Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Getaway Delights in Details

In reviewing the 2004 thriller Collateral, film critic Andrew Coffin noted that director Michael Mann had such a distinctive style he could make a shot of Tom Cruise climbing stairs look fascinating. That's no small praise. Entertainment today tends toward spectacles and extremes, toward the fast and loud and not-even-a-little subtle. So you know you're dealing with something unique when a storyteller can make his audience not only pause for the small stuff but also delight in it. Which is exactly what Richard Stark does in The Man With the Getaway Face, the second Parker novel and sequel to The Hunter.

Career criminal Parker is in a spot. Murdering Mal Resnick gained him more than revenge: It earned him the ire of a massive criminal conglomerate called the Outfit. Now that his face has the top spot on its most-wanted list, Parker decides a change is in order and goes under the knife of a disgraced doctor who lost his practice because of Communist sympathies. Though the surgery gives him some breathing room, it also leaves him nearly broke, so he decides to rob an armored car in Ohio with three criminal acquaintances -- Handy, Skimm and Alma, Skimm's new squeeze. Only the complications come quick and heavy almost from the word go, and Parker soon finds himself concerned with a lot more than simply getting through steel plating. The cops have taken notice of his newly acquired (read: stolen) car. The doctor's punch-drunk handyman comes after him with a .45. And Alma seems to be eyeing more than her fair share of the takings.

Although Stark spends plenty of time on the heist itself (a requisite for this sort of crime story), he focuses much more of his attention on the preparations for it. Finding the proper escape route, buying a beat-up tractor trailer, divvying up the takings -- such things take up the lion's share of the text. And while paragraphs about dumping bags of change in a stream or test firing a revolver into a basement drain don't sound interesting, they really are. Stark uses all this apparently incidental action to flesh out Parker's character, gradually revealing through his management of circumstances an individual who is ferociously intelligent, completely self-serving and utterly rapacious. It's a fascinating stylistic device. This devil, it seems, really is in the details.

(Picture: CC 2009 by


B. Nagel said...

Some writers just have the knack to captivate and enthrall when describing mundanity. Those are the ones we hateses.

Loren Eaton said...

Yes, they have the preciouses -- er, skillz.