond). But since the author and his fans lived in happy expectation of an indefinate number of further Parker theft/murders to come, it’s fair to say that the suspense in this last book depends not on whether Parker will live and grab the dough — he will: the series requires a living and solvent Parker — but rather on how many thugs and wiseguys Parker will have to kill before he rides off to his cozy lakeside cottage with a big enough stash to last him until the next job. No Reichenbach Falls for Parker.
In olden times, the fuddy-duddy New Yorker writer Edmund White tried to deflate the reading public’s enthusiasm for murder mysteries by asking the snarky question “Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?” Considering the still brisk sales of Agatha Christie’s Poirot novels more than half a century later, clearly Mr. White impressed no one except other New Yorker writers. So I won’t ask who cares whom Parker kills enroute to pocketing the stolen cash. Who cares who cares? The interlopers are faceless hoodlums and opportunists, so they don’t arouse an ounce of pity. They’re greedy, too, not approaching larceny with Parker’s businesslike attitude, so — according to Parker/Stark/Westlake’s pirate code — they’re only getting what’s coming to them when he strangles them, clubs them, or uses them as silencers on the gun he shoots them with.
Yeah, I know all crime novels are a sick indulgence. But looking at Westlake’s Parker series I can’t figure out the ratio of sickness to pleasure. You decide.
Dirty Money By Richard Stark
(Grand Central Publishing, Hardcover, 276 grippy but grim pages)