Flashfire (Parker Series #19)

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Between Parker’s 1961 debut and his return in the late 1990s, the world of crime changed considerably. Now fake IDs and credit cards had to be purchased from specialists; increasingly sophisticated policing made escape and evasion tougher; and, worst of all, money had gone digital—the days of cash-stuffed payroll trucks were long gone.

But cash isn’t everything: Flashfire and Firebreak find Parker going after, respectively, a fortune in jewels and a collection of priceless ...

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Between Parker’s 1961 debut and his return in the late 1990s, the world of crime changed considerably. Now fake IDs and credit cards had to be purchased from specialists; increasingly sophisticated policing made escape and evasion tougher; and, worst of all, money had gone digital—the days of cash-stuffed payroll trucks were long gone.

But cash isn’t everything: Flashfire and Firebreak find Parker going after, respectively, a fortune in jewels and a collection of priceless paintings. In Flashfire, Parker’s in West Palm Beach, competing with a crew that has an unhealthy love of explosions; when things go sour, Parker finds himself shot and trapped—and forced to rely on a civilian to survive. Firebreak takes Parker to a palatial Montana "hunting lodge" where a dot-com millionaire hides a gallery of stolen old masters—which will fetch Parker a pretty penny if his team can just get it past the mansion’s tight security. The forests of Montana are an inhospitable place for a heister when well-laid plans fall apart, but no matter how untamed the wilderness, Parker’s guaranteed to be the most dangerous predator around.


“Like all of Stark’s Parker novels, Firebreak is a brutal yet compelling glimpse into the amoral world of crime and revenge.”—Booklist


“The action [in Flashfire] is nonstop. . . . The awful fascination in these Parker tales comes from knowing the protagonist will always do whatever is necessary to protect himself and to achieve his goals.”—Wall Street Journal

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Our Review
23 Years Won't Soften a Crook
Donald Westlake's alter ego, Richard Stark, returns with a vengeance in Flashfire, part of the long-running series featuring Parker, the consummate professional thief. Flashfire marks Parker's third reappearance since Stark/Westlake's surprising decision to revive the series in 1997, following a 23-year layoff. I'm happy to report that the years haven't mellowed Parker, who is as ruthlessly efficient and thoroughly amoral as ever. It's a pleasure to have him back.

Flashfire begins, in classic Stark fashion, with a robbery-in-progress, as Parker and his latest trio of partners take down a bank on the outskirts of Omaha. The robbery itself goes spectacularly well. Afterward, however, the thieves fall out. Parker's cohorts plan to use the proceeds from the bank job to finance a more ambitious scheme: a multimillion-dollar jewel heist scheduled to take place some months later in Palm Springs. When Parker declines to participate, his partners "borrow" his share of the take and send him on his way.

No one, of course, treats Parker like this and lives to tell about it. Over the next several weeks, Parker finances his own long-range plans through a series of brutal, lovingly described robberies. Once he has accumulated sufficient working capital, he heads to Palm Springs. Safely hidden behind the bland persona of Daniel Parmitt, member in good standing of the idle rich, he waits for his former partners to roll into town and steal 12 million dollars worth of jewelry from a local estate auction. At that point, he plans to hijack the jewelry and avenge his professional honor.

Nothing, of course, goes exactly according to the blueprint, and Parker finds himself facing some unanticipated problems. One takes the form of a middle-aged, blonde real estate agent who somehow intuits Parker/Parmitt's underlying agenda and wants a piece of the action. A second, more serious problem arises when a pair of professional hit men enter the picture and nearly succeed in taking Parker permanently off the board.

It's all great, dark, nasty fun, written in the stripped-down, streamlined prose that has characterized this series for almost 40 years. Like its protagonist, Flashfire is terse, observant, unsentimental, and always tightly focused. Westlake, as always, seems incapable of writing a bad or boring passage. All of his admirers, and all aficionados of the hard-boiled tradition, will need this book, which reaffirms its author's position as one of the most versatile, consistently reliable figures in the recent history of American popular fiction.||||||||

--Bill Sheehan

Bill Sheehan reviews horror, suspense, and science fiction for Cemetery Dance, The New York Review of Science Fiction, and other publications. His book-length critical study of the fiction of Peter Straub, At the Foot of the Story Tree, has just been published by Subterranean Press (www.subterraneanpress.com).

