Friday’s Forgotten Book: Slayground by Richard Stark

Donald Westlake (1933-2008) was an assiduous and creative author with about 100 crime fiction novels and dozens of short stories to his credit under various pen names. His fecund imagination earned him the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America in 1993 and the Eye Lifetime Achievement Award from the Private Eye Writers of America in 2004. Possibly his most enduring creation is Parker, a professional thief with ice water in his veins. Parker is preternaturally level-headed under pressure, managing inept colleagues and one impossible escape after another. Parker has been featured in graphic novels as well as movies.

My favorite of the 24-book series is Slayground (Random House, 1971), which takes place during the winter at an amusement park shut down for the season. As is often the case, a robbery getaway doesn’t go quite as planned. Parker takes the loot and dives into the park, thinking to lay low for awhile and then quietly escape. A group of crime gang members are in the vicinity for their own reasons and decide to relieve Parker of his cash. Parker is frustrated to learn there is no back exit to the amusement park. With the gang protecting the only way out, he proceeds to protect himself and his hard-earned money.

The suspense rolls off the page in this short book. Under normal circumstances, the thugs should have had no trouble in dealing with one lone gunman. But this gunman was Parker, who has the ingenuity of MacGyver in turning whatever equipment or tools are at hand into effective weapons.  The casualty rate was much higher than they expected. Part of the tension comes from the jarring juxtaposition of an amusement park, the site of light-hearted entertainment, turned into a war zone. Rapid pacing, terse prose, eminently readable.