Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Outfit by Richard Stark (1963): To Live Outside the Law You Must Be Honest

It's been more than three years I've been looking for cheap copies of Richard Stark's novels featuring his laconic, professional, and very very deadly criminal called Parker, no-first-name. When I found last week a thin, cracked-spine copy of the 1984 Avon reprint of The Outfit, I began reading it immediately. I finished it immediately too. Violent, efficient, ballsy, pulpy but without cheapness, The Outfit bristles with macho energy but doesn't feel creepy or dated. This is classic crime fiction utterly assured of its mission: that you never put the book down and that you believe in its characters.

1973 movie tie-in edition from Berkley Medallion

The titular organization is basically the mob or Mafia but it doesn't go by that name. The Outfit wants Parker dead for past deeds they think were wrong but Parker knows were right. The guy they send to do the job louses it up and now it's Parker who's hunting the Outfit. In fact through a letter-writing campaign he encourages his fellow professionals - not friends, not for Parker, but men he's worked with - to knock over various illicit "businesses" run by the Outfit. This works extremely well, like clockwork even, and soon the Outfit's out nearly a million and the head, Bronson, wants Parker... you guessed it, dead. But Parker's got other plans.

1963 original edition from Pocket Books

My mind is boggled by the effortless way in which Westlake depicts the criminal underworld and their Byzantine cons and double-crosses and set-ups. One great thing about The Outfit is the time Stark spends detailing said cons, like numbers-running or betting on horses. Even though I love good crime fiction I find it difficult to grasp these logistics. He makes it easy. Stark's spare and precise prose makes you feel smart and tough at once. I like that in a book. Hell, I love that in a book.

Stark is the famous pen name of crime writer extraordinaire Donald E. Westlake and it was under this name Westlake put out all his Parker novels. The Outfit is 3rd in the series and I'm getting more.

5 comments:

  1. Just as a preface... Yes, I'm one of the dorks who refers to Westlake as Stark when talking about the Parker and Grofield novels

    Just finished it this morning. Stark knocked it out of the park here. I know you're shooting for vintage copies only, but if I could recommend only one single Parker novel, it would have to be "Slayground." I think that one, more than others, showcases both Stark and Parker at the height of their respective creative powers.

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  2. Thanks Alejandro, will be on the lookout!

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