Saturday, September 18, 2021

Review: The Damsel

The Damsel The Damsel by Richard Stark
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is the first of four books in the Grofield series that Donald Westlake, writing as Richard Stark, spun off from his Parker series. At the end of The Handle - the eighth book in the Parker series - Parker leaves Grofield in a Mexico hotel room with a bullet wound in his back and a suitcase containing his share of the loot from their just completed heist. That's where The Damsel picks up Grofield's story. The implied plot is how does Grofield make it back home to midwest USA with his money. The book starts, however, with a woman climbing through his hotel window. She's escaping from guys Grofield recognizes as gangsters and his complications have escalated. What follows from there is a complicated but ultimately non-sensical plot that takes Grofield and the damsel of the title across Mexico to Acapulco to save the life of a totally undeserving dictator. It does have some excellent action scenes as Grofield is particularly resourceful in dispatching the gangsters. For the most part, though, this is a mix of Mexican travelogue (some of Westlake's best writing) and banter between Grofield and the damsel, which is reputed by many reviewers to be witty, but that I found mostly boring and imminently skippable. As with the Parker series, about halfway through we switch from Grofield's POV and spend several chapters with various antagonists. While these are all well-written character portrayals and serve the plot by showing what everyone else is up to, they are also essentially character assassinations designed to reveal how despicable these characters are. It's hard to care about any of these characters. I'll avoid any spoilers and stop here by saying that the ending was completely disappointing and not worth the journey. Westlake's writing in this first Grofield novel is silky smooth but entirely without the edge of the Parker novels. Probably better than I'm giving credit for but that is not a recommendation.

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