SLAYGROUND by Richard Stark/Donald E Westlake
Review by Mike Dennis, 2010
You’ve seen books with maps in the front, haven’t you? You know, like a guide through the locales of the story you’re about to read. Do you ever actually consult them while you’re reading the book? Well, Richard Stark should’ve included one at the beginning of Slayground. A big, two-pager, in fact. Or maybe even a foldout. That’s how confused I was reading this offbeat 1969 entry in the Parker series.
(Now that I think about it, it’s possible one may have been included in the first edition. I don’t know. The one I read, though, a 2010 University of Chicago Press edition, did not contain a map.)
At first, the novel appears to be standard-issue Parker. In the opening, he and his crew are knocking over an armored car, they escape with the loot, and you’re positive he’s going home to relax with Claire, only to be offered another job, which will then take up the rest of the book in its planning and execution.
But no. It turns out the getaway driver in the armored car heist is second-rate, and he spins the car out of control on an icy street, rolling it over several times. Parker is shaken up, but crawls out of the car with the money satchel. Sirens are audible in the distance, and his options are limited. He winds up climbing over the fence of a shuttered amusement park, where he plans to stay until things around the armored car scene quiet down.
Problem is, someone sees him enter the park from across the street. Four men, to be exact, two of them cops. Turns out the other two are gangsters, who quickly put it all together. They summon more hoods to the scene and so begins a book-long claustrophobic siege of the amusement park.
Now, this is where I need the map. Parker, knowing they will be coming for him and the money, goes over every inch of ground in this huge park, which is crammed with rides, buildings, snack bars, and so on. Stark does what he can to orient the reader with narrative explaining where everything is, but there are simply way too many places in this park to keep it all straight. I don’t know about you, but when I can’t place myself in the exact locale of a story, it tends to lose me.
Slayground didn’t lose me to the point of putting it down, however. I mean, who can put down a Parker novel, right? Stark’s writing is so powerful, and he does manage to keep the story moving, so I stuck with it. But I have to say that every time Parker went from one place to another, I had no real idea where he was in relation to anything else. I just knew he was wandering around somewhere in this giant amusement park.
And I didn’t find that amusing.