The man With the Getway Face

Richard Stark’s "The Man with the Getaway Face"

By Johnny Apocalypse
february 1, 2007


Before we really get started on this, there are a few things I should mention.  First, I think this is pretty much the best book ever written.  Forget what they told you in all of those high school literature classes, this is the real deal.  Next, this book is the second in a series.  The first was originally called The Hunter, but is currently selling under the title Payback since it was recently made into a movie of the same name (you know, the one with Mel Gibson).  If you plan to read this book after reading my review, you might want to get the first one as well.  Finally, this book isn’t for everyone because it’s about a sociopathic professional thief.

Check this out, I’m psychic: A few readers are thinking, “How can this be such a great book if it’s about an immoral bastard?”  Beats me.  Probably the same reason so many law abiding citizens love the Grand Theft Auto series of video games.  People love anti-heroes, and the particular one featured here (Parker) is one of the best.

The setup:  Parker has recently escaped the clutches of the mafia, and wants to avoid their wrath.  He turns to an unlicensed plastic surgeon to get some cosmetic fix-ups (thus the title of the book), and in doing so spends his last few bucks.  He has to make a quick score, so he turns to a friend who points him towards an armored car robbery.

Upon meeting with a few fellow thieves Parker sees his first problem the woman who pointed out the job.  She’s a waitress with dreams of cash, not a professional robber, but she wants to run the show.  The next problem turns up when one of the plastic surgeon’s helper monkeys turns up to put a few holes in Parker.  Turns out, the unlicensed doctor was just gunned down, so his muscle-bound but slow-witted bodyguard is checking out the last few patients to exact revenge.  If the bodyguard doesn’t report back to the nurse, she calls the mafia and tells them about Parker’s new face.

Parker realizes that the bodyguard doesn’t stand a chance against the man who killed the doctor.  He also realizes that if the waitress doesn’t cool her heels and let a professional do his thing, he’s going to jail.  Balancing the two problems like a tightrope act, Parker has to find a way to keep the doctor’s goons quiet, keep the waitress off his ass and get the money.  Pretty cool, huh?

So aside from a kick-ass plot, what does this book offer that nothing else does?  Why should you drop the dough on this instead of War and Peace, Hamlet or Harry Potter and the Curse of the Failed Birth Control?  Simple.  The writing is good and Parker is a great character.

So how do we judge when writing is good?  By how well an author can write a fight scene or a shootout.  Even though Shakespeare was a literary master and an incredible poet, his fight scenes couldn’t step up to a single page of The Man With the Getaway Face.  Here is an excerpt from one of Shakespeare’s plays:

“Ye Olde-Timey Name One and Ye Olde-Timey Name Two have a swordfight.  Ye Olde-Timey Name Two loses.”  (Quoted from MacBeth VII: Donalbain’s Revenge).

What kind of a fight scene is that?  There’s no description.  Not even enough detail to get you excited.  You see the word “swordfight“, just to get your hopes up, and then you get slammed in the face by a monologue about someone mourning for the loss of a tyrannical but sympathetic king.  I love your work, Shakespeare, but it’s a good thing you don’t write the sports page.

This is one of the many facets where the Parker series leaves their mark on the literary world.  The only fight scene I have found to rival those in Getaway Face and the other books in the series is in Jack London’s A Piece of Steak (Robert Ludlum wrote some damn good fights too).  Every time Parker has to resort to violence, he hits hard and fast, like the cold, vicious person we all fear running into in a dark alley.  Each word in these action scenes lets the reader feel every punch, experience every hunk of lead tearing through a person’s chest.  They are brief, but they have a long-lasting impact.

The writing also succeeds in that it is trimmed down with a definitive edge.  Where other writers like Stephen King and Raymond Chandler use fantastic, lush description to perfectly set the scene, Stark uses little description to set the scene he wants.  There is enough there to give you a good idea of what the street corner looks like or what sort of a building Parker just walked into, but nothing more.  That’s because in Parker’s world, there isn’t much more.  He has his needs, his wants, and his way of life.  That’s it.  This works surprisingly well in that it pulls the reader more into Parker’s mindset.  Instead of worrying about how attractive a neighborhood is, Parker takes in his surroundings and gets back to the task at hand, bringing you straight back to the story.

One aspect of the writing is in fact the book’s only flaw.  There are pieces where Stark has included driving directions to every place Parker frequents, naming all of the local highways he takes to get somewhere.  This becomes tedious and adds nothing to the tone or setting, but thankfully these sections are short lived (and this is the only book in the series that does this).

So plenty of crime novels have been written, and there is likely a wealth of writers who omit mass amounts of description.  What else makes this such a great book?  Plain and simple.  Parker is a fun character to read about.  He’s immoral but he’s trustworthy.  His cold, unerring logic keeps the reader turning pages, but his breakneck ferocity forces your knuckles to turn white while gripping the cover as hard as you can.

This goes right back to what I was saying about anti-heroes being popular characters.  One case in example is Snake Plissken from Escape from New York and LA.  Another is Gene Hackman’s character in Heist.  Anti-heroes abound in books, film and video games, and a great many people have said that Richard Stark’s Parker series influenced the bulk of them in one way, shape or form.

What forces Getaway Face apart from the other books in the series is that it truly sets up Parker’s character.  In The Hunter we were introduced to the character.  We saw as debauched a man as there ever was, hell-bent on revenge and profit.  In Getaway Face we learn more about him then before; how he plans, how he gets equipment, how he figures to turn the tables on a double-cross.  In the end, we are left with an even more perfect set-up for a series then we were before.

So once you’ve cruised through this book, what else is there to look forward to in the series?  I’m afraid you’re looking at a few visits to eBay, friend.  The first five or six books were brought back into print a few years ago and Richard Stark has been putting out new Parker books, but the best tomes in the series are still out of print.  My personal favorites, both in and out of print, are The Hunter, The Man with the Getaway Face, The Score, The Split (also called The Seventh), The Rare Coin Score, The Green Eagle Score, Slayground, Butcher’s Moon and Comeback.  That’s not even half of the total series.  For readability reasons, I had to chop a few books out of there before the viewers closed the page and sent me letter bombs.

Truth be told, I like all the books in the series to some extent.  Some quite a bit more then others, but I honestly don’t think there’s a bad book in the group.  If you already like reading about the antics of anti-heroes, or you want to check out an example of a classic one, you can’t go wrong here.  Just remember: violent books don’t incite more violence.  That’s left for rock music and video games.

What do you think America? Leave your comments on the Guestbook!

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