The Green Eagle Score, by Donald Westlake (as Richard Stark)

Donald Westlake’s series character Parker has been called the greatest antihero in all crime fiction. I haven’t enough experience with the genre to credibly make that statement, but with each Parker novel I’ve been increasingly convinced that the series is something unique to literature. For the series, Westlake adopted the pseudonym Richard Stark and a very spare but evocative writing style that fit perfectly with Parker’s thoughts and actions. Moreover, each book contains plot points, asides and character interactions that reveal another interpretation when given a second look.

The Green Eagle Score (1967) is the 10th in the series, and the second to be originally published for Gold Medal. The original paperback art by Robert McGinnis is not quite as inspired as its predecessor The Rare Coin Score, which introduced Parker’s rather mysterious new girlfriend Claire. Here, I assume it’s also Claire on the cover, but in the story her presence is mostly within Parker’s conscience.

greeneagle1967_mcG

Robert McGinnis cover for Gold Medal. http://www.existentialennui.com

The McGinnis cover also features an awkwardly positioned Parker ducking to make room for an unfortunate amount of cursive script (TGES has nothing to do with baseball), but it’s certainly better than the cluttered clip-art presentation on my University of Chicago Press copy:

greeneagle2010

University of Chicago Press edition.

The University of Chicago Press edition also features a forward by the author Dennis Lehane, who describes Parker as a “sociopath.” Normally I ignore forwards, but this one highlights a major theme of the novel: can a psychologist’s label be stuck on Parker? Or is his personality outside of the experience of those who claim expertise over the minds of career criminals?

While vacationing in Puerto Rico with Claire, Parker is contacted by an associate named Marty Fusco, who has a prospective heist in the works. It involves a sleepy Air Force base in upstate New York, whose payroll is a large amount of cash managed by the finance office. A young embezzler named Stan Devers, a petty officer who works in the office, is the key insider for a robbery. Devers and Fusco are linked through a woman named Ellen, who is Fusco’s ex-wife and Devers’ fiancée. It’s all good though: Devers and Fusco are fine with the circumstance … except that Ellen regularly visits a psychiatrist, who presses her for details about the upcoming robbery.

greeneagleuk1985_allisonbusby

Allison & Busby edition. http://www.existentialennui.com

The plot of TGES is pretty standard Parker stuff – impressive planning, followed by a rapid execution of the heist, followed by an aftermath made messy by the inevitable double-cross. It is the second “Score” title in a row, and to me recalls the earlier The Score in the scale of the operation (in The Score, Parker and his crew try to rob an entire town), a female character unexpectedly transitioning from bystander to active participant, and bloody consequence of involving someone with psychological instability. Why does Parker take on these hazardous capers? It hasn’t been made explicit yet, but I get the feeling that as the years go by he’s having an increasingly difficult time finding a significant amount of attainable cash in one place (I anticipate the day he goes Omar Little and starts ripping off drug traffickers).

Anyway, the titles, McGinnis cover art and presence of Claire all invite comparisons with The Rare Coin Score, as Stark evolves Parker and the violent world in which he operates. Aside from not giving Claire the old brush-off at the beginning of the novel (he tells her to wait at the resort for a month), Parker seems to be the same Parker we’ve come to know.  The Westlake Review points out some subtle differences in Parker’s dialogue, which I didn’t catch in my reading. I’ll concentrate on the differences that emerge among the surrounding cast:

The Contact and the Inside Man

Nobody talked. The dashboard lights were green, the night outside the windows was rarely punctured by headlights. From time to time Parker saw Devers looking at him in the rearview mirror; the boy kept studying him, with curiosity and respect and some puzzlement.

Marty Fusco is the idea man behind the caper, bringing in Parker for the planning and coordination. He lost his wife Ellen while serving a prison term, but is willing to work with the new boyfriend to bring in a serious score. This is in contrast to his predecessor Lempke, who brought Parker into the coin robbery but gradually lost his nerve as the crucial hour approached. Fusco is made of stronger stuff, but has an irrational confidence in both Devers (for helping with the crime) and Ellen (for keeping quiet about it).

