Richard Stark’s ‘The Outfit’ (1963)

I really loved the first two books in the Parker series by Donald E. Westlake (writing as Richard Stark). I also enjoyed several of the later books. But for some reason I never read this third volume — which is sort of pivotal in the arc of the early series.

I gotta say, I was more than a little disappointed. Ultimately, I found this entry sort of scattered and uneven. It was even kinda bland, plot-wise.

Don’t get me wrong: Every time Parker is the viewpoint character, I enjoyed myself. I want to marry that mean-ass son of a bitch. He is one of the greatest criminal antiheroes in literature. But in The Outfit it felt to me like there’s a lot of wandering around from character to character as Westlake makes sure I “get” that the Outfit is being “hit.” I’d already pretty much got that from having read later books in the series, and in any event it’s telegraphed early in the book.

Some of the individual scenes are totally incredible, and some of the writing is among the most gorgeous noir writing ever. There are magnificent moments  where we see pieces of American life in the early ’60s that are utterly fascinating and intoxicating to me. There are a few great characterizations of Parker’s associates, and instances where Parker’s own nasty personality is revealed.

But the plot kinda had me checking my watch. I think it’s a mix of a mild Sophomore Slump in the series and my having read several of the later books before I read this one.

Like I said, I loved later books in the series so I’ll keep reading the ones I missed.

But if I were you? I’d make sure I read these puppies in order.

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