The last time we saw Parker in The Hunter, he was out to kill a man named Mal Resnick, who had betrayed him and left him for dead. Mal did this in order to pay a debt he owed to an organization known as The Outfit—after paying back what he owed, the organization was only too glad to welcome him back into their ranks, and before you knew it, Mal was part of their management in New York. When Parker went after Mal, he went after The Outfit as well. They didn’t like that.
So as this next book, The Man With the Getaway Face, opens, Parker has just gotten himself a new face. This is thanks to the skill of one Dr. Adler, a man who has been publicly disgraced due to his support of the Communist Party as a young man… but he has not been delisted. Still, America is paranoid about those pinko commies, and so the only way Adler can really get profitable work is to give his services to less-than-reputable clients like Parker.
After getting his new face, it’s just a matter of time before Parker gets a new job—and one comes along on a platter. It’s an armoured-car job, and Parker decides he might as well participate. But things start going wrong—the plan for the job is highly flawed, and the fellow responsible for the planning is under the thumb of a shrewish diner waitress who needs to be in on the plan for it to work. She seems to have plans of her own and Parker suspects a double-cross may be in the works.
But just like that, another interruption occurs. A man named Stubbs, one of Dr. Adler’s employees, comes to find Parker. Someone has just recently killed the doctor, and Stubbs wants to find the culprit and make him pay. Parker gives Stubbs a satisfactory alibi, but Stubbs wants to go after the other two main suspects. Parker doesn’t want that to happen, because Stubbs is a mentally challenged person and was no challenge at all to outwit and out-power— so if Stubbs goes after suspect #2, odds are he will be killed. And if Stubbs does not return within a month, he has left information with some people who will blow the whistle on all three suspects… including the innocent Parker!
Thus begins a fine story in the dark and violent world of master thief Parker. The first act is all about the armoured car heist, but the second and third acts are what particularly fascinate me. This is the second book in a row where author Richard Stark (Donald E. Westlake in disguise) has used a great storytelling device: we see events unfold first from the perspective of Parker’s quarry, and this part ends with the stalked seeing Parker rise from the shadows, having found him at last. Then, Stark turns everything around and we see events from Parker’s point of view. It’s a great device that is used very intelligently, in such a way that it manages to thrill even more: Stark doesn’t structure the entire book around this device, and it’s so short that every sentence manages to convey some sense of suspense. Parker finds himself literally racing against time. (Funny, this device earned Quentin Tarantino praise for originality when he used it in Pulp Fiction. It’s also the structure of Kill Bill—but it’s far less successful there because the key first part, the quarry’s POV, takes about five minutes and kills all anticipation for the rest of the overly-long film.)
But… I digress. This is a wonderful and highly suspenseful read, but there’s one very serious problem that takes it a step down from the masterpiece that is The Hunter. Stark teases the reader that this could become a mystery—not necessarily a complex mystery, mind you, but at least a decent, fairly-clued mystery subplot. Only it isn’t. We find out from a third-person narrator that Suspect X is guilty, and then we see attempts by Stubbs and Parker to locate X. This is an unnecessarily violent pull of the leg, and the mystery lover within me rebelled when this trick was pulled. A little tweaking was all that was needed—and then you could have had a “real” mystery embedded in the story.
See, I don’t require a mystery from the Parker series. These are damn fine thrillers that take place in a grim world with a sardonic sense of humour. I can live with that—in fact, I have embraced that aspect of The Hunter. But it still bothers me when I see so much potential for including a mystery and then I see that potential wasted. That’s the main reason I consider this a step down from The Hunter which was an unequivocal masterpiece. But that being said, The Man with the Getaway Face is still a damn good thriller. Parker is a complex and fascinating figure—not a self-righteous sadist, but a coldly impersonal figure who nonetheless manages to be a fascinating character. The story is a fairly complex one and I really looked forward to finding out the new developments as I turned each page. It’s recommended overall—just don’t get your hopes up about the potential mystery subplot.