Devers also impresses Parker — he wears expensive suits and drives a flashy car, evidence of having already fleeced the finance department over a period of time. He lives with Ellen and the small child she had with Fusco, in the house where the crew is doing all of their planning. Parker confronts Devers about his embezzlement scheme, pointing out that the Air Force would make him the prime suspect of the robbery once they uncovered his unexplained income. Although Devers has much to learn, his attention to detail and sense of confidence is a vast improvement over the sniveling, gun-waving Billy Lebatard. Of course, Parker got between Billy and Claire, and has zero intention of doing the same thing with Ellen, making things easier between him and the inside man this time around.

The Relation and the Uninvited Outsider

Ellen Fusco was something different from what he’d expected. A short intense bony girl, she would have been good-looking except for the vertical frown lines gouged deep into her forehead and the way she had of looking at the world as though challenging it to a spitting contest. She looked as though she should go through life with her hands always on her hips.

What reliability was found in Fusco and Devers was lost again with Ellen, however, in a sort of ongoing cosmic balancing act between order and chaos. Although both her ex-husband and fiancee trust her, she is obviously anxious about the upcoming caper and pays regular visits to her therapist. She alternates between being fearful of Parker and intrigued by him, and at one point makes a half-hearted invitation to him to stay at the house overnight.

In one of her sessions with the psychologist Dr. Godden, she reveals the difficulty in assigning a label to Parker:

She said in answer to his question, “His name is Parker. I don’t know what his first name is, nobody said. I don’t like him.”

“Why not?”

“He’s — I don’t know, I look at him and I think he’s evil. But that isn’t right, exactly, I don’t think he’s evil. I mean, I don’t think he’d ever be cruel or anything like that, just for the fun of it. I wouldn’t worry about leaving Pam around him, for instance. But — I know.”

“Yes?”

“He wouldn’t hurt Pam, but he wouldn’t care about her either. If something bad happened to her, he wouldn’t be pleased by it but he wouldn’t try to do anything to help her. Unless he saw some gain for himself in it.”

“You mean he’s cold?”

“He doesn’t care. There’s no emotion there.”

Godden cares little for Ellen, except as a conduit for information about Parker and his scheme. Without meeting the thief, he recognizes a real possibility of the caper’s success, and consequently, a massive amount of cash waiting for the taking. Due to his past involvement in another criminal scheme, as well as an expensive ex-wife and mistress, Godden is actually in desperate financial straits. Using Ellen is just a natural extension of his pattern of using other women for short-term satisfaction.

Note that Ellen brings up the concept of evil with Godden: she struggles with the concept, possibly because of the moral compromises she has made as a partner to Fusco and now Devers. Godden, of course, pays little attention to what makes a man evil — his name hints at the place he thinks he occupies in the universe — and manipulates Ellen for information. It turns out that a couple of his other clients are younger men capable of violence, and he hatches his own plot to separate Ellen’s acquaintances from their money.

Like Ellen, Godden is someone on the fringes of the criminal world who thinks they know more about the situation than they actually do. The above conversation actually has Ellen claiming not to worry about leaving her kid with Parker. Similarly, Godden convinces himself that he’d remain out of the reach of Parker, Marty Fusco and Devers without ever having interacted with them. It’s true that medical professionals can parlay their brains to their advantage in the courtroom, but double-crossing criminals is another matter. The money blinds him to practical risk (not to mention the morality of his actions), but eventually he does acknowledge his mistakes. His counterpart in The Rare Coin Score, a career criminal named French, is far more understanding of the risks of his actions, but underestimates Parker anyway.

