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Parker, the ruthless antihero of Richard Stark’s eponymous mystery novels, is one of the most unforgettable characters in hardboiled noir. Lauded by critics for his taut realism, unapologetic amorality, and razor-sharp prose style—and adored by fans who turn each intoxicating page with increasing urgency—Stark is a master of crime writing, his books as influential as any in the genre. The University of Chicago Press has embarked on a project to return the early volumes of this series to print for a new generation...
Parker, the ruthless antihero of Richard Stark’s eponymous mystery novels, is one of the most unforgettable characters in hardboiled noir. Lauded by critics for his taut realism, unapologetic amorality, and razor-sharp prose style—and adored by fans who turn each intoxicating page with increasing urgency—Stark is a master of crime writing, his books as influential as any in the genre. The University of Chicago Press has embarked on a project to return the early volumes of this series to print for a new generation of readers to discover—and become addicted to.
In The Handle, Parker is enlisted by the mob to knock off an island casino guarded by speedboats and heavies, forty miles from the Texas coast.
"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.”—William Grimes, New York Times
“Whatever Stark writes, I read. He’s a stylist, a pro, and I thoroughly enjoy his attitude.”—Elmore Leonard
“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.”—Washington Post Book World
“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.”—Lawrence Block
The man who called himself Yancy was sitting in one of the two chairs astern, and the man whose name Parker didn't know was standing at the controls. They both wore white trousers, navy blue jackets and yachting caps and sunglasses, but they both had the faces and voices and hands of New York or Chicago hoods.
Yancy raised the hand with the glass in it and motioned forward. "There it is," he said.
Parker turned and looked out past the spray-flecked windshield, over the top of the rest of the boat, and out over the water to the island. It was still about half a mile away, and all he could make out was a mound of jungle greenery bulging up out of the water over there.
"Get in closer," he said. "I can't see anything from here."
The one at the wheel said, "We don't want to take chances."
Yancy said, "He's right. Move in closer."
The guy at the wheel didn't like it, but he had nothing more to say. He just frowned behind his sunglasses, shrugged his shoulders, and started the engine.
Yancy waved the hand with the bottle in it. "Come on and sit down. Why stay below all the time?"
Parker had gone down into the cabin before they'd left the dock and had stayed there until just now. He had no fear of water, but he didn't like boats and he didn't like the ocean. Coming out away from land like this was like sticking yourself in a cage; there was no way out. From a practical point of view he was stuck on this boat, imprisoned on it, till it touched land again. So long as he stayed down below in the cabin, a place that looked like half the motel rooms in the southwest, he wasn't so aware of the caged feeling, but up here, surrounded by the flat blue water of the Gulf of Mexico, he was reminded of it all the time.
Still, the island was in sight, and that's what he'd come out here to see, so he went back and sat in the other white chair next to Yancy. The boat was pushing through the waves again, not very fast, heading toward the island.
Parker supposed it was a good boat, as boats go. It was an Owens cabin cruiser, forty feet long, sleek and gleaming, mostly white, with a blond wood deck. There were three rooms below, plus two baths, and space enough with convertible sofa and hideaway bed to sleep eight. The area up here where he and Yancy were sitting could probably be easily fixed up with fastened seats for deep-sea fishing.
Yancy said, "The main building's around the other side of the island."
"What's on this side?"
"Storage sheds, power plant, few guest cottages."
"Guest cottages? Customers stay over?" He hadn't been told that.
Yancy shrugged. "Sometimes. Just one night, you know what I mean?"
Parker said, "It's a whorehouse, too, is that it?"
"Not very much." Yancy grinned and spread his hands. "Just sometimes, on a special request, for some good friend of Baron's." Parker said, "You know Baron?"
Smiling, Yancy shook his head. "I know about Baron. That's what counts." He was better than his partner at the wheel in making his speech suit his playboy clothing; only the hard lines of his face gave the lie away.
Parker had been with Yancy off and on the last two days and at all times Yancy carried a glass in one hand and a bottle in the other. Now, discovering the current bottle was empty, he got to his feet and said, "Blast." He flipped the bottle over the side. "Be right back."
Parker watched him go. Yancy moved as though the boat were on dry land and he himself was sober. He went down the ladder into the cabin below and out of sight. Parker watched the island coming closer; he could make out buildings in among the greenery now, small pink cottages near the water and some sort of brick construction farther back.
As Yancy was coming back up on deck with a fresh bottle, the guy at the wheel said, "Somebody coming."
Parker got to his feet. A small boat was chopping through the water toward them, leaving a white Y in its wake.
Yancy said, "No problem, no problem." As though he wanted to soothe his partner at the wheel.
