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Saturday, March 12, 2016

Breakout. Richard Stark. Mysterious Press. (2002)

A gripping and entertaining criminal procedural that uses variations on a central idea with considerable confidence and skill. Parker and others are arrested during a botched robbery at a warehouse and put in a holding facility. This is where prisoners are held before their trial and likely transfer to a long term prison. Identified under an alias and facing extradition to California Parker needs to break out of the facility. He does so and finds himself in a series of situations from which he has to breakout in turn.
Richard Stark has written an amazing book, a view of the world as a professional, career criminal, meeting problems that arise from being a career criminal and solving them by being an experienced career criminal. Parker approaches each problem in a cool, analytical way, deciding what needs to be done and getting on with it. He is the calm center of the story, pushing steadily against the circumstances and people that stand in his way. He is essentially a shadowy character, too calm and collected to really engage the reader or to set a story on fire, he does anchor it very effectively however. He consistently provides a strong contrast to the rest of the cast allowing them to emerge more strongly and they provide all the necessary emotional and human dimensions for the story.
The plot mechanics are superb, the details of the initial breakout are stunning, the plan is credible and sharp, the subsequent problems arise naturally from the previous step with a forceful logic that traps Parker in the area when he should be long gone.
Richard Stark introduces a considerable number of characters, all are given economical time and space to develop and engage the reader. All are tied directly into the plot events and just how they interact is very smartly set up and followed through. No cast member is wasted, they are carefully used to maximum effect. None of the cast, with the possible exception of Parker, is ever simply a plot device even though they are so tightly woven into the circumstances of the story. The writing is so economical and spare that there should be no room for any of the cast to be vivid above the serious demands of the plot.
Richard Stark is a serious writer and has the talent and skill to ensure that the cast embody the plot to such an extent at they are driving it, Parker, is caught in the problems because the rest of the cast are all too human. The sheer professionalism of the criminals contrasts consistently with the civilian cast, they have a utterly different way of looking at and dealing with the world. They move through the world with a severely different perspective and bank of knowledge, the crucial difference being how stupid and greedy they are. The real professionals are never greedy, they are willing to take risks to get what they want, they avoid stupidity.
While Parker is utterly competent, knowledgeable and willing to kill if necessary Richard Stark nicely avoids the temptation to make him an all conquering superman. The element of luck is allowed a pay and this, perhaps more than anything else, opens up the story to the reader and increases its impact hugely. The random is possibly the smartest and most unexpected plot device in the book and the way it is deployed is the surest sign of Richard Stark's extraordinary talent and confidence as a writer. Brilliant crime writing and brilliant writing, a book to relish.

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