Ask the Parrot

Ask the Parrot by Richard Stark 9781585478941 | eBay

Ask The Parrot is the 23rd novel of the 24 novel strong Parker series by Richard Stark, who is the most well-known of Donald Westlake’s psuedonyms. Westlake has over the fifty-plus years he has professionally written assumed seven or more psuedonyms for a variety of reasons, but everyone knows Stark is Westlake and vice versa. Westlake has written over one hundred books.
Parker, who has no first name, is a professional criminal. He robs. He does bank jobs. He does armored car jobs. He is known to be cold and emotionless, but he has his own code which generally means no doublecrossing, splitting the proceeds equally, and not turning on one’s allies.

Ask The Parrot is actually part two of a trilogy of novels at the tail end of the Parker series, starting with Nobody Runs Forever and finishing with Dirty Money. Any of these can be read by themselves or in order. One need not even be familiar with the Parker series to enjoy this.

Ask The Parrot begins with Parker on the run through the woods, dogs and local deputies on his trail. “Whatever was on the other side of this hill,” he explains as the story opens, “had to be better than the dogs baying down there at the foot of the slope behind him, running around, straining at their leashes, finding his scent, starting up.” Parker has $4,000 in his pocket, but its no good because the robbery was botched and his identity ruined. He needs a place to hide, to regroup, to get to safety.
In this small upstate NY town, he tries to blend in as a common person and even joins the posse trying to smoke the robbers out of the woods, but there is something about Parker that just lends itself to trouble and he can’t blend in no matter how he tries. Lindahl rescues him, but wants to involve him in a racetrack robbery, a racetrack where Lindahl used to work before he got canned and for which he still has all the keys. No matter what Parker does, crime seems to follow him or somebody recognizes him and wants a cut of the robbery money, which is too hot for Parker to go back for, or someone wants to play hero and reel him in or someone makes a mistake, bringing the interest of the law on Parker.

There is something about the way Westlake writes that is compelling and, once I picked this up, I had to keep reading. The prose is not fancy. There are few memorable phrases. But, it is, like all Parker novels, one great piece of crime fiction and, for anyone who reads crime fiction, this is worth a read.
What is it that makes the Parker novels so compelling for forty-five years? I don’ t know that it is the fact Parker is an anti-hero or that he is someone who the reader can identify with. I think it is that Westlake (or Stark if you prefer) has consistently created a character who is believable and who acts as one would expect him to. Parker is no saint. He has no moral compunctions about killing, but he would prefer not to since it brings the law down on one quicker.
All in all, a great read.

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