Backflash (Parker Series #18)

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Overview

After the publication of Butcher's Moon in 1974, Donald Westlake said, “Richard Stark proved to me that he had a life of his own by simply disappearing. He was gone.” And readers waited.

But nothing bad is truly gone forever, and Parker’s as bad as they come. According to Westlake, one day in 1997, “suddenly, he came back from the dead, with a chalky prison pallor”—and the novels that followed showed...

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Backflash (Parker Series #18)

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Overview

After the publication of Butcher's Moon in 1974, Donald Westlake said, “Richard Stark proved to me that he had a life of his own by simply disappearing. He was gone.” And readers waited.

But nothing bad is truly gone forever, and Parker’s as bad as they come. According to Westlake, one day in 1997, “suddenly, he came back from the dead, with a chalky prison pallor”—and the novels that followed showed that neither Parker nor Stark had lost a step. 

Backflash
finds Parker checking out the scene on a Hudson River gambling boat. Parker’s no fan of either relaxation or risk, however, so you can be sure he’s playing with house money—and he’s willing to do anything to tilt the odds in his favor. Featuring a great cast of heisters, a striking setting, and a new introduction by Westlake’s close friend and writing partner, Lawrence Block, this classic Parker adventure deserve a place of honor on any crime fan’s bookshelf.

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Editorial Reviews

New York Times - William Grimes

“Parker . . . lumbers through the pages of Richard Stark’s noir novels scattering dead bodies like peanut shells. . . . In a complex world [he] makes things simple.”
Elmore Leonard

“Whatever Stark writes, I read. He’s a stylist, a pro, and I thoroughly enjoy his attitude.”
Bookforum - John Banville

“Richard Stark’s Parker novels . . . are among the most poised and polished fictions of their time and, in fact, of any time.”
New York Times Book Review - Marilyn Stasio

“Parker is a true treasure. . . . The master thief is back, along with Richard Stark.”
Washington Post

“Westlake knows precisely how to grab a reader, draw him or her into the story, and then slowly tighten his grip until escape is impossible.”
Los Angeles Times

“Elmore Leonard wouldn’t write what he does if Stark hadn’t been there before. And Quentin Tarantino wouldn’t write what he does without Leonard. . . . Old master that he is, Stark does all of them one better.”
Lawrence Block

“Donald Westlake’s Parker novels are among the small number of books I read over and over. Forget all that crap you’ve been telling yourself about War and Peace and Proust—these are the books you’ll want on that desert island.”
New York Times Book Review - Anthony Boucher

“Richard Stark writes a harsh and frightening story of criminal warfare and vengeance with economy, understatement and a deadly amoral objectivity—a remarkable addition to the list of the shockers that the French call roman noirs.”
New York Times Book Review - Luc Sante

"Parker is a brilliant invention. . . . What chiefly distinguishes Westlake, under whatever name, is his passion for process and mechanics. . . . Parker appears to have eliminated everything from his program but machine logic, but this is merely protective coloration. He is a romantic vestige, a free-market anarchist whose independent status is becoming a thing of the past."
Commentary - Terry Teachout

"Whether early or late, the Parker novels are all superlative literary entertainments."
Virginia Quarterly Review - John McNally

"If you're a fan of noir novels and haven't yet read Richard Stark, you may want to give these books a try. Who knows? Parker may just be the son of a bitch you've been searching for."
Vue Weekly - Josef Braun

"The University of Chicago Press has recently undertaken a campaign to get Parker back in print in affordable and handsome editions, and I dove in. And now I get it."
Globe and Mail - H. J. Kirchoff