Ellen, lacking any therapeutic benefit from her sessions with Godden, actually brings up her worries to Parker just before the robbery. This is when Parker internally compares her to Claire, who is “strong enough and secure enough and smart enough to stay out of it entirely.” He then daydreams about his times with Claire in Puerto Rico, in a passage includes her as a series character but feels dropped in, at a place in the story chosen almost by default.

The Money Man

Before the heist takes place, Stark gives us a chapter on the person from whom Parker secures a loan for his expenses. Norman Berridge is an undertaker whose income includes a significant amount of cash-only transactions from poor families. Accustomed to hiding much of his earnings from taxes, he puts his money to good use by investing in criminal enterprises. He never knows the details, only that people like Parker — whom he knows as Lynch — will pay him double his loan when successful, and they are successful more often than otherwise.

Parker and Berridge use the code-word annuities for these loans, possibly likening these activities to the often-shady practices of Wall Street professionals. It’s all rational and fair-minded, but the undertaker is still uneasy about his interaction with the criminal world:

Berridge agonized over whether or not to put a dime in the meter. Would Lynch consider him effete if he did, or slovenly if he didn’t? Contempt seemed possible in either case.

The problem was solved for him when he put his hand in his change pocket; he had no dimes. He walked on by the meter and down to the bank.

In the Parker series, Stark has raised these criminal-to-fringe-accomplice interactions into an art form of their own. Berridge really has no counterpart in the preceding novel, as Claire became involved as a decoy for security officers in the heist, but his short part enriches TGES significantly.


 

TGES is a quality crime novel that takes a deeper look into the temptations faced by ordinary people when confronted with the prospect of easy but illegal cash. Most of these confrontations work well for Stark, with one significant exception – the overly-stylized shootout scene at the end of the novel, where a gunman lures bystanders into his target range by dumping bills into the street. People are stooping over to grab at money while being shot at from above. It forces an argument about human nature that had already been made my the much more successfully chosen episodes throughout the rest of the book. 7/10.

 

 

About pete

former academic scientist and presently a software engineer. Also, a science fiction and crime fiction book-blogger.
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9 Responses to The Green Eagle Score, by Donald Westlake (as Richard Stark)

  1. fredfitch says:

    Again, a well-formatted, thoughtful review–I particularly enjoy your analyses of Stark. Query–do you write them first, and then read my reviews?

    Your dream of Parker going full Omar will come to fruition eventually, but a whole lot of books from now, and I’m not telling you which one. But in the end, a wolf needs a pack, and that’s what Parker is. Not a sociopath (that’s a human thing, and he’s not one). He doesn’t have a conscience, because that’s not a useful tool for a hunter to own.

    Ellen’s wrong to think there’s no emotion there, but of course there wouldn’t be when he looked at her, or her daughter–they aren’t part of him, as Claire has become. He means them neither harm nor good. And he’s not the real danger to either of them, just like real wolves, most of the time, post no danger to humans. Homo homini lupus.

    I particularly like the parallel you draw between Berridge the backer and much richer people who get involved on the fringes of crime. There were a lot of crime novelists making this point (few so well as Stark)–that we call ourselves law-abiding citizens, but given the chance, we’re often eager to make a quick buck, even if it means dealing with unsavory characters. Hell, almost half the country did that in 2016, and didn’t even get the quick buck.

    This type of character pops up in several Parker novels, never the same one twice, and none of them is ever punished, caught by the law. Some get their percentage, some don’t, you never see their reactions. It’s just part of the set-up, the way Stark reminds us that these exciting armed robbers interact with the law-abiding world in a multitude of ways–and that’s true. It makes the book more interesting and more truthful, at the same time. To what extent this type of funding happened in real life, I don’t know.

    But Westlake isn’t looking for strict realism. He’s looking for a way to tell a story about criminals who keeps committing big crimes and getting away. So he’s got to create a certain infrastructure for them to work within. They’re the elite of their profession, the ones whose pictures you don’t see at the post office, the ones who’d never (like Dillinger) write letters to newspapers, daring the law to come get them. Below the radar.

