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the green eagle score

3 september 2023

I got my copy of Richard Stark's crime novel The Green Eagle Score (1967) at the wonderful Too Many Books shop in Roanoke, Virginia, last summer. It finally made its way up my reading queue and out the top.

The Green Eagle Score is the real deal, a heist novel so amoral it will freeze your blood. There's a little blood in the book, and a "hell" and a "damn" or two, but otherwise Stark (Donald E. Westlake's pen name) gets his effects through psychological means, especially through the flinty personality of his protagonist, Parker.

I'd read Parker novel, The Man with the Getaway Face (1963). If two points determine a straight line, then two genre fictions determine a formula. (Though Westlake wrote two dozen Parker books, so I may have just gotten two similar ones by chance.)

In The Green Eagle Score as in The Man with the Getaway Face, Parker gets involved in a heist. He's a professional who keeps his risks to the absolute minimum, but he has learned that armed robbery is an irreducibly risky business. There are no certainties at that level of crime. There are even fewer in crime novels.

The heist is complicated. There are unavoidable loose ends, mistakes, improvisations. That part Parker takes for granted. Once again, there's a woman involved, and she's something of a wild card. Once again, outsiders try to elbow in on the main heist plot.

In The Green Eagle Score, the target is the cash payroll of an Air Force base. The situation seems far-fetched. How do you get onto a military base and off again with four hundred grand? The trick is to make yourself as conspicuous as possible, so that no-one will imagine you're there to rob the place.

And once again, Parker escapes, and that can't be a spoiler since I just told you there are two dozen novels devoted to him. (They are not all by Westlake; according to Wikipedia, Parker appears in Joe Gores' excellent Dead Skip (1972), a detail I didn't remember.)

Stark, Richard. [Donald Westlake.] The Green Eagle Score. 1967. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010.