We all know the old saying about imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, and that aphorism holds no less true in the world of writing. Homages to the works of famous authors not only honor the individuals but show the extent of their influence in their chosen fields. The eldritch imaginings of H.P. Lovecraft have gotten mileage far beyond their original iterations thanks to artists as diverse as Brian Lumley and Neil Gaiman. Entire swathes of fantasy are basically testaments to Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. What happens, though, when a pasticheur can't quite imitate another's excellence? Can the resulting work be considered a success? It's a question I found myself asking while reading Two for the Money, hardboiled author Max Allan Collin's tribute to Richard Stark's Parker novels.
Nolan is feeling his age. No, scratch that, he definitely feels older than his forty-eight years. Running from the Family will do that to you, and Nolan can't exactly blame the Chicago crime syndicate for chasing him. He'd been doing fine as Family nightclub manager until Gordon got promoted, the thug. You see, Gordon told Nolan to off an old friend, and ... Well, let's just say things got messy. Killing Gordon might've been excusable on its own, but absconding with $20,000 of Family money? That definitely wasn't. Now after sixteen years of hiding from Gordon's brother Charlie, Nolan's ready to call it quits. But to do so he'll have to pull off the most difficult job of his career, a bank robbery where he has a crew of amateurs, a bullet in his side and no other options.
You can't say Collins doesn't line up the Parker tropes like a row of dominos. An amoral, single-named protagonist. A high-stakes heist. A deadly double cross. Plenty of blazing guns and down-n-dirty fisticuffs. Yet despite such similarities, Two for the Money never quite feels like a Stark book. It simply doesn't read the same. Stark's name could describe his style. His novels are bare and unadorned, peeled all the way back to the bone. In fact, the actions of Parker and his associates often seem a little mysterious at first because Stark doesn't let readers into their heads or comment on their actions. He's almost a hardboiled Hemmingway. Conversely, Collins lets his characters unspool paragraphs of internal monologue, ruminating at length about most everything under the sun. That isn't to say the book's bad. Two for the Money does what pulp ought to, namely entertain. But somehow it never quite adds up to the works which inspired it.
(Picture: CC 2009 by il Quoquo; Hat Tip: The Violent World of Parker)