One of the genre's all-time most popular and successful hard-boiled characters is Richard Stark's independent criminal and heist artist, Parker. He appeared (after twenty three years, I'll use the past tense) in seventeen tough caper novels (and three feature films) spanning The Hunter ('62) to Butcher's Moon ('74). It makes the ill-titled but recommended Comeback (Mysterious Press, $18, late September) the year's (heck, the decade's) most surprising and welcome return. It's only competition would be the return of Modesty Blaise and Willie Garvin in the disappointing Cobra Trap (short stories, British hardcover, $39.95) by Peter O'Donnell.
Most fans are aware that Stark is Grandmaster Donald Westlake in his adverbally challenged mode. Many also have the enduring image of the ageless Parker as Lee Marvin (Point Blank) in his prime. And many fans have been teased over the years by the success of the comic Dortmunder novels, which were essentually spawned from Parker. Parker is not exactly John Dortmunder's evil twin nor mirror image. Both characters have their share of bad luck (John more so), and both have the same extraordinary and unwavering determination. But that's a compare and contrast essay that will have to wait for another time and place.
Large amounts of ready cash are getting tougher to find these days, but Parker and his pieced-together crew find some at an arena in middle America. The robbery at the Reverend Archibald's Christian Crusade goes without a hitch. A huge audience, TV, and $20 love offerings add up to a half-million dollar haul. Parker, Liss, Mackey, and wheelwoman Brenda go to ground right under the nose of the crowd, the police, the crusade's capable security man, and other criminals attracted to cash. The inside man, a self-stressed disciple in angel wings who has soured on the evangelist, is going to cave. Everybody knows it, but even that shouldn't be a problem. Then comes what every veteran Parker reader has watched and waited for - the double cross.
While in excess of 300 pages, Comeback has a smaller than usual trim size, 5 x 7 1/2. Perhaps the best news of all, as reported in Westlake's recent Mystery Scene interview, is that Warner has bought rights to two further Stark titles. I anticipate each to be as noteable and recommended as Comeback, with a shorter wait between them.