Parker knew the other two looked all right out here, but he in his suit wouldn't ring true. He said, "I'll wait down below."
"Fine, fine." Yancy, distracted, waved the hand with the glass in it. He was watching the little boat speeding toward them.
Parker went below. He was in a fair-sized but crowded room, furnished with a sectional sofa, a chair and table, and a combination kitchenette-bar. Curtained windows lined both sides, giving the interior a dim and bluish light.
Parker went into the aft cabin, more crowded and with a lower ceiling. In one of the closets he found a white yachting cap and a blue jacket like those worn by the two men up on deck. He stripped off his suitcoat and tie, opened his shirt collar, and put on the cap and jacket. Then he went back up on deck.
The smaller boat was just pulling alongside. Three men were in it, all young and hard-looking, wearing dungarees and T-shirts. One of them called, "You people lost?"
Yancy, smiling, holding his bottle and glass, called back, "Not us. Just out for a spin around the park."
The trio in the other boat couldn't be close enough to see the truth on Yancy's face, so they'd have to think they were just looking at an amiable clown. The one that talked said, "You don't want to get too close to the island. Dangerous rocks, things like that. You could ruin your boat."
"Thanks so much." Yancy gestured with bottle and glass. "We'll just sweep around it and hurry on home. Thanks for your concern."
"Remember. Don't get too close."
The little boat veered off, heading back for the island. Yancy turned and said, "Very nice. The jacket's a little small, but the cap looks quite sporty."
Parker said, "How many of those has Baron got?"
"Oh." Yancy brushed them aside with an airy wave of the bottle. "Half a dozen, maybe ten. Beach bums."
Parker took the cap and jacket off, dropped them on the chair next to the guy at the wheel. "So far," he said, "it don't look good."
"Love will find a way," Yancy said.
Parker looked at him. Sometimes it seemed as though the face was a lie and the rest was the truth. Yancy was somebody you could underestimate.
The guy at the wheel said, "They still hangin' around, in by shore."
Parker told him, "Go around the island to the left." To Yancy he said, "The brick building there, up behind the cottages. What's that?"
Yancy squinted, behind his sunglasses. "Power plant," he said. "Storage sheds the other side of it, on the far slope. You'll be able to see it better as we go around."
The part of the island Parker had seen so far had no beach, no cove, no pier, no place at all for a boat to come in to shore. Tangled trees and undergrowth clogged the ground right down to the shoreline, and vines and branches overhung the water. The half dozen or so cottages scattered along the slope were all half hidden by the foliage. From not very far away the island would look both uninhabited and uninviting.
The guy at the wheel said, "They're still watching us."
"As we do," Yancy told him, "what I announced we would do. Don't worry about it."
They had started now to make their swing around the island. In close against the island lay the little boat, in the island's shadow, nearly invisible except for the white T-shirts of the three guys who were sitting in there watching.
The island kept looking empty and grim as they went around, until they reached the section exactly opposite the part they'd seen while coming out. Here was the main building, a huge sprawling two-story red brick affair fronted by thick white pillars. Two long piers jutted out into the water, and between them bobbed half a dozen boats like the one Parker was aboard. Careful rock gardens flanked the slate paths up from the piers to the main building, which looked most like an old southern plantation, except that it was practically bare of window.
Yancy said, "The cockfight pit's behind the main building; you can't see it from here. Baron lives in the main building, most of the people that work for him live in that building on the left."
The building on the left was also brick, also two stories high, but plain and functional in design and containing a normal amount of window.
Parker said, "So far, this is the only place we could land."
Yancy nodded. "That's right. Baron cleaned out a channel here."
"So we couldn't land anyplace else."
Parker shook his head. "Bad."
This time, Yancy said nothing.
The guy at the wheel said, "They're following us."
Parker looked behind them, and the little boat was in their wake, but keeping back.
Yancy said, "Ignore them. Go on around."
They went on around the island, and there was nothing else to see. To east and west and south the Gulf of Mexico stretched to the horizon and beyond. To the north the coast was a gray smudge.
Parker said, "Head back."
Yancy gestured with the bottle. "Well? What do you think?" Parker shook his head. "It's worth the trouble," Yancy told him. "Maybe."
A helicopter passed over, coming from the east and heading west. The guy at the wheel squinted up at it: "Is that them, too?"
Yancy laughed. "What, Baron's boys? That's the Navy, U.S. Navy. You think Baron's got helicopters?"
"How should I know?"
Parker was watching aft. The trio in the little boat had dropped out of sight, losing interest. The island again looked empty and uninviting.
