Penzler Pick, December 2001: You'd have to hammer apart an armored tank to find a surface harder than that of Richard Stark's antihero Parker. A thief and a killer, Parker is the protagonist of a contemporary series that has the legendary status of vintage noir. The films Point Blank (with Lee Marvin) and Payback (with Mel Gibson) were both made from the first Parker novel, The Hunter. After an absence from print of over two decades, Parker began breaking all the commandments again in 1997's Comeback.
However, since Stark is, as the dust jacket informs readers, also at times the mystery Grand Master Donald E. Westlake, there's a curious phenomenon worth noting in the pages of this, the 21st Parker novel. Larry Lloyd, a crook by virtue of his (bad) temper if not his temperament, seems to be a second-banana character who's strolled out of a Westlake comic caper into a Stark scenario and can't quite figure out what he's doing here. Practically a textbook definition of a loose cannon, he comes on board the team planning to rob a billionaire techno-geek's remote mountain hideaway because of his own electronics expertise. OK, so he has a violent streak and is willing to put a bullet through a guy's eyeball, but he's still more Walter Mitty than James Cagney.
As he's about to help get the heist back on track at the last minute, Parker asks him if he thinks he's 007. "Are you kidding?" he says. "The last few weeks, I've been scaling cliffs, shooting people, getting rid of bodies, stealing ambulances, I am James Bond."
Since this comes from the hugely fertile mind of Westlake/Stark, this is not the story's only plotline. There is another, more twisty one running on a track parallel to the one with Parker and his robbery-minded pals on it. Revenge may be a dish best eaten cold, but when it's a matter of kill or be killed, Parker is not likely to be one of the leftovers.
Sometimes, a series loses some of its freshness and originality after it reaches a certain number. Amazingly, after 39 years and 21 books, this novel is as good as any in the series, which should be taken as the highest praise it's possible to give without seeming to be sycophantic. --Otto Penzler [via]