Entertainment Weekly - Stephen King

“Parker is refreshingly amoral, a thief who always gets away with the swag.”
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."
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."
Weekly Standard - Terry Teachout

"Whether early or late, the Parker novels are all superlative literary entertainments."
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.”
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
How does Stark know so much about the mechanics of crime? In this latest installment of the miraculously revitalized career of master criminal Parker (after 1999's Backflash), Stark (aka Donald Westlake) blithely reveals how to use a telephone repairman's tools to check if a house is empty, how to find cash to steal in an increasingly electronic economy, how to launder money by making up a fictitious church. He does this all without boasting or moralizing, describing Parker's abilities and stomping grounds in the clean, pungent, poetically understated prose that makes him one of our best noir novelists. "The condos along the narrow strip of island south of the main part of Palm Beach yearn toward a better life: something English, somewhere among the landed gentry," Stark writes about Florida's temple to wealth and privilege. Parker has come to Palm Beach because three associates have just done the unthinkable: cheated him out of his share of the money from a bank heist. With the deadly precision of a heat-seeking missile, barely deterred by serious attempts on his life because he happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, Parker messes up the plans of his former colleagues in a major way. This is great, dirty fun: you can't help seeing the pouchy face of Lee Marvin (who played Parker--renamed Walker--in Point Blank, based on an early Stark book) as you turn the pages. In the 23-year gap between the 20th and 21st Parker episodes, Westlake has recharged his batteries with a formula he should market to other writers. (Nov.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226770628
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 8/15/2011
  • Series: Parker Series , #19
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 433,781
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 8.04 (h) x 0.65 (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

Chapter One

When the dashboard clock read 2:40, Parker drove out of the drugstore parking lot and across the sun-lit road to the convenience store/gas station. He stopped beside the pumps, the only car here, hit the button to pop the trunk lid, and got out of the car. A bright day in July, temperature in the low seventies, a moderate-sized town not two hundred miles from Omaha, a few shoppers driving past in both directions. A dozen blocks away, Melander and Carlson and Ross would be just entering the bank.

The car, a forgettable dark gray Honda Accord, took nine point seven two gallons of gasoline. The thin white surgical gloves he wore as he pumped the gas looked like pale skin.

When the tank was full, he screwed the gas cap back on and opened the trunk. Inside were some old rags and an empty glass one-point-seven-five-liter jug of Jim Beam bourbon. He filled the bottle with gasoline, then stuffed one of the rags into the top, lit the rag with a Zippo lighter, and heaved the bottle over-hand through the plate-glass window of the convenience store. Then he got into the Honda and drove away, observing the speed limit.

2:47. Parker made the right turn onto Tulip Street. Back at the bank, Ross would be controlling the customers and employees, while Melander and Carlson loaded the black plastic trash bags with cash. Farther downtown, the local fire company would be responding to the explosion and fire with two pumpers, big red beasts pushing out of their red brick firehouse like aggravated dinosaurs.

The white Bronco was against the curb where Parker had left it, in front of a house with a ForSale sign on the lawn and all the shades drawn. Parker pulled into the driveway there, left the Honda, and walked to the Bronco. At this point, Melander and Ross would have the bags of money by the door, the civilians all facedown on the floor behind the counter, while Carlson went for their car, their very special car, just around the corner.

When there's an important fire, the fire department responds with pumpers or hook and ladders, but also responds with the captain in his own vehicle, usually a station wagon or sports utility truck, painted the same cherry red as the fire engines, mounted with red flashing light and howling siren. Last night, Parker and the others had taken such a station wagon from a town a hundred miles from here, and now Carlson would be getting behind the wheel of it, waiting for the fire engines to race by.

Parker slid into the Bronco, peeled off the surgical gloves, and stuffed them into his pants pocket. Then he started the engine and drove two blocks closer to where he'd started, parking now in front of a weedy vacant lot. Near the bank, the fire engines would be screaming by, and Carlson would bring the station wagon out fast in their wake, stopping in front of the bank as Melander and Ross came running out with the full plastic bags.

