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A Grandmaster of the genre adds another new twist to an
oft-honored, long running series.

One gets the feeling that there is a nondescript building somewhere
in the West Village that contains three floors of guys chained to
typewriters, banging out ideas that are eventually published under
the names "Donald Westlake" or "Richard Stark." I mean, how else
can you explain this guy? He is a perennial Grandmaster, publishing
at least one book a year as Donald Westlake and one book a year
under his dark nom de plume Richard Stark. He never repeats
himself, never disappoints his readers and presents either new,
innovative variations on established themes or new themes in a
genre that, by rights, should have exhausted itself long ago. And
so it is with BREAKOUT, Richard Stark's latest and best Parker

Parker is a bad guy. He is the ultimate pragmatist, amoral, a
shortest distance between two points kind of guy. Parker is always
figuring The Angle. He makes mistakes but doesn't dwell on them.
His life and chosen profession don't permit him to do so. Said
chosen profession normally involves breaking into places that
contain valuable things and taking those valuables with him. So it
is that BREAKOUT deals almost entirely with Parker having to break
OUT of places. First it's a jail, then it's a downtown mall, then
it's a metropolitan airport. The familiar themes are here --- bad
luck, unreliable partners --- but Stark, as always, puts new twists
on them.

BREAKOUT begins with a heist gone awry that results in Parker being
confined to Stoneveldt, a holding prison which has never
experienced a successful escape. It is not telling a tale out of
school to relate that Stoneveldt --- love that name --- does not
hold Parker for long. There is a price, however. Parker becomes
reluctantly involved in a jewel heist that seems to be foolproof.
It's not of course and he soon finds himself trapped in a building
from which escape seems impossible. And, from the beginning of
BREAKOUT to its conclusion, Parker doesn't so much escape from a
situation as leap from one frying pan into another.

Part of what makes BREAKOUT and the other novels in the Parker
series so compelling is Parker's ability to play the cards he is
dealt, even when they are accidentally dropped, face-up, on the

The story itself is so well told that it alone would be worth the
price of admission. But with Stark there are layers on layers,
little inside jokes, elements of his talent that he throws in as a
reward to see if you're awake and paying attention --- extra
credit, if you will. One of these is very minor and has to do with
book titles. For the last five books or so, Stark has been linking
titles. He's been using compound words, using the last half of the
compound word of one title as the first half of the compound word
for the title of the next book. Accordingly, COMEBACK begat
probably not. It will be something so good that you'll never think
of it and so immediately obvious that you'll wonder why you

But the title game is just a parlor trick compared to what Stark
does in the body of BREAKOUT. BREAKOUT is divided into four
sections. Stark takes the section and relegates Parker to a
secondary character in his own book, focusing instead on a minor
character in each of the chapters in this section. Stark isn't
fooling around here for grins and giggles --- every word of what
happens is important --- but in the space of a little less than 80
pages he accomplishes what it took Thornton Wilder a full novel to
do in THE BRIDGE OF SAN LUIS REY. And he does it without losing the
narrative thread or dropping any of the other balls that one has in
the air when writing a novel. I had the feeling that Stark did it
this way as a means of exercising his creative muscles, as a way of
challenging his abilities, the way an Olympian weightlifter will
throw a couple of extra quarters on the bar when he already holds
the gold. I had to stop and read Part Two of BREAKOUT over again,
twice, just to get a feeling for how the job was done.

After writing 24 books in the series, Stark could have phoned in
BREAKOUT and it is doubtful that anyone would have been the wiser.
He instead continues to keep the series new and fresh while keeping
it true to its original premise. BREAKOUT, at its core, is a quiet
masterpiece from an author who seems incapable of writing anything

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 21, 2011

by Richard Stark

  • Publication Date: November 20, 2002
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Mysterious Press
  • ISBN-10: 089296779X
  • ISBN-13: 9780892967797