Firebreak (Parker Series #20)

Firebreak (Parker Series #20)

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by Richard Stark

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When the telephone rang, Parker was out in the garage killing a man. Someone from his past had hired a soon-to-be-departed, would-be assassin-and Parker wasn't one to give a guy a second chance. But where there's one cockroach, a whole nest isn't far behind. Now, Parker's gotta keep focused on the project at hand: breaking into a computer mogul's compound to


When the telephone rang, Parker was out in the garage killing a man. Someone from his past had hired a soon-to-be-departed, would-be assassin-and Parker wasn't one to give a guy a second chance. But where there's one cockroach, a whole nest isn't far behind. Now, Parker's gotta keep focused on the project at hand: breaking into a computer mogul's compound to retrieve some priceless, purloined works of art. With new hit men on his tail and his cronies turning up the heat, Parker is feeling the pressure. Thankfully, he's always at his dead-on best when he's got a deadline.

Author Biography: Richard Stark is also Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Donald E. Westlake. He lives in upstate New York.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Parker and crew have their eyes on the contents of a secret vault in a billionaire's hunting lodge in this typically taut thriller written by Donald E. Westlake under his nom de noir, but first the tough antihero must deal, roughly, with some people trying to whack him. A Russian hit man provides the overture action as Parker attracts the attention of enemies from the past and meets the killer mercilessly. Parker spends much of the rest of the book seeking out the source of the contract, gradually learning that his current job has brought his name and whereabouts to the surface. The job is one his old partners, Elkins and Wiss, have put on the table: a stash of paintings by Old Masters stolen from museums around the world and kept in dot-com mogul Paxton Marino's Montana lodge for his personal pleasure. To get past Marino's sophisticated electronic safeguards, they need help from a computer-nerd-gone-bad, really bad, named Lloyd. The author delivers this novel with the economy of a 1950s paperback original ("Twelve thousand dollars in twenties and fifties was rolled into an orange juice concentrate can in the freezer"), but slips in enough plot twists and surprises to satisfy the most modern audience (no heist ever written by Stark/Westlake comes off without lots of hitches). That Parker, on general principles, doesn't bump off Lloyd at first sight almost seems like a sign of weakness, but it's the only one in this deliciously nasty read. (Nov. 14) Forecast: Coming on the heels of Flashfire (2000), the last Parker novel, this one promises to be just as big a hit for MWA Grand Master and three-time Edgar-winner Westlake. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Stark (Backflash, LJ 9/1/98), a pseudonym for prolific crime-fiction writer Donald E. Westlake, offers another adventure in his long-running "Parker" series. This latest shows that Stark retains the gift for careful plotting and darkly humorous circumstances that can make his books a joy to read for patrons who don't mind the violence. Parker, once described by critic Stanley Bart as a thief who "gets annoyed and kills everybody," has mellowed a bit over time. Though the novel begins with Parker's calmly killing a man while being called to the phone, he keeps his rampages to a minimum as the book progresses. He stays focused on the jobs at hand, first helping to steal a treasure trove of art that a dot-com billionaire has secreted away and then finding out who sent the man in the garage to kill him. Parker is amoral and ruthless, but he's not cruel. He is surrounded by people who are also amoral but evil or stupid as well, which allows him to play the hero's role by being calm and thorough and by being a survivor. Recommended for public libraries. Patrick J. Wall, University City P.L., MO Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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 Review of Books - 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.”

Product Details

Beeler, Thomas T. Publisher
Publication date:
Parker Series, #20
Product dimensions:
6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt


A Parker Novel

By Richard Stark

The University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2001 Richard Stark
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-226-77065-9


When the phone rang, Parker was in the garage, killing a man. His knees pressed down on the interloper's back, his hands were clasped around his forehead. He heard the phone ring, distantly, in the house, as he jerked his forearms back; heard the neck snap; heard the phone's second ring, cut off, as Claire answered, somewhere in the house.

No time to do anything with the body now. Parker stood and was entering the kitchen from the garage when Claire came in the other way, carrying the cordless. "He says his name is Elkins," she told him.

He knew the name. This would have nothing to do with the interloper. Taking the cordless, he said, "I'll have to go out for a while." Then, moving into the dining room, where the windows looked away from the lake, out toward the woods where the stranger had come from, he said, "Frank?"

It was the familiar voice: "Ralph and I maybe have something."

Parker didn't see anybody else out there, among the trees, where the first one had come crouching, a long-barreled pistol held against his right leg; long because it was equipped with a silencer. Parker had first seen him from this room, tracked his moves, met him when he came in the side window of the garage. Into the phone, still watching the empty woods, he said, "You want to call me, or do I call you?"

"Either way."