Parker switched the scanner in the Bronco to the local police frequency and listened to all the official manpower in town ordered to the convenience store on the double. They'd all be coming now, fire engines, ambulances, police vehicles; and the fire captain's station wagon, its own siren screaming and red dome light spinning in hysterics.

2:53 by this new dashboard clock. It should be now. Parker looked in the rearview mirror, and the station wagon, as red as a firecracker in all this sun-light, came modestly around the corner back there, its lights and siren off.

Parker wasn't the driver; Carlson was. Leaving the Bronco engine on, he stepped out of it and went around to open the luggage door at the back, as the captain's car stopped beside him. A happy Melander in the back seat handed out four plastic bags bulging with paper, and Parker tossed them in the back. Then Carlson drove ahead to park in front of the Bronco while Parker shut the luggage door and got into the back seat, on the street side.

Ahead, the three were getting out of the captain's car, stripping off the black cowboy hats and long tan dusters and white surgical gloves they'd worn on the job, to make them all look alike for the eyewitnesses later. They tossed all that into the back seat of the station wagon, then came trotting this way. They were all grinning, like big kids. When the job goes right, everybody's up, everybody's young, everybody's a little giddy. When the job goes wrong, everybody's old and nobody's happy.

Carlson got behind the wheel, Melander beside him, Ross in back with Parker. Ross was a squirrelly short guy with skin like dry leather; when he grinned, like now, his face looked like a khaki road map. "We havin' fun yet?" he asked, and Carlson put the Bronco in gear.

Parker said, as they drove deeper into town, "I guess everything went okay in there."

"You'd have thought," Carlson told him, "they'd rehearsed it."

Melander, a brawny guy with a large head piled with wavy black hair, twisted around in his seat to grin back at Parker and say, "Move away from the alarm; they move away from the alarm. Put your hands on your head; they put their hands on their heads."

Carlson, with a quick glance at Parker in the rearview mirror, said, "Facedown on the floor; guess what?"

Ross finished, "We didn't even have to say, 'Simon says.'"

Carlson took the right onto Hyacinth. It looked like just another residential cross street, but where all the others stopped at or before the city line, this one went on to become a county route through farmland that eventually linked up with a state road that soon after that met an interstate. By the time the law back in town finished sorting out the fire from the robbery, trying to guess which way the bandits had gone, the Bronco would be doing seventy, headed east.

Like most drivers, Carlson was skinny. He was also a little edgy-looking, with jug ears. Grinning again at Parker in the mirror, he said, "That was some camp-fire you lit."

"It attracted attention," Parker agreed.

Ross, his big smile aimed at the backs of the heads in front of him, said, "Boyd? Hal? Are we happy?"

Melander twisted around again. "Sure," he said, and Carlson said, "Tell him."

Parker said, "Tell him? Tell me?" What was wrong here? His piece was inside his shirt, but this was a bad position to operate from. "Tell me what?" he said, thinking, Carlson would have to be taken out first. The driver.

But Ross wasn't acting like he was a threat; none of them were. His smile still big, Ross said, "We had to know if we were gonna get along with you. And we had to know if you were gonna get along with us. But now we all think it's okay, if you think it's okay. So what I'm gonna do is tell you about the job."

Parker looked at him. "We just did the job," he said.

"Not that," Ross said, dismissing the bank job with a wave of the hand. "That wasn't the job. You know what that was? That was the financing for the job."

"The job," Melander added, "the real job, is not nickel-dime. Not like this."

"The real job," Ross said, "is worthy of our talents."

Parker looked from one to another. He didn't know these people. Was this something, or was it smoke and mirrors? Was this what Hurley had almost but not quite mentioned? "I think," he said, "you ought to tell me about the job."

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Table of Contents

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Interviews & Essays

On Being Stark
Well, here I am being Richard Stark again. I was frequently Richard Stark in my youth, which apparently ended in '74, because that's when Stark stopped talking to me. For many years I thought we were quits for good and all, but then, in '88, I was working on the screenplay of The Grifters, based on a Jim Thompson novel, when a long Writers Guild strike left me in suspended animation. I was steeped in Thompson, who in some ways came out of the same publishing world as Stark, and that slow marinade seems to have resulted, almost ten years later, in Richard Stark's return!

