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Breakout    by Richard Stark order for
by Richard Stark
Order:  USA  Can
Warner, 2002 (2002)

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I'm not sure how I missed reading previous Richard Stark mysteries, but Breakout is my first exposure to amoral antihero Parker (note that the author also writes, as Donald Westlake, the comic Dortmunder series). Breakout opens into a robbery gone awry and Parker (aka Ronald Kasper, Edward Johnson, Charles Willis and Edward Lynch) ends up in a holding facility, pending extradition to California on a murder charge.

Parker, the very model of a modern professional criminal, quickly disposes of his court-appointed attorney, replacing him with the amenable, Armani clothed Mr. Li. Through Li, Parker contacts his old comrade Ed Mackey, who researches the backgrounds of select inmates, to find reliable partners for - a breakout, naturally. Parker picks black man Williams and white guy Marcantoni, who requires a return commitment to help with a local robbery after they get out. As the trio plots their Great Escape, the authorities seem equally well informed, probably by another inmate who looks like 'the kind of old junker car that had been in some bad accidents so that now the frame is bent, the wheels don't line up any more, the whole vehicle sags to one side and pulls to that side, and the brakes are oatmeal.'

They make it out of prison, the police on their trail. But Murphy gets into the act at the subsequent jewelry heist from a converted armory, and Parker is boxed in once more. It's hard to really like this antihero but you have to admire his professionalism and problem-solving abilities, as he works out solutions to a series of escalating difficulties, culminating in the need for yet another breakout. This time Parker is in no immediate danger, and his ruminations about why he helps Mackey shed light on his cold-blooded character ... 'Parker didn't live by debts accumulated and paid off; but there were times when you had to do things you didn't want, be places you didn't want ... Parker didn't collect the IOUs, neither the good ones nor the bad ones, but he knew he had to live among people with those tote boards in their minds.'

Parker is an unusual protagonist, portrayed with masterful skill in well researched criminal contexts. Though I wouldn't want to meet him in a dark alley, he's a highly entertaining acquaintance within the pages of Breakout.

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