Book Review : Richard Stark - The Seventh (1966)
Richard Stark's immortal character Parker is a cold-blooded and ruthlessly efficient thief who entire generations of readers love because he's fucking badass. He's not high on wisecrakin' and he will avoid getting in fights whenever he could, but he gets shit done and readers get a kick out of that. The last Parker novel I reviewed was over two years ago, so I was curious: does he keep being badass or do his "jobs" eventually become mundane like a day at the office?
Well, I'm not sure The Seventh gave me an answer, but it gave me a little bit of everything in short and sparse bursts: excitement, tension, originality. It's kind of a pu pu platter, like Bill Simmons would say. There's a little bit of everything but no grand enjoyment.
The premise of The Seventh is great. Parker and six other guys stole the gate of an important football game and entrusted him with the responsibility of hiding the score while the heat cools off. That happens before the novel even starts. It begins with breaking back into the apartment he shared with a women he recently met, just ten minutes after stepping outside for the first time in days. Of course, the money is gone, the woman is dead and the cops come knocking. Parker has no one to trust but himself.
What I like about this novel is that it challenges the stupid Robin Hood myth that robbing from robbers is supposedly a noble thing to do. That it makes you somehow morally or intellectually superior to other criminals. In Parker novels, money is just money, whoever is spending (or stealing) it. Crossing a group of professionals is depicted as reckless, greedy and unnecessarily dangerous. The person crossing Parker and his colleagues in The Seventh is the furthest thing from noble. He is a violent and opportunistic asshole. There is no nobility or romance whatsoever to his actions, which was more compelling than any bullshit Robin Hood fantasies I've ever read.
Overall, I thought The Seventh was a slightly disappointing novel, though. I mean, there is a certain mastery of the form Richard Stark possesses. Reading a Parker novel doesn't feel like reading at all. But it does feel like he wrote himself in a corner with that kick-ass premise and tried to hastily figure his way out of it. The antagonist is an absolute ghost for the first hundred pages and not only he becomes a point of view character in the third act, but several members of Parker's robbing crew are also introduced. The chapters become shorter, the action choppier and, most important, the stakes become lower.
I mean, who gives a fuck about terrible things happening to characters you only just met, right? Violent scenes aren't gripping if there is no meaning attached to them, so when the antagonist starts culling the herd around Parker, he's just going through the hoops before the final confrontation and it comes off that way on the page. The final chapter is great, though, albeit too short. It wraps the subverting of the Robin Hood trope quite nicely with an all-time cold-hearted Parker moment. It feels like it would've needed an extra chapter on the antagonist in order to enjoy his downfall better, but it was quite enjoyable nonetheless.
So yeah, The Seventh is more or less a run-of-the-mill Parker novel. It's not the best and it's not the worst, but it does convey interesting ideas about crime at an interesting time in popular culture. Parker was endearing for his efficiency and cold logic, but he lived in a world where people died horrible deaths for shallow, material pursuits. He was a romantic figure that you didn't want to be and The Seventh conveys that as well as his other novels despite its delivery problems. Richard Stark was writing Parker novels and getting them in the world as fast as he could back then and... well, it shows in The Seventh