Now this, my friends, this is what I'm talking about.
FLASHFIRE (2000) by Richard Stark, was just what I needed to get the still-lingering bad taste of Michael Crichton's bloated THE VENOM BUSINESS out of my mouth. FLASHFIRE is a stripped down, lean and mean, pedal to the metal crime story that is next to impossible to put down.
It's the nineteenth adventure of Parker, the super crook created in 1962 by mystery author Donald Westlake writing under the pen name Richard Stark. The first in the series, THE HUNTER, which I've read, was adapted for film twice, first by John Boorman in the brilliant POINT BLANK (1967) with Lee Marvin as "Walker" and later in 1999 as PAYBACK, with Mel Gibson in the lead. I've seen both films and I prefer POINT BLANK. When I read a Parker story, I can't help but picture him in my mind as looking and sounding like the great Lee Marvin. Oh, and Darwyn Cooke, who is a masterful comic book artist, did a graphic novel adaptation of THE HUNTER a few years back which I highly recommend.
In FLASHFIRE, Parker works with three other men to pull a bank job at the beginning of the book. They get and get away with a sizable amount of cash but the three thieves tell Parker that they need his share of the loot to finance their next big caper, a jewelry heist in Palm Beach, Florida. Withholding money from Parker is their first mistake. Leaving him alive is their second.
Parker is soon on their trail across the American South, pulling various jobs of his own and working a complicated scheme to set up a new identity and a ready source of funds. Oh, and he has to kill some other bad guys along the way, deaths that will have repercussions later in the book. Parker arrives in Palm Beach and soon finds himself teamed-up with Leslie, an avaricious real estate agent who sees the mysterious "Mr. Parmitt" as her meal ticket out of a life of drudgery.
Parker is forced to rely on the amateur to help in his plan to get revenge on the three crooks who double crossed him. The partnership is sometimes good, sometimes bad. There's also a deputy sheriff nosing around that knows something is just not right but he can't put all of the pieces together.Things come to a violent head (as they always do in a Parker novel) and there are a couple of very satisfying plot twists and turns before everything is finally over.
FLASHFIRE is a terrific crime thriller written by a genre master at the peak of his career. Stark (or Westlake, if you prefer), writes in an economical, stripped down prose style that keeps you turning pages. He also seems to know way too much about how professional criminals operate (and I don't really want to know how he gained that information). He also makes us root for a bad guy. We want Parker to succeed in his quest and, true to form, he does. Once Parker sets his mind on something, there's no stopping him.
FLASHFIRE was the basis of the recent film, PARKER (2013) with Jason Statham in the title role. I've not seen it but I will definitely check it out the first chance I get. In the meantime, it's off to BACKFLASH (another Parker caper) for me. Highest recommendation.