I was delighted. I'd always liked writing the Stark novels. I liked Parker, his lead character (can't call him hero), I liked the language the books used, I liked working out the plots. Having thought I'd lost that fun, it was great to have him come back, in a book I quite sensibly called Comeback. Even better, he now seems to intend to stick around. Comeback was followed by Backflash, and now we have Flashfire (a subtle pattern begins to emerge).

I think the long rest was good for Stark, and I think Flashfire may be the best thing he's written in, oh, 20-some years. Makes me almost sorry he isn't writing under my name instead of me writing under his.

There are three reasons to write under a pen name, and at one time or another all three of those reasons have applied to me. As a result, I have been a longtime multiple personality, though lately showing signs of a more fully integrated character.

The first reason, which affected me mostly in my rambunctious youth, is overproduction. We like to turn out this stuff, but we hate to see the warehouse fill up with it, so, if they've had enough blue this season, we'll sell 'em the same thing in green. Or Green, like Joe Green. (Actually, I did publish a story once, many years ago, as by James Blue, which was the name of my cat at the time. That was fortunate; I'd hate to have a story out there somewhere written by Tweety.)

The problem with overproduction is not in me, heaven knows. I'll sit here typing away forever. The problem is with publishers and editors. No magazine will publish more than one story by the same author in the same issue (hence James Blue). Book publishers hate to publish more than one book a year under the same byline. They claim it's the readers and bookstores who don't like it, but the fact is, it's the salesmen who go nuts if they see the same name on every doggone list, season after season. "I just finished breakin' my back to get this guy's last turkey onto the shelves!"

But if the solution to overproduction is a pseudonym, that doesn't necessarily mean the author's real name is a secret from the publisher. Not at all. I've never been published by anybody who didn't know Richard Stark or James Blue or Tucker Coe was actually Donald Westlake (pay no attention to the man behind that curtain!); we just all maintain a fiction together to move more fiction.

The second reason for pseudonymous writing is brand name. There have been writers who have produced a great variety of work in starkly different fields, all using their own name, and I think that's usually a mistake. I've tended to shy away from certain writers, because they're frequently doing something of a sort I don't care for (serial killers, say, or sword and sorcery), even though this new one just might be something I'd enjoy very much.

My solution to the narrowness of readers' tastes, way back when, was pen name as brand name. You know full well that Cadillac and Chevrolet are both General Motors, but you also know what each brand stands for. In the same way, Westlake has his own range, but Stark is the gimlet-eyed cold one and Coe is the emotional private eye. (If I ever do cozies, it'll be time to bring out Tweety.)

And the third reason, I'll tell you later.

--Donald E. Westlake

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Customer Reviews

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( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 11, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Highly Recommended

    Flashfire is the 19th book in a series of wondeful caper stories. My recommendation is that you start at book one which is The Hunter and read them in order. Each book is only approx. 160 to 190 pages long. They are short but they are packed with excitement that makes you want to read the next one and then the next one. "Parker" is the "bad guy" that leads a bunch of his friends into some sort of caper. They rob banks, jewelery stores, armored cars, etc...sometimes people are killed, but not often. Sometimes his "friends" turn on one another and try to take all of the money for themselves. These books are very entertaining and easy to read.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 31, 2013


    One camp. One of the two ideas for leadership. (Res five at camp.) Powers allowed, and other animals allowed. Camp has a meeting of their own every week to keep order and ceremonies and such. Could also have a seperate search showing when kits are ready to be apprentises and apprentises assassins. We can teach them no godmodding and if it happens we will find a way to put a stop to it. I still think one week should equal two moons. Kits also need to enjoy their kithood. We only attack any one clan in specific a max of one time every three or four weeks. We can live near a rural area, near farms. queens only have to live just outside camp so they can still be monitered. We will have a schedule, known only to us, knowing when we can do certain things and when we cant do something. Like specific time cut out for training and raids and sparring (battle fights with no claws, optional). Missing something but cant think of it right now...

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 22, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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