Lemons Never Lie

by Richard Stark

There is no such thing as too much Richard Stark. The dark
alter-ego of Donald Westlake, Stark is primarily known for his
Parker series, a grim, brooding existential treatment of the crime
novel that takes its existential elements to places it has not been
before or since. LEMONS NEVER LIE, a dormant masterpiece first
published in 1971, is loosely associated with the Parker mythos in
that it centers on Alan Grofield, an occasional associate of
Parker. While there are elements to it rendered foreign by time ---
no cell phones, the absence of computers --- it is as fresh,
vibrant and chilling in its current Hard Case Crime incarnation as
the day it was published originally.

Grofield's first love, oddly enough, has little to do with robbery.
He and his wife run a small theater in Indiana, which is
emotionally satisfying but financially draining. The regular need
for cash prompts him to engage in the occasional heist, with Parker
as well as others. Grofield is scrupulous in his attempts to avoid
killing, or even hurting, innocents in the course of his secondary
employment. Yet the circumstances of the novel draw him inexorably
into a world of violence and murder.

LEMONS NEVER LIE begins with Grofield listening to, and rejecting,
a heist proposal from an Andrew Myers. It quickly becomes obvious
to Grofield that Myers is a hapless amateur at best and a bumbling
fool at worst. What Grofield doesn't learn, until it is too late,
is that Myers is a loose cannon. Myers becomes an inexorable force
in Grofield interfering with a subsequent heist and ultimately
interjecting himself into Grofield's personal life. Motivated by a
dark revenge, Grofield slowly initiates a plot to get Myers out of
his life and to acquire some measure of rough justice from the

Stark's plotting and timing --- as Grofield begins the painstaking
process of getting his own back, even as events start their
eventual spiral out of his control --- is nothing less than
masterful. Perhaps the strongest element of LEMONS NEVER LIE,
however, is Stark's strong and vivid characterization, particularly
with respect to the secondary players of the piece. There are a few
--- the assistant manager of a supermarket and a second source
motor vehicle dealer, to name but two --- whose appearances are
limited to a couple of pages but who threaten to hijack the tale
away from Grofield.

What is even more impressive about LEMONS NEVER LIE is the
documentation of Stark's/Westlake's penchant, even 35 years ago, to
bend and stretch the boundaries of crime fiction in particular and
creative writing in general. It also has an ending --- an
inevitable one --- that isn't even in the book and cannot be
described without giving it away entirely. Suffice to say that it
is worth reading every delicious page just to get to the end and
see how Stark sets it up. This, after a series of climaxes both on
and off the page that will keep you on the edge of your seat when
you're not jumping out of it.

LEMONS NEVER LIE is a forgotten classic, deservedly and wonderfully


Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 30, 2010

Lemons Never Lie
by Richard Stark

  • Publication Date: July 4, 2006
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Mass Market Paperback: 221 pages
  • Publisher: Hard Case Crime
  • ISBN-10: 0843955945
  • ISBN-13: 9780843955941