DONALD E. WESTLAKE writing as RICHARD STARK – The Seventh. Parker #7. Avon, paperback; 1985. First published by Pocket (#50244) as a paperback original, 1966. Reprinted as The Split (Gold Medal D1997, circa 1968). Also reprinted by the University of Chicago Press, trade paperback, 2009, under its original title. Film: MGM, 1968, as The Split, with Jim Brown as McClain (not “Parker”).

   This is the first solo Parker novel that I’ve read in a long time, perhaps as long as 40 years. The one I read back then was OK but not great. To put it as succinctly and honestly as I can, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I was going to. I think it was simply too terse, too hard-boiled, with no joy to it and absolutely np characterization to speak of.

   I’m quite a bit older now, but it didn’t make much of a difference. When I read The Seventh earlier this week, I found I had exactly the same problems with as I did with that earlier one. Some thoughts follow, some fully formed, but others I’m still thinking about. (I won’t tell you which are which.)

   First of all, I think that Parker’s adventures need someone like Alan Grofield, his sometimes companion in crime, in them go given them some much needed balance. The love of Grofield’s life is actually the stage, but what he also is is a devout thief. What he has that Parker doesn’t is personality. Enough to make his own capers go down very very smoothly, and his pair-ups with Parker a lot more fun to read. One note sambas may be fine with some people, but they’re not for me.

   We may as well take The Seventh as an example of Parker on his own. This is a heist story with a bit of a twist. The heist goes off just fine. It’s the aftermath that the book is all about. It begins with Parker in desperate need for some ready cash, and thus agrees to work with six other men to steal a small fortune from a football game’s box office while the game is going on.

   Each of the seven hole up for a while, some in pairs, some alone. Parker, who is holding all of the money, is one of the latter, save for a steady bed partner (female) he has picked up somewhere.

   After a few days, he goes out for cigarettes. He comes back and finds the girl dead, pinned to the headboard of their bed with a sword. And — you guessed it — the money is gone. Did the killer just happen to find the money by chance, or was he after the money and the girl was only collateral damage? Both are likely possibilities. Either way, Parker is sore, and the killer — perhaps one of the other members of the makeshift gang? — had better beware.

   Things do not turn out well, to put it mildly. This is a very short book, only 144 pages in the Avon edition and maybe even shorter in the original Pocket printing. Even so, a lot of people don’t manage to survive it, and ypu can easily conclude that one big huge mistake on Parker’s part is the reason why.

   Westlake has all of the writing chops you could ask for, but I think I’d have rather he hadn’t revealed the killer as early as he did. My interest in what happened after that flagged considerably, nor is Parker is the kind of guy you’d ever like to meet, and I find him too one-dimensional to care about his exploits either.

   On the other hand, another possibility occurs to me. Was Westlake playing games with his readers when he wrote the Parker books? Was he trying to make his “hero” as blunt and hard-boiled for his readers as he could without going way over the top with him?

   One last thing, and these are facts, not opinions or speculations. The movie The Split that was based on the book has a terrific top-notch cast: Jim Brown, Diahann Carroll, Ernest Borgnine, Julie Harris, Gene Hackman, Jack Klugman, Warren Oates, James Whitmore, Donald Sutherland and Joyce Jameson. I’ve never seen it, and I know they changed the story line considerably, but could you find a better bunch of heist movie actors than this?