Sunday, October 28, 2012

First published in 1974, this is the sixteenth book in Richard Stark's acclaimed series featuring Parker, the amoral antihero criminal mastermind. While the book can be read as a stand-alone, it is really the capstone of the series to that point and the last Parker novel that would appear until Comeback, a full twenty-three years later.

The original plan seems simple enough: Two years earlier (in Slayground), Parker and several confederates hit an armored car in the Midwestern town of Tyler for $73,000. But before they could get away, the cops closed in and Parker was forced to hide out in an amusement park that was closed for the winter. A group of mobsters and a few corrupt cops laid siege to the park in the hope of separating Parker from the money. Ultimately, Parker hid the money in the park and managed to escape.

Now, after another job has come up empty, Parker decides to go back to Tyler and retrieve the $73,000. He recruits Alan Grofield, one of his long-time associates, and the two of them quietly go to Tyler, wait for the amusement park to close for the night, and head for the spot where Parker hid the loot.

It isn't there.

This will come as no great surprise to the reader because this is the longest of the Parker novels and Parker and Grofield discover that the money is gone on page 21, which means that they will have to spend the rest of the book attempting to get the money back.

Parker is not really surprised to find the money missing either. He reaches the logical conclusion that, in the wake of his escape, the mobsters searched the park until they found the money and appropriated it for their own purposes.

Parker explains to Grofield that he knows who the boss of the local mob is. Parker calls the guy and politely asks that he return Parker's money. Not surprisingly, the mobster claims that he doesn't have it. He insists that his men did search the park but couldn't find it. Parker naturally refuses to believe him and takes several steps to demonstrate that the mobster should not take his threats lightly.

As it happens, Parker and Grofield have arrived in town at a critical time for the local mob. A gang war is brewing and Parker decides that he'll show the locals what a real gang war looks like. He recruits his own gang, composed of a number of characters from the earlier Parker novels, and goes after the mobsters, leading to a sensational climax befitting what Stark originally intended to be the last book in the series.

This is a gripping and very entertaining book that will appeal especially to those who have read the earlier Parker books and who will recognize so many of the characters that Stark resurrects. But it's hard to imagine that anyone who loves crime fiction will not thoroughly enjoy Butcher's Moon.

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