Thursday, November 10, 2011

Forgotten Books: The Jugger By Richard Stark


How this for an opener? I'm about to review the worst book Donald E. Westlake ever wrote. Don't take my word for it. Here's Westlake himself speaking.

"I spoiled a book by having him do something he wouldn’t do. The sixth book in the series is called The Jugger, and that book is one of the worst failures I’ve ever had. The problem with it is, in the beginning of the book this guy calls him and says “I’m in trouble out here and these guys are leaning on me and I need help,” and Parker goes to help him. I mean, he wouldn’t do that, and in fact, the guy wouldn’t even think to call him! (laughs)"

I found this quote on The Violent World of Parker website, a goodie. More" Westlake has more than once cited The Jugger as a failure, and although I’ve never seen it straight from the horse’s mouth, I’ve heard he considers it the worst book he’s ever written. Well, Mr. Westlake, if this is the worst you can do after cranking out more books than I can count, I am in great envy of your abilities.

"Mr. Westlake is wrong about Parker acting out of character in The Jugger. He seems to have forgotten the details, which is perfectly understandable, as the book was written in 1965 and he probably has not had much reason to revisit it if he doesn’t care for it that much."

Me again: I frequently find myself liking books most other people don't and vice-versa. The Jugger's a good example. No it's not a great Parker adventure but it's got a lot of early Sixties atmosphere, a cast of truly despicable characters and a constantly shifting plot.

What we have here is a kind of psychodrama. We have a dumb but crafty Sheriff, a smart but unlucky FBI man, a dumb but uncrafty lady friend of a pathetic dead guy who'd been trying to find an imaginary sum of money hidden by Joe Sheer.

It goes like this. Parker and Sheer worked together sometimes and then Sheer got old and all he did was serve as a way station for Parker. If you wanted to talk to the big man you had to call Sheer who'd screen you. But when Parter got a nervous communication from Sheer he got concerned that maybe the old man was coming apart and would blow Parker's cover. He had to go to the small Midwestern city and make sure that didn't happen.

But when he got there Sheer was dead. And the (imaginary) enormous amount of stolen money was nowhere to be found--yes there;s money but it's modest compared to what others think. So Parker proceeds to deal with both problems. Under the name of Willis.

The Psychodrama: The Sheriff is a dope but a brutal one and Parker has to string him along in order to learn what he needs to. Watching Parter mislead him is a game worth watching. The Sheriff is a human pit bull. He's capable of killing Parker at any moment. But then Parker is more than willing to strike first. On the other hand the FBI man is slick and political. Mitt Romney could play him. Quoting Norman Mailer on a writer he didn't like: "He's as full of shit as a Thanksgiving turkey." But he suspects that this guy Willis is really a big catch under another name. He's already signing a book contract and learning to wave in parades.

So The Jugger ain't perfect and ain't gonna win none of them NYC awards but I don't care. I just enjoyed this particular take on Parker's world. I read it in two dazzled sittings.


Cullen Gallagher said...

Now I HAVE to re-read this! I remember really enjoying it when I read it the first time. Then again, I hadn't read as much Westlake at the time as I have now (and I still have a lot more to read).

Thanks, as always, for your perspectives, Ed.

Chad Eagleton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chad Eagleton said...

Just re-read The Jugger not too long ago. I enjoyed it. Can't believe Westlake didn't care for it -- though he was remembering incorrectly: Parker's motivations aren't altruistic; Sheer could potential reveal info Parker wouldn't want revealed.

Fred Blosser said...

I have the same memory of Parker's motivation that Chad describes. Godard's MADE IN USA is an interesting take on the novel, although it usually gets short shrift as a "Parker movie." Ed, I don't recall the scene you mentioned as being in THE JUGGER. It's been a while since the read the book. But the description sounds like a scene in THE OUTFIT; in the movie version, the woman making the accusation was played by Sheree North, and I think her hillbilly husband was played by Bill McKinney.

Ed Gorman said...

You're right. Chemo brain. I was reviewing The Jugger while reading The Outfit. Thanks. Ed

Kelly Robinson said...

It's hard for me to believe that the author of 'The Ax' could do any wrong, but I'll take his own word for it. (I'd still like to read it though. I'll bet his worst is still above many writers' best.)

OlmanFeelyus said...

When I first got into Parker, this one wasn't one of my favourites. Just so dark. But for this (my third) go-around with the series, it has vaulted to the top. Now that I'm older and have read a far wider range of noir books, I really appreciate the way the town is portrayed and the nastiness of the sheriff. When he does get his comeuppance, it is profoundly satisfying but also leaves you feeling a bit sick with yourself for being satisfied. There is a moment in this book that sends chills up and down my spine (hint: when the sheriff says a bit too much to Parker).

doowopernie1 said...

In my opinion IMHO the only person who is full of shit in the above piecend is Mailer. what a piece of work.