Monday, December 06, 2010

Recent reads

Parker: The Outfit by Darwyn Cooke and Richard Stark Master thief and ultimate anti-hero Parker is back, this time in graphic novel form. An old colleague of Parker's sells him out to the The Outfit (a nationwide organized crime syndicate) who sends an assassin to kill Parker at a hotel. When the hit doesn't come off and Parker subdues the would-be killer, he vows vengeance. Can one man really take down the mob? Well, if his name is Parker, odds are he can. This was a a wonderful graphic adaptation of one of the best books in the Parker series. Cooke really catches the zeitgeist of America in the early 1960's and the underworld that Parker was a part of. The artwork has a stylishly retro feel that is perfect for the period, and Parker is drawn as I've always imagined him: ten feet tall and bulletproof. By faithfully retaining the characteristics that made Richard Stark's novels so powerful and adding a beautiful graphic representation of the time and place, Cooke has created a wonderful work of storytelling.

Slayground by Richard Stark Master thief and epic bad-ass Parker and a couple of associates knock over an armored car, getting away with $75,000 dollars. During the getaway, the rookie wheelman flips the car and the only place for Parker to escape on foot is an amusement park called Fun Land that is shuttered for the winter. He soon finds himself trapped in the carnival, hunted by a small army of mobsters and crooked cops. But in Parker's case, twenty versus one is almost a fair fight. Stark (a pen name for Donald E. Westlake) sets this one up really well. It follows the usual Parker formula of a robbery gone bad, but the amusement park setting adds an extra dimension. Parker goes guerrilla, setting up traps and ploys that ingeniously begin to pick off his pursuers one by one, until its just a matter of time before Parker makes his break for freedom. The only thing that could have helped was a map of the amusement park, with Parker running around to different parts, it gets a little confusing at times. Stark's lean style is perfect for the story, with all extraneous prose and sentimentality cut from the story, as Parker cold as ice, dispatches his adversaries and plots his escape.

The Cobra by Frederick Forsyth Not lacking in ambition is Forsyth's thriller which takes the "war on drugs" to the farthest possible conclusion. The president becomes so angry with the influx of cocaine into the US and Europe that he looks for the only man who can stop it. A retired CIA agent code named Cobra is given carte blanche in terms of the military and intelligence apparatus of the United States and is ordered to crush the cocaine cartels. So basically the deal is that cocaine production and smuggling is declared a terrorist act, and Cobra comes out all guns blazing, with unmanned aerial drones, special forces, fighter aircraft, the whole nine yards. While the story is an interesting conceit, it starts to crack under the sheer implausibility after a while. Forsyth's research is well done, but the characters are quite wooden and the action becomes repetitive after a the first few missions. This pretty much becomes a right wing fantasy after a while with the military and force seen as the only answer for any problem. It's not a bad book, in fact there are some portions that are quite interesting. But it just can't sustain the energy developed in the first half on the book and the story begins to lurch, and eventually peters out to a predictable conclusion.

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