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Backflash by Richard Stark


by Richard Stark

Series: Parker (18)

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“Backflash” is the eighteenth novel in the Parker world. It is wedged between “Comeback” and “Flashfire” and, as Lawrence Block points out in the introduction, this is Westlake (aka Stark) having fun with his titles and connecting them. It is part of the second set of Parker novels, published from 1997 to 2008 after a 23-year hiatus from the series. These are longer novels than most of the original sixteen. In some ways, they feel smoother, more professionally finished.

This one involves what looks for most of the book more like a con game from The Sting than a simple show your guns and rob them kind of caper. The subject of the caper here is a gambling boat running a route up and down the Hudson River in upstate New York. “It looked like any small cruise ship, white and sparkly, a big oval wedding cake, except in the wrong setting. It should be in the Caribbean, with Tommy Carpenter, not steaming up the Hudson River beside gray stone cliffs, north out of New York City.”

This is a trial run for the boat and estimates of how much dough is traveling on the boat range in the neighborhood of several hundred thousand. A retired, but still well-connected state bureaucrat has got the idea for the caper and engages Parker to do it. Parker likes the money angle, but for the life of him, can’t figure out why this straight- laced career bureaucrat is even involved in such a thing. Parker himself organizes the crew in this one and it includes a number of characters from other Parker novels, including a couple from the art caper in Plunder Squad such as Noelle, whose main job there was to take off her clothes and distract the sheriff’s deputies and Mike Carlow who explains that people get used to everything, but being dead. The wonder of this book is how Parker’s crew cons their way onto the boat and then off it with the loot and I won’t spoil it by telling about it.

The great characters in this book don’t stop with Parker’s crew, but include the state bureaucrat that engages Parker on this enterprise and others that try to get in his way. Some of the descriptions are hysterically funny like the motel clerk with the “neat egg-shaped head with straight brown hair down both sides of it, like curtains at a window, and nothing much in the window” and the bartender who looked “like a retired cop who’d gone to seed the day his papers had come through.” Then there’s Susan Cahill, who is in charge of guest relations on the gambling boat, “she in low-heeled pumps, dark blue skirt and jacket” and “her smile looked metallic, something stamped out of sheet tin. The hand she extended, with its long, coral-colored nails, seemed made of plastic, not flesh.”

The book is simply another great addition to the Parker universe. It is written in Westlake’s tight prose and filled with action and planning and double-crosses. ( )
  DaveWilde | Sep 22, 2017 |
Parker is a professional thief who goes about his business with ruthless efficiency. In his eighteenth outing the heist involves a casino ship sailing the Hudson River in upstate New York and a lot of the book involves deciding whether the inside man is trustworthy, if the theft is viable, and the gathering of the crew once the decision to go ahead is made. Secrecy is compromised on several levels and there’s a lot for Parker to clean up. As usual, light and entertaining. ( )
  JohnWCuluris | Jun 20, 2016 |
Another classic Parker from Richard Stark (aka Donald Westlake.) In this episode, Parker is approached by Cathman, a disgruntled ex-state employee who ostensibly has it in for gambling and the state wants to increase its revenue stream by allowing riverboat gambling. Cathman has blueprints of the boat and additional details, so Parker checks him out and decides it's possible to pull a heist.

As with all the Parker stories, you know there will be a glitch, there always is, so the suspense and interest come less from the planning and details of the heist (and this one is quite complicated), but as much from watching and enjoying how Parker manages to deal with the unexpected and odd difficulties.

Definitely one of the better Parker novels. ( )
  ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
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This is for Walter and Carol, who got married tomorrow.
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When the car stopped rolling, Parker kicked out the rest of the windshield and crawled through onto the wrinkled hood, Glock first.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0446675261, Paperback)

A large part of the pleasure of having Richard Stark back writing about the master criminal Parker is the obvious delight that Stark (a pen name for Donald Westlake) takes in doing the research for his capers. This one must have been a blast. Certainly, he must have spent time on board a cruise ship to get all the inside details for Parker's planned robbery of a fictional floating casino called the Spirit of the Hudson--details such as how to get the cash off (inside a wheelchair's converted potty seat) or how to make use of a hard-shelled female publicist.

Then there must have been a tour of old towns along the Hudson, to come up with this letter-perfect description of a seedy saloon: "It was called the Lido, but it shouldn't have been. It was an old bar, a gray wood cube cut deep into the ground floor of a narrow 19th Century brick house, and at two on a sunny afternoon in April it was dark and dry, smelling of old whiskey and dead wood.... At the bar, muttering together about sports and politics--other people's victories and defeats--were nine or ten shabbily dressed guys who were older than their teeth."

After Comeback (Parker's triumphant return to action after a 20-year hiatus), readers know that all the best planning in the world can't account for fate or human weakness. This time, a weirdly motivated retired civil servant, an out-of-control smalltown cop, and some greedy bikers stand in the way of Parker and Co.'s successful removal of $400,000 from the gambling boat. Stark is too gifted an artist to make their intervention trivial, and also too talented an entertainer to leave his old and new Parker fans unsatisfied with the outcome. --Dick Adler

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:35 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

The master thief, Parker, plots to rob a floating casino on the Hudson River. He puts together a team of robbers, ensures weapons are smuggled on board, and arranges for a getaway boat. The planning is meticulous, but will chance favor the enterprise? By the author of Comeback.… (more)

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