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Debra Hamel is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.


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Stark, Richard: Ask the Parrot


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5 stars

Ask the Parrot, which was published in 2006, is the latest installment in Richard Stark's (aka Donald E. Westlake) series featuring Parker, a very smart, but not always very successful thief. When the book opens, Parker, who's wanted for a bank robbery in Massachusetts, is fleeing on foot from the police. He's just a few minutes away from having a police dog's canines in his backside when salvation presents itself in the form of a loner with a gun, Tom Lindahl, who figures that having a bank robber around the house for a while could work to his advantage. Lindahl offers Parker a way out and a job opportunity, but the latter comes with risks, of course, and involves Parker in the lives of Lindahl's neighbors to a degree that isn't safe for a man on the run.

Ask the Parrot had been sitting on my shelves for about two years before I picked it up. I wish I'd done so earlier. Stark makes his bad guy protagonist sympathetic despite that he's not given a soft side--at least in this outing. Parker is all competence and professionalism. He's quick on his feet but he also always comes to the party prepared. He appeals precisely because of his competence: we want him to succeed because he takes care to do the job right, even if he is squarely on the wrong side of the law. He is not careless of the lives of others, but neither is he over-concerned about them. That is, he's not squeamish about committing murder, he's just unwilling to attract more police attention than is strictly necessary. Somehow, despite his mischief, Parker retains the allure of the tuxedoed gentleman burglar.

Stark lets us in on Parker's thought processes as he's sizing up a person or a situation. Maybe it's that window into Parker's mind that helps us identify with him. If nothing else, watching him reason himself out of a tight spot makes for good reading.

I confess that I had not read any Parker novels prior to Ask the Parrot. Indeed, I hadn't heard of the series previously. I was delighted to learn when I finished that Stark has published more than twenty previous Parker novels, the first of them, The Hunter, published in 1962. The more the better if they're as good as this one: I'll be happy to get caught up on the master criminal's earlier career.

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