The latest Parker novel follows the escapades of our favourite criminal through a botched heist, jail, a breakout, a break-in, a botched heist, and a breakout. You see the repetitive pattern? So do I, and I’m no detective. The good news is that this is the only real flaw in Richard Stark's Breakout.
The overall story is a good one – imagine The Great Escape, The Defiant Ones and Shawshank Redemption combined, a story with breakouts and break-ins, and a library that plays a central role in both. Parker breaks out of jail and gets talked into breaking into a jewelry warehouse – by tunnelling under the street via a secret Civil War-era passage that leads from a library. This isn’t as improbable as it sounds; my local library shares a parking lot with a furrier, and I began to wonder if they had a secret tunnel running between the two. I never thought about casing a library until I read this novel. Check out your local library’s location and see if Stark is onto something.
The short sentences, short chapters and novel-in-four-parts construction create and sustain a world where talking too much can be deadly. Readers can delight in the sense of urgency and claustrophobia Stark creates through dialogue and the sticky situations Parker manages to get himself into. Stark gets bogged down playing Zeus to Parker’s gang of mortals. Detective Turley plays an intriguing game of cat and mouse with Parker fraught with coincidences. It's like reading a Greek drama (and in certain parts, a Greek comedy). Stark’s style and dialogue are just as fresh and lively as inprevious Parker tales; longtime fans will not be disappointed. But new fans might feel like Breakout lags toward the end. The amount of bad luck our anti-hero encounters would make anyone with an IQ above 50 run quickly in the opposite direction. In Firebreak, Parker was a take-charge, survival-of-the-fittest kind of guy, but after he escapes from jail in Breakout he’s like a leaf blowing in the wind. "Team player" is not a term to use when talking about Parker; “Watch your back!” is more like it. Parker’s personality change is bewildering. He’s not the type of guy who tags along because he feels he “owes somebody” -- he gets out while the getting’s good. The other characters in the book are well-drawn, have depth, and their motivation is clear.
In Breakout, Parker’s motto seems to be “persistence pays,” but it is not true for those of us who make it to the end of the book. Breakout goes from sizzle to fizzle. The story starts off like a lit stick of dynamite with a short fuse. Unfortunately there’s no gratifying kaboom. Will I read the next Parker novel? You bet. I want to see if Parker gets back his tough guy persona. Besides, I’m a sucker for good, stylish writing.