“The UC Press mission, to reprint the 1960s Parker novels of Richard Stark (the late Donald Westlake), is wholly admirable. The books have been out of print for decades, and the fast-paced, hard-boiled thrillers featuring the thief Parker are brilliant.”
Marilyn Stasio
. . .A dazzling crime caper. . . .steel-nerved dialogue. . .
The New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Stark is, of course, a pen name used by Donald E. Westlake, and Parker is his very tough protagonist -- last seen, after a 20-year absence, in Comeback (1997). Parker is a hard-nosed crook indeed, quite unlike the giddy opportunists who often brighten Westlake's lighter tales. He is serious about his business, and anyone who tries to cross him -- as several people do in this dark tale of piracy on the Hudson River -- is likely to end up perforated. Parker's game plan this time is to rob a floating casino being tried out on the Albany-Poughkeepsie run in upstate New York. His informant is odd (an apparently upright state pol turning to crime in his old age), but Parker goes ahead anyway and puts together a gang with an ingenious plan to smuggle guns aboard the high-security boat and get the money off it. It seems to work, but more people know about his scheme than Parker could ever have realized, and at the end there's a great deal of bloody cleaning up to do. Stark's narration is deadpan tough, full of hard, realistic detail about places and people and with just enough salty dialogue to move things along briskly ('We live and learn, Ray,' Parker said, and shot him'). No need to lament a golden age of hard-boiled writing; it's right here, now.
Library Journal
Master crook and murderer Parker (Comeback, Mysterious, 1997), approached by a retired anti-gambling state-bureaucrat-turned-consultant, organizes an attempt to rob a riverboat casino during its trial run on the Hudson River. Despite reservations about the consultant's motivations, Parker gathers a group of heisters, who board the boat, where an undercover newspaper reporter threatens to ruin the plan. No unnecessary words here, just the cool, resourceful Parker, careful plotting, dry humor, and thorough preparation. A solid and entertaining addition to the series. [Stark also writes as Donald Westlake.--Ed.]
Marilyn Stasio
. . .[A] dazzling crime caper. . . .steel-nerved dialogue. . . -- The New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
When a road crash leaves Marshall Howell trapped in a wrecked getaway car, his partner, master thief Parker, has to decide whether or not to kill him before he skedaddles with their $140,000 haul. Since Howell's always played on the level with him, he doesn't, though somebody else does. Next thing Parker knows, he's being courted by retired state employee Hilliard Cathman, who claims he was about to set up Howell to rob a gambling ship cruising the Hudson, and wants to know if Parker might be interested in taking Howell's place. Apart from the bad omen, there's something about Cathman that Parker doesn't trust, but he goes ahead setting up the score: putting together a gang, arranging elaborate measures for getting the necessary weaponry past the ship's tight security and setting up separate escape routes for the robbers and the loot. It all seems too easy, and it is, since Ray Becker, the bent cop who killed Howell, knows about the job and is desperate to hijack the money. And he's not the only one. For all the freelance talent, though, this heist is a lot more routine than Parker's satisfyingly grim return last year in Comeback. Even so, Stark (a.k.a. Donald E. Westlake), like his outlaw hero, is never less than professional, and he supplies the fastest 300 pages you're likely to read this year.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226770604
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 4/15/2011
  • Series: Parker Series , #18
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 404,044
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author


Richard Stark was one of the many pseudonyms of Donald E. Westlake (1933–2008), a prolific author of crime fiction. In 1993, the Mystery Writers of America bestowed the society’s highest honor on Westlake, naming him a Grand Master.
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Read an Excerpt

Backflash


By Richard Stark

Mysterious Press

Copyright © 1998 Richard Stark
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-892-96662-9


Chapter One

When the car stopped rolling, Parker kicked out the rest of the windshield and crawled through onto the wrinkled hood, Glock first. He slid to the left, around the tree that had made the Seville finally jolt to a stop, and listened. The siren receded, far upslope. These woods held a shocked silence, after the crash; every animal ear in a hundred yards was as alert as Parker's.

Nobody came down the hill, following the scar through the trees. There was just the one car in pursuit up there, federal agents of some kind, probably trying right now to make radio contact with the rest of their crew, and still chasing the truck with the rockets, figuring they'd come back to the wrecked car later.

