David's Reviews > The Black Ice Score

The Black Ice Score by Richard Stark
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's review
Feb 19, 2013

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bookshelves: noirboiled
Read in February, 2013

Comments on second reading: I decided to reread The Black Ice Score, a relatively crappy Parker novel, in the wake of having read the first Dortmunder novel, The Hot Rock. According to author Donald E. Westlake, The Hot Rock came about when a Parker novel went awry: Parker is anything but a comedic character, and Westlake found that he was writing Parker into a comedy. Thus, he rewrote the novel with a new protagonist, Dortmunder, and that novel became The Hot Rock. I repeated this oft-told story in my review of The Hot Rock, prompting a friend to ask what I made of the existence of The Black Ice Score, whose premise is eerily similar to The Hot Rock. So I decided to reread The Black Ice Score and think it over.

The Black Ice Score was first published in 1968; The Hot Rock was first published in 1970. Both novels are set in New York. Both novels center around factions from small African nations who compete for ownership of valuable jewels—an emerald and diamonds, respectively. In both novels, and African faction hires professional American criminals to wrest the jewel(s) from the competing faction. So what led Westlake to publish such similar novels so close together? If Westlake’s story of converting the botched Parker novel into the first Dortmunder novel is true, then this would seem to be the logical sequence of events:

1. Westlake begins writing a Parker novel, but he realizes that the tone is hopelessly wrong, so he stops.

2. Westlake starts the Parker novel over again, maintaining the proper tone this time, and the result is The Black Ice Score, published in 1968.

3. Westlake, a highly efficient professional writer, hates to waste anything. He still has the partially (how much?) completed manuscript from #1, and he wants to do something with it. Therefore, he reworks it into The Hot Rock, published in 1970.

Westlake probably thought it unlikely readers would notice (or care) about the similarities between Richard Stark’s The Black Ice Score and Donald E. Westlake’s The Hot Rock, so why not? It’s hard to imagine, however, that he wasn’t asked about this at some point, so if anyone knows anything more, I would be delighted to hear it.

A footnote: For a Parker fan, the most remarkable moment in The Hot Rock comes in passing, when one of the professional American thieves, Alan Greenwood, mentions that his current assumed name is “Grofield.” Alan Grofield, of course, is one of Parker’s sometime partners, first appearing in The Score in 1964. So maybe when the abandoned Parker novel became The Hot Rock, Alan Grofield was transformed into Alan Greenwood? I didn’t pay attention to the initials of the other thieves in The Hot Rock, but perhaps they correspond to characters in the Parker novels as well?

Comments on first reading: More support for the International Parker Theorem: The more Parker gets involved in international intrigue, the less interesting he becomes. The best Parker books convince you that they take place in the real world of professional thieves. Those books that fall under the International Parker Theorem convince you that some of the Parker novels should have been left out of print. A weak three stars.

First reading: 17 March 2011
Second reading: 17 February 2013
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message 1: by Mark (last edited Mar 22, 2011 08:10PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mark I'm not sure about this "International Parker Theorem"--got more data points? THE HANDLE arguably takes places outside the USA, and it's one of the best. I have not yet read them all (I'm savoring them), but I feel BLACK ICE is the weakest. That said, I also think BLACK ICE was a dry run for THE HOT ROCK (lots of similarities), so if the worst Parker book gave us the Dortmunder series, it was worth it.

David Then we disagree about The Handle. The Mourner is a third data point. As you may know, The Hot Rock started out as a Parker novel, but Westlake saw that it wasn't working with Parker as the lead, so he changed Parker into Dortmunder.

Mark Isn't THE HANDLE the one with the casino knock-off on an island off the coast of Texas? You didn't like that one? THE MOURNER is an oddity, but I didn't dislike it. It seems odd that THE HOT ROCK started as a Parker novel when it's so close to BLACK ICE--I wonder if in fact Westlake "rewrote" BLACK ICE as HOT ROCK?

David Regarding The Handle: Yes. I liked the first 2/3, but when it turned into an action/adventure novel in the final 1/3, I lost interest. Don't know about the The Hot Rock/Black Ice connection, but certainly there must be somebody out there who does. . . .

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