    I’d say Godden was an unfair portrayal of the medical profession, indicative of Westlake’s issues with psychiatry, and authority figures in general. Except. A woman I met recently told me a horrible story, about a doctor who helped her with a serious pain issue, that no other doctor could figure out. And while he was doing it, he was sleeping with her, and (she learned later) many other patients. His very skill became a way to make women he liked dependent on him. Don’t ask me how he rationalized it. Still licensed to practice in some states, apparently. She sounded a bit like she’d fantasized about doing to him what Ellen does to Godden. But not being in a Richard Stark novel, she’s stuck to testifying in court, thus far. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • pete says:

      I have an answer for your question, actually – I scratch out some notes after reading the book, and then look at what you wrote. That way, I make an honest attempt to get the mental ball rolling on my own. What I eventually end up with (I start and stop looking your site several times, to avoid trying to make the same points) bears only a vague resemblance to my first outline …

      I was first focused on Dr. Godden as a clever but crooked psychologist, and how he ends up in a worse place than Devers. Godden’s greed gets him into a position where he needs cash, while Devers may be greedy, but he’s not desperate. Devers’ opportunity is much more sound than Godden’s, and Godden goes a disastrous job of recruiting help. Even though the Bad Doctor makes a series of underestimations, he’s shown to be rational and collected the entire time. So what is it about Devers that, as Parker fully acknowledges, allows him to possibly thrive in the underworld of crime?

      Going along those lines would have led me into discussing how the aftermath of the heist ended, something I’ve tried not to do in my short-form reviews. It also led to a comparison between Ellen and the snitch in The Handle, which is clearly not how she is drawn. She’s more meaningfully contrasted with Claire.

      So, that led me toward comparing The Green Eagle Score with the Rare Coin Score, and finding several characters with direct correspondents in the other book. I ended up – not for the first time – with an overlapping quotation with your articles, but I seemed to be able to make my own points with it. The point about doctor/patient privilege at the time of the book’s publication was a good find, BTW: that’s something Godden would definitely have known about when mining Ellen for dirt but making her feel like conspirator at the same time.

      More importantly, there’s no denying that TWR made me take a closer look at the Parker books in the first place, starting with The Seventh.

      Liked by 1 person

      • fredfitch says:

        The Parkers seem like neatly written thrillers on the surface–you look closer, there’s all this complexity beneath the simplicity. Part of the charm of the series–you enjoy them at any level that works for you at a given time. Each reading yields a new reading.

        Stan’s a born crook. Godden isn’t. Too simple? Look deeper. There’s a whole subplot in there about how Parker and Ellen are rivals for Stan–and Parker wins. (Well, he always does.) Parker likes to recuit new people into his profession–the more reliable heisters he has in his mental rolodex, the better. Ellen just wants a good-looking clean-cut guy who’ll protect her. She thought Stan was her way out of the criminal world she stumbled into by marrying her first husband, ends up seeing her replacement man turned into a crook by the biggest crook of all (but she’s kidding herself, Stan was the one who had the idea for the caper in the first place–she’s just naturally attracted to that personality type).

        However, she gains redemption, when the chips are down, by remembering what really matters–saving her daughter. Sometimes you can’t salvage a relationship, and you just get the hell out.

        Stan is not a good guy, incidentally–pleasant, well-meaning, but ultimately self-centered, concerned mainly with getting the good things in life without working for them. In any walk of life he chose, he’d be looking for the grift–how many Devers have made it into politics? But as a criminal, he fits. No need to pretend to be something he’s not anymore. So in the end, he’ll do less damage this way. But who can do more damage than a psychiatrist who lives like that? To thine own self be true.

        Claire, like Parker, is an ideal–not perfect, because perfection is dull. But she knew what she wanted when she saw it. Ellen was just acting like she did. She’s a fascinating character, but as you say–a study in contrast. The Parker novels are all about psychology, contrasting different types, with Parker as the stable center. So this is a key work in the series, since we have a psychiatrist trying to figure Parker out–and falling short. As I’m guessing real psychiatrists who read these books do as well.