Later was good enough for Parker. He eased around the tree and bent to move down the less-battered right side of the Seville, where he'd been seated next to the driver. The glass from that window was gone; he looked in at Howell at the wheel, and Howell looked back, his eyes scared, but his mouth twisted in what was supposed to be an ironic grin. "They clamped me," he said, and shook his head.

Parker looked at him. The firewall and steering column and door had all folded in on him, like he was the jelly in the doughnut. He'd live, but it would take two acetylene torches four hours to cut him out of there. "You're fucked," Parker told him.

"I thought I was," Howell said.

Parker moved on and tried to open the rear door, which still had its glass, but it was jammed. He smashed out the window with the barrel of the Glock, reached in, grabbed the workout bag by the handle, and pulled it out through the new hole. Bag in left hand, Glock in right, he moved over again to look in at Howell, and Howell hadn't moved. He was still looking out, at Parker. Howell was mostly bald, and his head was streaked with bleeding cuts and hobnailed with hard drops of sweat. He breathed through his open mouth, and kept looking at Parker. His legs and torso and left arm were clamped, but his right arm was free. His pistol was on the seat by his right hip. He could reach it, but he left it there, and looked at Parker, and breathed through his open mouth, and more blood and more sweat oozed out onto his bald head.

Parker hefted the bag, and the Glock. Howell shook his head. "Come on, Parker," he said. "You know me better than that."

Parker considered him. He didn't like to leave a loose end behind, sometimes they followed you, they showed up later when you were trying to think about something else. He moved the Glock slightly, rested the barrel on the open window.

Howell said, "You know me, Parker."

"And you know me."

"Not anymore." Howell smiled, showing blood-lined teeth, and said, "This crash knocked my memory loose. I don't even know who I am, anymore. It's all gone."

"They'll try to make it worth your while, bargain you down."

"Not worth my while," Howell said. "Not with you out there. I'll catch up on my reading."

Parker thought about it. He knew Howell, he trusted him on the job, they'd watch each other's back, they'd give each other a straight count when the jackpot was in. But for the long haul?

Howell nodded at the bag. "Have a beer on me," he suggested.

Parker nodded, and made up his mind. "See you in twenty years," he said, and turned away, to head downslope.

"I'll be rested," Howell called after him.

Chapter Two

It was a house on a lake called Colliver Pond, seventy miles from New York, a deep rural corner where New York and New Jersey and Pennsylvania meet. A narrow blacktop road skirted the lake, among the pines, and the house, gray stone and brown shingle, squatted quiet and inconspicuous between road and shore. Now, in April, the trees not yet fully leafed out, the clapboard houses on both sides could clearly be seen, each of them less than fifty feet away, but it didn't matter; they were empty. This was mostly a resort community, lower-level white-collar, people who came here three months every summer and left their "cottages" unoccupied the rest of the year. Only fifteen percent of the houses around the lake were lived in full-time, and most of those were over on the other side, in the lee of the mountain, out of the winter wind.

For Parker, it was ideal. A place to stay, to lie low when nothing was going on, a "home" as people called it, and no neighbors. In the summer, when the clerks came out to swim and fish and boat, Parker and Claire went somewhere else.

Late afternoon, amber lights warm in the windows. Parker turned in at the driveway, at the wheel of a red Subaru, two days and three cars since the Seville had gone off that mountain road and he'd left Howell behind. The Subaru was a mace, a safe car, not in any cop's computer, so long as nobody looked too closely at the paperwork and the serial numbers. Parker steered it down the drive through the trees and shrubbery that took the place of the lawn here, and ahead of him the left side door of the double attached garage slid upward; so Claire had seen him coming. He drove in and got out of the car as the door slid down, and Claire was in the yellow-lit rectangle of doorway to the kitchen. "Welcome home, Mr. Lynch," she said.

Claire had jokes, and that was one of them; they were all wasted on Parker. She'd known him as Lynch when they'd first met, so she liked to greet him with that name, because it showed they had a history. She wanted to believe they had a history, in both directions.

"Hello," he said, and crossed out of the garage, carrying the workout bag. He stopped in the doorway to kiss her, and in that move opened himself again to all the warmth he'd shut out since he'd gone away. The homecomings were always good, because they were a kind of coming back to life.

