The Man With The Getaway Face is the sequel to Richard Stark’s The Hunter, and is a great piece of noir crime fiction. Richard Stark A.K.A Donald Westlake has a certain measured coldness to his writing that bounces perfectly off his hard-boiled hero, Parker. I think it fitting to place this review between the noir comic renditions of The Hunter and The Outfit because that’s exactly where this novel fits in Mr. Westlake’s chronology. Essentially, the plot follows a fresh-faced Parker as he lines up a new job to get back on his feet. He has had drastic plastic surgery to throw The Outfit off his trail, and now he must find work in order to make ends meet. The only caveat is the job is rotten and he can see the double-cross coming from a mile away. We get to meet a couple of his old associates in crime, Handy and Skimm, and a broad-shouldered femme fatale named Alma. Although he didn’t pick the job, Parker assumes control of the operation because of all the holes he can see in it. With Handy as his only reliable cohort, and Skimm with his head between Alma’s breasts, Parker must rely on every ounce of his cunning to make it work. Noir crime fiction perfection; here’s how it measures up the the noir definition:
1) The Seedy Underworld
The north eastern United States, particularly New Jersey, serve as the back drop for this novel. An abandoned barn used as a hideout, a greasy diner, and bars frequented by good ‘ole boys make their fair share of appearances throughout The Man With The Getaway Face. Think post-war 1940’s.
2) The Anti-Hero
Parker is calculating and inflexible. He is a man of routines, and his way of life makes no allowances for exceptions. This hard-boiled anti-hero follows his own rigid code of conduct to a fault, even when to abandoned his principles would be easier. More importantly, he sees all the angles and won’t take orders from anyone.
3) The Femme Fatale
The femme fatale is a thick set waitress who’s sleeping with Skimm, one of Parker’s associates. She serves as “the finger” for the job (the one who saw the opportunity) and from the onset of her appearance the reader can tell she has ulterior motives. Parker and Handy (his other associate), can see it clearly, but Skimm’s mind is clouded by perfume and Alma’s other assets. Makes for great femme fatale drama.
The book throws all of its misogyny at Alma, the dame who is rotting Skimm’s senses. The ending sentiment is that women are self-serving liars who always try to control the men around them through sex.
“Let Skimm take over Thursday. I want to show you the doublecross.” -Parker (pg. 77)
The Man With The Getaway Face takes an unexpected turn late in the story when the surgeon who performed Parker’s plastic surgery is murdered. Parker must then work to exonerate himself or his new face goes public, bringing unwanted attention from the enemies of his past along with it. It’s in this segment of the book that we get to see Parker’s code of honor, and how he avoids killing at all costs; not because its wrong, but because it draws unnecessary attention. All of his actions are utterly selfish. He is the ultimate survivor.
6) Loss of Innocence
None that I can remember.
Only one instance: After Parker pulls a job, he always has a ravenously sexual appetite. Now that his wife has died, he has no one to express it with. So he uses some of his new found money to splurge on hookers (sorry about the word choice) in several different cities. He also confesses that the one thing he hates about prostitutes is that you always have to hit them first to get them interested.
He didn’t get his kicks from hurting whores, it was just the only way he knew to get them interested. (pg. 180)
8 ) Blaxploitation
This whole book is white-bread 1940’s America. The lack of racism is racism enough.
Every scene is held together by the sticky tendrils of cigarette smoke. I seemed to picture Parker in this one like a smoking mean version of Cary Grant.