Sunday, February 3, 2013

Book Review: Richard Stark, Flashfire (2000)

After the Great Parker Hiatus, Ronald Starlake restarted the series with a sequence of linked titles: ComebackBackflashFlashfireFirebreak, and Breakout. Of these five, only Breakout (one of my favorite Parker novels) is distinct in my mind; the others blur together, much as Starklake’s titles suggest that he intended. Thus, when the movie Parker was announced as an adaptation of Flashfire, I couldn’t exactly remember which novel that was, but I chose not to worry about it. I wanted to see the movie on its own terms, so I decided against a pre-screening Flashfire refresher course. Then I went to see Parker, and, much to my surprise, at no point during the movie could I remember anything about Flashfire. The experience was both perplexing and alarming: Is this really an adaptation of a novel that I have read? And, more urgently, am I slipping into some sort of dementia?

For me, the nicest thing about writing these reviews is that I can use them as crutch for remembering what I have read. Therefore, immediately after Parker I went to read my review of Flashfire, and I discovered, to my complete and utter relief and joy, that I had not read it! I had made this mistake because of those dastardly similar titles in combination with my mistaken belief that I owned all of the Parker novels, when in fact I owned all of them but Flashfire. When Flashfire came to the top of the list, I couldn’t read what I didn’t own, so I mistakenly read Firebreak instead. Never have I been happier to be old and easily confused! Only a few weeks ago, I finished the last Parker novel, Dirty Money, and I mourned. But then! lo! a miracle! A new Parker novel (to me, at least!) all but dropped from the heavens!

But what a strange circumstance for reading my (actual) last Parker novel, with Jason Statham and Jennifer Lopez swimming around in my head. Not once while reading Flashfire did I see Jason Statham’s face, but Jennifer Lopez was Leslie Mackenzie. There was nothing I could do about that. Oh, well. The most significant effect that seeing Parker had on my reading of Flashfire is this: Flashfire became a remarkable demonstration that the power of the Parker novels is in the prose, not the plots. The plots, of course, are often brilliant, but while reading Flashfire it was easy to what the movie is missing. You get some of Starklake’s sociopathically stripped language in the dialogue, but where you need it most is in the action, which is precisely where Parker can’t give it to you. So, instead, they give you Parker hanging from a balcony with a knife stabbed completely through his hand—and it’s just not as good. Grade: B-

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