cover image Backflash


Richard Stark. Mysterious Press, $19.5 (304pp) ISBN 978-0-89296-662-2

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. (Oct.)