Parker gave him the number, backward, of the pay phone at the gas station a few miles from here, then said, "Give me a little while, I've got something to finish up here." The woods stayed empty. Now, early October, the trees were still fully leafed out, though starting to turn, and too dense for him to see as far as the road.

Elkins said, "Eleven?"


Parker hung up, went back to the garage, and searched the body. There were a wallet, a Ford automobile key, a motel room key, a five-inch spring knife, a pair of sunglasses, and a Zippo lighter but no cigarettes. A green and yellow football helmet was embossed on the lighter. The wallet contained a little over four hundred dollars in cash, three credit cards made out to Viktor Charov, and an Illinois driver's license to the same name, with an address in Chicago. The picture on the license was the dead man: fiftyish, rail-thin, almost bald with a little pepper-and-salt hair around the edges, eyes that didn't show much.

Parker kept the wallet and the key to the Ford, put the rest back, and stuffed the body into the trunk of the Lexus. Then he crossed to the button next to the kitchen entry that operated the overhead garage door, but first slid open the concealed wood panel above it and took out the S&W Chiefs Special .38 he kept stashed there. Finally, then, he pushed the button, and kept the bulk of the Lexus between himself and the steadily lifting view outside.

Nothing. Nobody.

Hand and revolver at his side, like the other one, he stepped out to the chill sunshine and walked at a normal pace out the driveway to the road, watching the woods on both sides. There were other houses around the lake, none of them visible from here, most of them already closed for the winter. Parker and Claire were among the few year-rounders, and they always moved somewhere else in the summer, when the city people came out to their "cottages" and the powerboats snarled on the lake.

The road was empty. Down to the right, fifty paces, stood a red Ford Taurus. Parker walked toward it and saw the rental company sticker on the bumper.

The dead man's Ford key fit the Taurus. Parker started it, swung it around, and drove back to the house, turning in at the driveway where the mailbox read WILLIS.

The garage door stood open, as he'd left it, the dark green Lexus bulking in there. Parker swung the Ford around, backed it to the open doorway, and switched off the engine. Getting out, he put the S&W away, then took a pair of rubber gloves from the Lexus glove compartment and slipped them on. Then he opened both trunks and moved the body into the Ford.

The dead man's gun was a .357 Colt Trooper with a ribbed silencer clamped behind the front sight. Snapping off the silencer, he put both pieces in a drawer of the worktable under the window where the stranger had come in, his balance between table and floor thrown off just long enough.

On the way into the house, he shut the garage door, its wood sections sliding down between the Lexus and the Ford. He went through the kitchen and found Claire in the living room, reading a magazine. She looked up when he came in, and he said, "I'd like you to pick me up, at the Mobil station, five after eleven."

"Fine. Can we go somewhere for lunch?"

"You pick it."

"I will. See you then." She didn't ask, and wouldn't ask, not because he didn't want to tell her but because she didn't want to know. Whatever happened out of her sight didn't happen.

Three miles beyond the Mobil station a dirt road led off to an old gravel quarry, used up half a century ago by the road building after World War II. The chain-link fences surrounding the property were old and staggering, a joke, and the Warning and No Trespassing and Posted signs had been so painted over by hunters and lovers down the years that they looked like Pollocks.

Parker drove through a broken-down part of the fence and stopped, in neutral, engine on, all the windows open, at the lip, where the stony trash-laden ground ran steeply down to the water that had filled the excavation as soon as work had stopped. Getting out, shutting the door, he moved around behind the Ford and leaned on it. As soon as it started to move, he stepped back, peeling off the gloves, putting them in his pocket, and watched the car bounce down through the rocks and trash till it shoved into the water, making a modest ripple in front of itself that opened out and out and didn't stop till it pinged against the stone at the far side of the quarry. As the car angled down, the black water all around it became suddenly crystal clear as it splashed in through the open windows. The roof sank, a few bubbles appeared, and then only the ripple, going out, slowly fading.

He walked back along the state road to the Mobil station, getting there five minutes early, and leaned against the pay phone, at the outer corner of the station property. A couple of customers came in for gas, paying no attention to him. It was self-serve, so the attendant stayed inside his convenience store.

At two minutes after eleven, the phone rang. Parker stepped around into the booth, which was just a three-sided metal box on a stick, picked up the receiver, and said, "Yes."

It was Elkins' voice: "So I guess you're not too busy right now."

"Not busy," Parker agreed.

"I got something," Elkins told him. "Me and Ralph." Meaning the partner he almost always paired with, Ralph Wiss. "But it won't be easy."

They were never easy. Parker said, "Where?"

"Soon. Sooner the better. We got a deadline."

That was different. Usually, the jobs didn't come with deadlines. Parker said, "You want me to listen?"

"Not now," Elkins said. He sounded surprised.

"I didn't mean now."

"Oh. Yeah, if you wanna take a drive."


"Lake Placid."