After the kiss, she smiled at him and took his hand and nodded at the workout bag: "Not the laundry," she suggested.

"A hundred forty thousand," he told her. "Supposed to be. I didn't count it yet."

"I like it that you save the fun parts for me," she said.

What she meant was, she didn't want any part of it at all, what happened when he was away. They'd met in the first place because her ex-brother-in-law, an idiot named Billy Lebatard, had involved her in a robbery at a coin convention that had gone very sour. At the end of it, Billy was dead, there was blood everywhere, and Parker had dragged Claire into safety at the last second. She'd been married once, earlier, to an airline pilot who'd died in a crash; with that, and the mess Billy'd made, she wanted no more. Once, a couple of hard-edged clowns had broken in here, but Parker had dealt with it, and now he and Claire were together most of the time, warming themselves at each other's fire, liking the calm. When Parker went away, as he sometimes did, she wanted to know nothing about it. She was willing, at the most, while he showered, to count the money and leave it in stacks on the coffee table in the living room for him to see when he came in, wearing a black robe and carrying a glass. She sat on the sofa without expression and said, "A hundred forty thousand exactly."

"Good."

"Just like the paper said."

He sat on the sofa beside her and cocked his head. "The paper?"

"You haven't read any newspapers?"

"I've been moving."

"Before you went away," she said, "a man named Howell phoned you."

"Right."

"A man named Howell is dead."

That surprised him. "Dead? How dead?"

"Injuries from an automobile accident. While escaping, the car he drove crashed down a mountainside. The other three people, and a small truck with anti-tank rockets, all escaped. Arrests are expected."

"They killed him," Parker said.

"Who killed him?"

"The law. Feds or local. Let me see the paper."

She got up and crossed to the refectory table near the stone fireplace, and brought back a day-old newspaper turned to the national news page. Handing it to him, sitting again beside him, she said, "Why would they kill him?"

"They were in a hurry," Parker told her. "They wanted names, they wanted to know where we'd be. Especially because they lost the rockets. Howell was hurt, but he wouldn't tell them anything. We talked about it before I left, and he said he wouldn't tell them anything, and I believed him, and it turns out I was right. And they were in such a hurry, they didn't wait to see how much he was wounded, maybe hurt inside, before they leaned on him, and he died."

"Poor Mr. Howell," she said.

"He wasn't really much of a reader anyway," Parker said, and turned to the newspaper, which told him several things he knew and nothing he didn't. Three rogue Marines had been trading with a terrorist group, selling them weapons stolen from a military depot. There was to be an exchange, rockets for cash. The two groups didn't know there were two other groups involved as well; the Feds, who'd got wind of the thefts at the depot and were trying to follow the trail, and the four professional thieves who showed up at the transfer point meaning to take everything from everybody. Which they did, at the cost of one of their own, a man named Marshall Howell. The Feds expected to round up the other three momentarily.

Parker put the paper down and said, "That's the end of it. The other two keep the rockets, sell them to somebody else. I keep this." And he nodded at the money.

Claire pointed at the newspaper. "That could have been you."

"It always could," he said. "So far, it isn't. I go away, and I come back."

She looked at him. "Every time?"

"Except the last time," he said.

She put her arms around him, touched her lips to the spot where the pulse beat in his throat. "Later," she said, "let's have a fire."

Chapter Three

The best place to hide money is in somebody else's house. The morning after he got back, Parker filled seven Ziploc bags with ten thousand dollars each, put them in the pockets of his windbreaker, and went for a walk along the lakefront.

There were five houses along here he'd previously set up for himself, both as drops and as potential backup sites if trouble ever came too close. He'd made simple clean access to each house and prepared banks for himself in all of them. A false joist in a crawlspace; an extra ceiling in a closet; a new pocket in the wall behind a kitchen drawer. These people all liked their summer houses just the way they were, but it would pay them, though they didn't know it, to remodel.