Yancy stretched and said, "We'll be back in less than an hour."
Parker looked out toward shore, but they were still too far away to make out any details. Galveston was up that way, ahead of them, but it couldn't be seen yet. Parker turned away and went back down into the cabin. He put his tie and suitcoat on and sat down to wait.
Yancy came down, smiling, easy, relaxed. He sat on the sofa and said, "Well? What do you think?"
"I haven't made up my mind."
"Mr. Karns would be very happy if you thought yes."
Parker looked at him. "Karns doesn't threaten me. Didn't he tell you that?"
Yancy waved glass and bottle. "Wrong, wrong! No threat, just a comment."
Parker went over to the bar and made himself a drink. "I don't have enough yet," he said. "I need more before I can make up my mind."
"I want a map of the island. Buildings, paths, landing places, everything."
"It can be arranged."
"And I want a list of personnel. How many, which of them live on the island, what each man's job is, how many of them are heeled, what kind of weapons they got on the island and how many."
"That'll take a little longer."
"But it can be done," Parker said.
Yancy nodded. "It can be done." He smiled again, and motioned with the glass. "One thing I know. Some nights, the handle in that place is a quarter million bucks."
Parker shrugged. It didn't matter how much was there; what counted was how possible it was to take it and leave with it.
He sat down and waited for Galveston.
Beyond the door the sun beat down white and hot. Parker was staying at a motel on Broadway in Galveston while looking things over and making up his mind. It wasn't the motel he would have chosen for himself, but the reservation had been made for him by Yancy or someone else in Walter Karn's organization; the organization was paying his expenses.
Parker shut the door against the sunlight, leaving the room cool and dim. In the corner the air conditioner hummed to itself. The room looked a lot like the cabin of the boat he was out on yesterday.
Yancy stood in the middle of the room looking around, jiggling his right arm so the attaché case tapped against the side of his knee. "Drink?" he said. "Cold and wet?"
"Don't have any," Parker told him. He itched when he was around steady drinkers; they were unpredictable and unreliable.
Yancy said, "Bad business." He tossed the attaché case on one of the twin beds, went over to the telephone, and stood with it to his ear for a minute. He smiled at Parker, and his right foot tapped on the rug.
"Ah!" he said, into the phone. "This is room twenty-seven. Send me a boy, would you, dear? A million thanks." He cradled the phone and made a gesture of amiable helplessness, saying to Parker, "One of my minor vices. You understand."
Parker shrugged. Understanding had nothing to do with it; he didn't give a damn, that was all. Yancy wasn't his problem. He motioned at the attaché case. "Let's see it."
"Oh, let's not hurry. Wait till I fortify." Yancy smiled agreeably, twisting his hood's face into an expression it wasn't equipped for, and said, "This is faster service than you expected anyway. Yesterday afternoon on the boat you told me what you wanted, and this afternoon I bring it."
There was a knock at the door. Yancy raised a hand. "There he is." He went over and opened the door and told the boy there, "Jack Daniels, a fifth. You"ll pick it up for me?"
Yancy gave him money. "And a bucket of ice. Do it in under five minutes and the change is yours."
Yancy's smile was the same for everybody; Parker, the bellboy, the three guys yesterday in the other boat. Now he turned it on Parker again and said, "Well, what do you think of Galveston?"
Parker shook his head. He was no good at small talk, because he had no interest in it.
Yancy kept trying. "You haven't seen the night life around here? No? Well, you haven't missed much. Houston's just fifty miles away, of course. Have you been up there?"
Parker turned his back on him, went over to the bed, and picked up the attaché case.
Yancy said, "Not that Houston's so — what are you doing?"
Parker carried the attaché case over to the writing desk, set it down, opened the snaps.
Yancy came over, looking aggrieved, trying to see the funny side of life, saying, "You're in a hell of a hurry, aren't you?"
Parker said, "You want to go out and come in again? I'll wait. Just don't come in here and stand around."
The hail-fellow expressions drained off Yancy's face one by one, as though they'd been painted on in water color and he was standing in the rain. What was left was hard and humorless.
Excerpted from The Handle by RICHARD STARK Copyright © 1966 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.
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Posted October 11, 2013
Posted October 12, 2009
Donald Westlake died celebrating New Years this year. In the sixties he created (as Richard Stark) a "dime novel" based on a thief neamed Parker. The "Handle" and the "Seventh" are the last re-releases of this series. Both provide in the introduction an excellent summation of this body of work. I don't know if I'll miss this character more or the Dortmunder series (under his own name). We will miss him.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 25, 2011
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Posted December 28, 2009
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Posted May 24, 2011
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