A resort in northern New York State, close to Canada. If that was the spot for the meet, it wouldn't be the spot for the work. Parker said, "When?"

"Three tomorrow afternoon?"

Meaning a seven-hour drive, from eight in the morning. Parker said, "Because of your deadline."

"And we don't like to keep things hang around."

Which was true. The longer a job was in the planning, the more chance the law would get wind of it. Parker said, "I can make that," and the Lexus turned in from the road.

"At the Holiday Inn," Elkins said. "Unless you know anybody up that way."

"I do," Parker said. "Viktor Charov. You want to meet there?" Claire swung the Lexus around to put the passenger door next to the phone.

"Viktor Charov," Elkins said. "I'll find him."

"Good," Parker said.


I made a reservation yesterday," Parker said. "Viktor Charov."

"Oh, yes, sir," the clerk said. "I think we even have a message for you."


He checked in, writing different things on the form, signing Charov's small crabbed signature, while she went to get the message from the cubbyholes. It was in a Holiday Inn envelope, with VICTOR CHAROV hand-printed on the front. While she ran Charov's credit card, he opened the envelope, opened the Holiday Inn stationery inside, and read "342."

He pocketed the message, signed the credit card form, and accepted the key card for 219. He left his bag in that room, then went down the hall to 243 and knocked on the door. He waited a minute, the hall empty, and then Frank Elkins opened it. A rangy, fortyish man, he looked like a carpenter or a bus driver, except for his eyes, which never stopped moving. He looked at Parker, past him, around him, at him, and said, "Right on time."

"Yes," Parker said, and stepped in, looking at the other two in the room while Elkins shut the door.

The one he knew was Elkins' partner, Ralph Wiss, a safe and lock man, small and narrow, with sharp nose and chin. The other one didn't look right in this company. Early thirties, medium build gone a bit to flab, he had a round neat head, thinning sandy hair, and a pale forgettable face except for prominent horn-rim eyeglasses. While Parker and the other two were dressed in dark trousers and shirts and jackets, this one was in a blue button-down shirt with pens in a pen protector in the pocket, plus uncreased chinos and bulky elaborate sneakers. Parker looked at this one, waiting for an explanation, and Elkins came past him to say, "You know Ralph. This is Larry Lloyd. Larry, this is Parker."

"Hi," Lloyd said, coming forward with a nervous smile to shake hands. "I knew Otto Mainzer on the inside," he added, as though to prove his bona fides. "I think you used to know him, too."

This was a double surprise. First, that somebody who looked like this had ever been in prison, and second that Mainzer still was. Parker said, "Otto isn't out?"

"He hit a guard," Lloyd said, and shrugged. The nervous grin seemed to be a part of him, like his hair. "He hit people a lot, but then he hit a guard."

"Sounds like Otto," Parker said.

"Larry's our electronics man," Elkins said, as Wiss said, "We're having bourbon."

"Sure," Parker said, and turned to Elkins: "You need an electronics man?"

"Let me tell you the story."

This was the living room of a suite, doors open in both side walls leading to the bedrooms, the picture window looking out over the steeply downhill town of Lake Placid, away from the lake. Coming in, Parker had driven past the two ski jump towers left from the Olympics, and even without snow the town out there had the look of a mountain winter resort, with touches of Alpine architecture scattered among the American logos.

When they sat around the coffee table, Parker noticed that Lloyd's glass contained water. He looked away from it, and Elkins said, "Ralph subscribes to the shelter magazines, you know what I mean."

Parker nodded. He knew other people who did that, bought the glossy architecture magazines because mostly they were color pictures of the insides of rich people's houses. Here's the layout, here are the doors and windows, here's what's worth taking. Parker wasn't usually interested in looting living rooms, but would go to places like banks, where the value was more concentrated; still, he knew what the shelter magazines were for. "He found a house," he said.

Wiss laughed. "I found the palace," he said, "Aladdin went to with his lamp."

"What it is," Elkins said, "there's this billionaire, one of the dot-com people, computer whizzes, made all this money all at once, yesterday he's a geek, today he's giving polo fields to his alma mater."

"He was always a good boy," Wiss said.

Parker said, "This guy got a name?"

"Paxton Marino," Elkins said.

Wiss said, "If you want to call that a name."

"You won't have heard of him," Elkins said. "He got into the dot-com thing early, made his billions, got out, now he's having fun. And he built a house. Actually, I think, so far he's built about eight houses, here and there around the world, but this one's in Montana."

"His hunting lodge," Wiss said, and laughed again.

"Twenty-one rooms," Elkins said, "fifteen baths, separate house down the hill for the staff."

"Isolated," Wiss said.

"He used to go there more often," Elkins said, "maybe five or six separate weeks around the year, but now with all his other stuff it's down to just once a year, ten days, in elk season, believe it or not."

