A review of Dirty Money by Richard Stark

Reviewed by Paul Kane

Dirty Money
By Richard Stark
Grand Central Publishing
Hardcover, 288pages, ISBN-13: 978-0446178587, April 2008

Dirty Money is yet another model crime novel from a modern master of the art. It is gripping, satisfying, funny (if you have a liking for a certain dead-pan gallows humour) and instructive (if you have an aspiration to write this kind of stuff). And it continues Stark’s long-running exploration of Parker’s hard-boiled manner and sensibility.

This time out, Parker is aiming to pick up some cash he’d previously stashed (or “planted”, in Jack Black’s parlance) from an armoured car robbery. But he has a couple of problems, to start with: one guy, a former colleague, is now a loose cannon, while another, a woman PI, is trying to leverage money out of him by threatening to throw him to the Feds. Eventually, she goes along for the ride. One of the main charms of Parker lies in how he resolves his various difficulties: there is an admirable “fighting fires” aspect to his character. Surprises, unexpected events, continually crop up and Parker has to deal with them as best he can. He is both a cornered animal, mighty dangerous to be sure, and a smooth operator. And he is adept at operating in “the kind of situation that makes an angry man impatient, an impatient man careless, and a careless man a convict” (222).

Parker expresses at least two great, indisputable truths in the novel. The first is this: “You can’t catch a man on foot with a car” (154). The second is: “A gun is just something that helps make things happen” (216). Surely, if we were all to reflect on these each morning, our lives would improve immeasurably.

Stark as a crime writer is beyond criticism. He does pretty much everything well. The way he writes dialogue, especially scenes where three or more people are talking, is well worthy of study. His art as a storyteller is to create problematical situations, uncertainties, iffy anxious stuff – and then to resolve them in a felicitous manner. He makes knots and then unties them. But he could have done with a copy editor on page 179: “The next arrival might be” is not a proper sentence. Dirty Money is an excellent offering from a great American author, and Parker’s callousness comes through at the end too. He still ain’t going soft on us.

About the reviewer:Paul Kane lives and works in Manchester, England. He welcomes responses to his reviews and you can reach him at ludic@europe.com