Saturday, August 27, 2011

Parker in a Vise

This is the fourteenth entry in Richard Stark's excellent series about Parker, the amoral criminal whose carefully-laid plans almost always come undone because of some unforeseen accident or because of an act of carelessness by one of the other crooks involved in the plan. In this case, it's the getaway driver who screws everything up. This is not the driver that Parker would have prefered, but it's the driver that Parker had to settle for. And it's Parker who will now have to pay the price.

Parker and two accomplices hit an armored car for $70,000. (This is back in 1969, when $70,000 was still a lot of money.) The overconfident driver loses control of the getaway car and rolls it only a couple of blocks from the scene of the crime. With the cops hot on his tail, Parker grabs the loot and escapes into an amusement park across the street that is closed for the winter.

Parker fully expects an army of cops to surround the park and flush him out, but then several hours pass and nothing happens. It turns out that the two patrolmen who saw Parker go over the fence are corrupt cops in league with local mobsters. Rather than bringing Parker to justice, they intend to hunt him down, kill him and keep the cash for themselves. The result is a great cat-and-mouse chase in which Parker, out-manned and out-gunned, must use every trick in the bag to save himself. He's even more inventive and resourceful than usual, and Stark (Donald Westlake) produces a taut, gripping story with a great climax. Fans of this series will be very grateful to the University of Chicago Press for resurrecting this title which has been unavailable for a good number of years.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Will Magowan Returns

Will Magowan simply cannot catch a break.

Readers first met Will in Slow Fire, Ken Mercer's excellent debut novel. At the time, Will was a disgraced former L.A. cop who had lost his wife along with his job and who had also suffered a horrible personal tragedy. With no other prospects, Will accepted an offer that came from out of the blue to be the police chief in Haydenville, a small town in northern California. To all outward appearances, Haydenville appeared to be an idyllic spot, but Will soon discovered that the little town was in the grip of a plague and that its well-being was threatened by some very unsavory characters.

By the end of Slow Fire, Will had largely straightened out the problems in Haydenville, and in East on Sunset: A Crime Novel, we find him back in L.A. and no longer interested in a career in law enforcement. Instead, he is perfectly content to accept a job as a security officer for the L.A. Dodgers. Will and his estranged wife, Laurie have reunited; they have a nice new home, and it appears that life is finally working out for Will.

Enter Erik Crandall, whom Will busted years ago when he was still working undercover narcotics. Recently freed from prison, Crandall is determined to wreak revenge on Will. In particular, he believes that Will stole some $500,000 worth of drugs that belonged to Crandall and that never made it into the evidence locker when Magowan and his colleagues arrested Crandall.

Crandall arrives in L.A., tracks down Will and confronts him. Will knows that he didn't steal Crandall's drugs and points out the obvious: If Crandall had been arrested in possession of that much dope, instead of the relatively small amount that did reach the evidence locker, his sentence would have been much longer.

This sort of logic is totally lost on Crandall who has turned into a massive steroid freak and who is obsessed with the idea that Will has wronged him and that he must pay. Crandall threatens harm to Will and his wife, and when Will cannot get the police to take Crandall's threats seriously, he has no choice other than to deal with the threat himself. Will is thus forced to revisit a past he had long thought buried, and before long, Erik Crandall is not the only threat that Magowan will have to confront.

In this, his second outing, Ken Mercer has written another faced-paced novel with a very sympathetic protagnist. One feels for Will Magowan as the odds again seem to be stacked so heavily against him. And in Erik Crandall, Mercer has created a truly creepy and frightening antagonist who seems at times to be more than a match for Will.

One hopes that the next time around, Mercer will allow Magowan at least a bit of well-deserved peace and quiet, but based on the evidence of these first two books, Will probably shouldn't hold out much hope.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Charlie Hood Drives Again

Charlie Hood, a veteran of the Iraq War, is a modern-day lawman with the soul of a 19th century western sheriff. Charlie is a deputy in the L.A. Sheriff's Department, and he cruises the Antelope Valley in the desert north of the city. Charlie loves to drive, preferably alone, and preferably late at night.

One night however, Charlie is paired with another deputy, Terry Laws, known to the rest of the department as "Mr. Wonderful," because of the great job he's done raising his daughters, because of his dedication to the job, the bodybuilding titles he's won, and the charitable work he does in his off-duty hours. Hood and Laws respond to a routine Housing Authority complaint and as they are returning to the patrol car, a gunman appears from behind a tree and murders Laws in a hail of bullets. Hood survives, perhaps because the gun jammed or perhaps the gunman deliberately spared him.

Shortly thereafter, Hood receives a visit from Internal Affairs. The IA people suggest that perhaps "Mr. Wonderful" wasn't so wonderful at all and they want to add Hood to the team and have him investigate Laws. Hood is reluctant; he wants to patrol the county and catch bad guys. He has no taste for investigating fellow cops. But IA offers the usual rejoinder: somebody's got to police the police and, sadly, not all of the bad guys are civilians.

Hood begins his investigation and soon discovers that Laws had an awful lot of money for someone earning a deputy's wages. As he probes deeper into the situation, Charlie is drawn into a sordid world of drugs, money laundering and other illegal activities. But Hood is resolute; he has a strong moral compass, and he will pursue this mess to its conclusion, no matter how distasteful or violent.

This is the second of Parker's books to feature Charlie Hood, and as is always the case in Parker's books, the characters are unique, interesting and sharply drawn. The investigation is intriguing and the climax suitably violent and hair-raising. Parker has written a third book in the Charlie Hood series, Iron River, and one hopes that he will write a lot more.