Wiss said, "His elk hunting license is in Canada, but his land extends over the border, he's built a road up into the woods."

Parker said, "You said hunting lodge. What's there gonna be in a hunting lodge?"

"Gold," Wiss said, with a big smile.

"This isn't a hunting lodge," Elkins added, "like a hunting lodge. Antlers and stone fireplaces and all that shit. Ralph's right, it's like a palace."

"Full of gold," Wiss repeated.

"The guy loves gold," Elkins explained. "Every bathroom is gold. Fifteen baths. Not just the faucets, the whole sink."

"The toilets," Wiss said.

Elkins said, "This is where the guy is in his life, him and his friends shit on gold."

"Gold is heavy," Parker pointed out.

"Not a problem," Wiss said.

"We look to see," Elkins said, "when isn't it elk season. Ralph and me and two other guys, we go up there with two trucks and a forklift, like the kind they use in warehouses. You know, slide it under the pallet, move a ton of crap."

"I did blowups of some of the pictures," Wiss said, "I worked out the alarm system. We went up there, and we watched, freezing our asses off, and a guy from the staff house comes up once a day, in the afternoon, goes through the house, turns on and off every light, flushes every toilet, drives back down the hill. That's it. They figure the road's private, and it goes up past the staff house, and they got motion sensors in the house, signal both the staff and the state cops, so they're covered."

"So we went in," Wiss said. "We got rid of all the alarm shit, and then the first thing we wanna do is turn off the water, because we're gonna be ripping out a lotta toilets."

"And sinks," Elkins added.

"So we go into the basement," Wiss went on, "and Frank noticed it, I didn't."

"I was standing right," Elkins explained, "for the light."

"The big main room in the basement," Wiss said, "is wall-to-wall carpet, and there's rooms off it, wine collection, VCR tape collection, one room's like a whole sporting-goods store. But Frank noticed, there's a pale line in the carpet, a lotta travel along one line, the nap's like a little beaten down there, and it goes straight to a blank wall."

"There's something inside there," Parker said.

"This is a guy," Wiss said, "puts his gold in the bathrooms. What's he hide?"

"Not the porn," Elkins said, "that's out, too, where you can see it."

Parker said, "So you broke in."

"Hell to find the door," Wiss told him. "We really had to pry shit out of that wall. But then there it was."

"An art gallery," Elkins said.

"Three rooms," Wiss said, "pretty good-size rooms."

"Oil paintings," Elkins said. "What you call Old Masters, famous European artists. Rembrandt, Titian, like that."

"We're walking through," Wiss said, "we're wondering, is this a better deal than the gold toilets, it's a lot lighter, it's worth who knows how much, three rooms of Old Masters."

"And then we recognize three of them," Elkins said.

"That's right," Wiss said, with another laugh. "All of a sudden, here's three old friends."

"We stole them once before," Elkins explained.

"Three years ago," Wiss said, "out of a museum in Houston, a special European show, traveling through."

"Very famous paintings," Elkins said. "Nobody could try to sell them."

"Our fence," Wiss said, "had a guy, wanted just those particular three pictures, and would pay a lot for them. And it was a guarantee, he'd never peddle them, or deal with insurance companies, or show them anywhere, but just keep them hidden, a little secret stash for him and his friends."

"Bingo," Elkins said.


Excerpted from Firebreak by Richard Stark. Copyright © 2001 Richard Stark. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
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.

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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Firebreak 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
harstan More than 1 year ago
Parker has two jobs both critical to his well being. One is more along the line of his normal work. Parker is employed to steal stolen art treasures stored in a remote area of Montana. The ¿owner¿ Paxton Marino is a computer whiz billionaire so Parker knows he can expect anything and needs an electronic expert along for the ride.

The other job is a bit more personal. Someone hired a pro to kill Parker. He needs to know who and why so he can concentrate on the art theft. The problem is over the years in his line of work Parker has made many enemies who would gladly urinate on his grave. As Parker makes inquiries through his underground connections, he soon realizes the art job resurfaced his name to some nasty people who simply detest him. Still Big Sky is calling and with the help of an electronic genius lunatic, Parker goes to work on purloining the art treasures.

FIREBREAK is the typical Parker tale as the exciting story line is loaded with twists and turns yet the stark plot uses no unnecessary baggage. The tale belongs to Parker who seems relatively mellow compared to his maniacal sidekick (why trust this psychopath is beyond this reviewer). Still, this wild ride across the Northern Plains is an effective anti-hero thriller that proves Richard Stark under that name or as Donald Westlake can still be counted on for top-notch modern day noir.

Harriet Klausner

Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Is inside of the highrock. A cozy duck feathered nest sits in the croner.
Derek1 More than 1 year ago
It's available for the Kindle - release it for the Nook (it's the last one)!