Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Parker Henchman Alan Grofield Gets a Book of His Own

One of my favorite crime fiction series is the Parker series, written by Donald Westlake under the name Richard Stark. Stark wrote twenty-four of these novels featuring the humorless, amoral professional criminal, Parker, who usually recruited or was recruited by other professionals to pull off robberies of banks, armored cars and other such targets.

One of Parker's most dependable henchmen was Alan Grofield who appears in several of the novels. Grofield is an actor by profession and he owns a small theater company. But there's not enough money in acting to keep hearth and home together, and so a couple of times a year Grofield joins Parker and others in a heist of some sort to bring in additional cash. Grofield is a somewhat lighter and more reflective man than Parker, and in 1967, Stark decided to give Grofield a book of his own, The Damsel.

The eighth of the Parker novels is The Handle. At the end of that book, Grofield is wounded. Parker gets him safely to a hotel in Mexico City and has a doctor tend to the wound. Then Parker returns to the U.S., leaving Grofield with his share of the cash from the job, to recover.

The Damsel opens at that point. Grofield is lying in bed in his fourth floor hotel room when, seemingly out of nowhere, a very attractive young woman climbs through the window. She's apparently fleeing from someone and thinks the room is empty because it is dark. Grofield surprises her and demands to know what she's doing. She tells him a few obvious lies; he tells her a few in return, and the story is off and running.

It turns out that the woman, Elly, is on a mission, and some very bad men are attempting to stop her from accomplishing it. The mission itself is beside the point, and the plot is pretty far-fetched. But that doesn't really matter either. There's a lot of witty banter and a great deal of sexual chemistry between Grofield and Elly, and their adventure together allows Grofield to demonstrate some very clever moves as they attempt to evade the goons who are now pursuing both of them as they race from Mexico City to Acapulco which is where Elly's mission will end. All in all, it's a lot of fun, and this is a book that should certainly appeal to the legion of Parker fans and to a lot of other readers as well.

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