        Westlake put enormous thought into each of the Parker novels–but then left it all implicit, beneath the surface. Like an Astaire dance routine–looks easy, spontaneous, unrehearsed. Until you try it yourself.

        Like

      • fredfitch says:

        PS: You take NOTES?

        Nerrrrrrrrd!

        😉

        Like

  2. fredfitch says:

    The cover isn’t as good as McGinnis’ art for The Rare Coin Score, but was clearly done around the same time, since Claire is still a brunette. (McGinnis later portrayed her as a redhead and a blonde, probably because he was just using whatever model he was working/sleeping with at the time, and this is still a thing for some cover artists I bet.)

    The point, as you say, is that Claire is in the back of Parker’s mind while he’s working, something we haven’t seen from him before, except with Lynn, the wife who betrayed him in the first book. I would not use the word ‘conscience’ except in the sense it implies consciousness. He thinks about her when she’s not there. She’s a part of him now. This is the first job he’s worked since they got together. He’s wondering how she’s going to hold up to life as a heister’s moll. (Or, as I’d put it, a wolf’s mate.) She clearly has some concerns–she’d be crazy if she didn’t. He’s got to convince her there is no safer life he can lead, being who he is. And after all, she’s always chosen men who lead dangerous lives.

    Westlake often uses these books to analyze himself and his relationships, I think–in a very abstract sort of way (he said something to that effect, much later, but claimed he was unaware of it at the time). He’s also an independent. He has no secure position to fall back on. He works very intensely for short periods of time, during which he’s probably not that emotionally available (particularly when he’s writing as Stark, something Abby Westlake has confirmed). Then long periods where he rests, recreates, and gathers energy for the next job. He can’t go too long without working. He can’t ever retire.

    And his business is crime, after all. And all this helps to explain how he got married three times in twenty years. Not sure exactly when his relationship with Abby began, but it was definitely in full swing by the time he wrote Butcher’s Moon.

    But see, what’s interesting to me is that unlike most of his cover art for crime fiction novels, which is just beautiful dangerous women in various states of undress, not all that plot-related at all–McGinnis really does seem to have read some of the Parker novels. His covers illustrate them beautifully, show genuine insight. Did he recognize these books were a cut above most of the trash he drew pictures for to make rent? Or was there more editorial oversight for these books, more suggestions, and he was urged to read them so the covers would make sense? He’s still alive, so you’d think somebody would ask him. (But would he remember?)

    Liked by 1 person

    • pete says:

      IMO the McGinnis covers aren’t quite as interesting as the Bennett covers that preceded them, mainly because Bennett used such a variety of styles and featured characters other than Parker himself. But yes, these “Claire” covers do seem more involved with the story than other McGinnis art. They tell a lot more about the contents than the vapid script that crowds the top half.

      The Hard Case Crime titles “Stop This Man” and “Little Girl Lost” have additional story elements on the cover, but those are the exceptions to the general pattern. Your question about McGinnis would be a good one for Mr. Ardai.

      Like

      • fredfitch says:

        Bennett’s covers are interesting, on a variety of levels–but that psychological aspect isn’t really there in any of them. Also, the women aren’t as hot. 😉

        Like

  3. fredfitch says:

    It’s not quite the same thing as running around grabbing cash while a crazed sniper plinks happily away at you–but it was just an ordinary rifle. He can only aim at one person at a time, and he’s got to reload pretty often. How many bullets could he have? What are the odds he’ll pick me out of the crowd? Look at all that money!

    Stark is cynical about people, but you have to admit, he’s got reasons. One of which is that people sometimes like to see the worst in themselves depicted in art. For reasons A.E. Housman laid out poetically. Mithridates, he died old.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: The Sour Lemon Score, by Donald Westlake (as Richard Stark) | gaping blackbird

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