He was gone not quite an hour, a householder taking a long casual walk along the lake in the thin spring sunlight, and when he got back to the house Claire said, "Mr. Howell called."

Parker looked at her, and waited.

She smiled slightly. "Mr. Marshall Howell."

"Did he."

"He left a number where you could call him."

He made a bark of laughter. "That must be some number," he said, and took off the windbreaker and read the phone number on the pad in the kitchen, then opened the phone book to see where that area code was. 518. Upstate New York, around Albany.

He used the kitchen phone to make the call, and after four rings a recorded woman's voice, sounding like somebody's secretary, announced the number he'd just dialed, then crisply said, "Please leave a name and number after the tone. Thank you."

No. Parker waited for the tone, then said, "Mr. Howell will phone at three o'clock," and hung up, and at three o'clock he stepped into the phone booth at the Mobil station out on the highway to New York, the only enclosed phone booth within eight miles, and dialed the number again.

One ring, and the man who answered sounded fat, middle-aged, wheezy. "Cathman," he said.

"Not Mr. Howell," Parker said.

A wheezy chuckle. "Not really possible," Cathman said. "That's Mr. Parker, isn't it?"

"I don't know anybody named Cathman," Parker said.

"We're meeting now, in a way," Cathman pointed out. "The fact is, Mr. Howell was going to be doing something for me, but he told me he had this other project with you first, and then we could get together to plan our own enterprise. Unfortunately, he didn't survive that earlier obligation."

Parker waited. Was he supposed to be responsible for this fellow's plans coming apart?

Cathman said, "I don't want to sound forward, Mr. Parker, but I believe you share much of the expertise I found so valuable in Mr. Howell."

"Possibly." If this was an entrapment call, it was the flakiest on record.

"I expect," Cathman said, "you're not particularly looking for work at the moment, since I believe your part of the activity just completed was rather more successful than our friend Howell's."

"Oh," Parker said. "You want me to take Howell's place."

"If," Cathman said. "If you're interested in further work in, well, not the same line. A similar line. If you'd prefer to rest, take time off, of course I'll understand. In that case, if you could recommend someone ..."

This fellow, whoever he was, was recruiting people for some sort of criminal undertaking over the telephone. Had Howell really taken this clown seriously? Or had Howell been interested in something else, that Cathman didn't realize? Parker said, "I don't make recommendations."

"But would you be- Well, would you care to meet? There are things, you understand, one doesn't say on the phone."

Well, he knew that much, though he didn't seem to understand the concept in its entirety. Parker said, "A meet. For you to tell me what Howell was going to do for you."

"Just so. You could come here, or if you prefer I could go to you. I'm not exactly sure where you are ..."

Good. Parker said, "Howell gave you this phone number?"

"His wife did. I presume she's his wife."

"I'll come to you," Parker decided, because Cathman sounded more dangerous than interesting. He had no sense of self-preservation, and he was walking around with knowledge that could hurt other people. If he turned out to have something interesting, Parker might go along with it, take Howell's place. If not, Parker might switch him off before his broadcasting interfered with anybody serious.

"Oh, fine," Cathman said. "We could do lunch, if you-"

"A meet," Parker said. "Your territory. Outside. A parking lot, a farmer's market, a city park."

"Oh, I know," Cathman said. "The perfect place. Amtrak comes up the Hudson. Could you take the train, from Penn Station? In New York."

"Yes."

"It's less than two hours up, the stop is called Rhinecliff. Wait, I have the schedule here. What would be a good day?"

"Tomorrow."

"That's wonderful. All right, let me see. Yes, you take the train at three-fifty tomorrow afternoon, you'll get to Rhinecliff at five twenty-eight. I'll come down from Albany, my train gets there at four fifty-one, so I'll just wait on the platform. You'll find me, I'm heavyset, and I have about as much hair as our poor friend Howell, and I'll be wearing a gray topcoat.

Continues...


Excerpted from Backflash by Richard Stark Copyright © 1998 by Richard Stark . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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