Parker (a.k.a. Flashfire).

The top 100 prospects ranking is out now – you can view the entire list of names or jump right into the top 25 capsules, as well as the ten prospects who just missed the cut. My ranking of all 30 farm systems went up on Monday. I also did a Klawchat today. Wednesday will bring the AL top tens, with the NL on Thursday along with a fresh chat and the finale of the Baseball Today podcast.

I’ve mentioned Donald Westlake’s Parker series, written under the pseudonym Richard Stark, twice before, thanks to the series of reissues by the University of Chicago Press and the fact that they keep sending me copies of these books. The latest one to show up in my mailbox was Flashfire, which has been reissued under the title Parker because it’s the loose basis for the movie currently in theaters, starring Jason Statham as the title character and Jennifer Lopez as his romantic foil of sorts.

Based on the Wikipedia description of the film’s plot, it seems like the screenwriters made a number of changes for the worse, attempting to ratchet up both the drama and the romantic tension in ways that violate the spirit of the novel and of the Parker series in general. Westlake’s writing here is sparse, as stark as his pen name implies, a stripped-down version of the more literary noir novels of the Chandler/Hammett cohort, and the plot is straightforward although not exactly simple. The novel begins with a bank heist where Parker is betrayed by his three partners, who keep his share as an “investment” in their next job, a massive jewelry theft planned for Palm Beach. Parker has no choice but to let them leave with his money, instead plotting a slow, thorough revenge on his former mates. The plan ends up intertwining him with a local realtor, Leslie, who starts to figure out that he’s up to something other than just shopping for real estate, which turns out to be critical when Parker is shot by hit men sent after him for reasons not entirely Parker’s fault.

The novel’s main separator for me was the interaction between Parker and Leslie, where Leslie’s interest in him goes from purely opportunistic – he’s her ticket to a better life – to something resembling romantic, while Parker remains all business at all times, and views Leslie as a useful asset but nothing more, even contemplating killing her if she becomes too problematic. The imbalance replaces the generic romantic tension of mass-market detective/mystery novels with a different kind of tension, as two people who need each other try to use each other within the parameters they’ve each set for themselves, one trying not to get too close, the other trying to get just close enough. I’m disappointed to see that the film alters this formula a little bit to try to appeal to a broader audience, which doesn’t seem to have worked anyway; sticking to the book more faithfully might have garnered stronger reviews, bringing in a different but at least more substantial crowd.

The one flaw in the book is Parker surviving the attempt on his life by the hit men due to a highly amusing deus ex machina, a white supremacist militia that might as well have been organized by Joe Arpaio and that happens to be patrolling the area of the Everglades where Parker is shot. For a character who survives and succeeds on his wits in most of the books to live to see another day thanks to a band of idiots happening to be in the right place at the right time is a copout unworthy of the character or of Westlake. Even his decision to get into the car, under duress, with two people likely to try to kill him was questionable; I expected him to make some kind of move rather than submit to near-certain death. I won’t pretend that the Parker novels are great literature, but the plots are always interesting and tightly crafted, so this one plot point was all the more irritating for its relative cheapness. Outside of that, Parker fits the bill for me for plane reading – quick, engrossing, serpentine, yet never pandering or insulting.

Next up: Joe Posnanski’s book on the 1975 Reds, The Machine.