Grofield: The Damsel (1967)

The Damsel by Richard Stark (AKA Donald Westlake)

Grofield opened his right eye, and there was a girl climbing in the window. He closed that eye, opened the left, and she was still there. Gray skirt, blue sweater, blond hair, and long tanned legs straddling the windowsill.

The Damsel is the first of the four Alan Grofield solo adventures, and takes place immediately after the events depicted in The Handle, with Grofield having been left by Parker in Mexico City to recover from a bullet wound.

The plot is set in motion when the title character, real name Elly, swings into Grofield’s motel room window while attempting to escape a gang of thugs who had been holding her prisoner. (Stark must like the name…a character with the same name, spelled Ellie, appeared two books earlier in The Seventh). Grofield has always had a weakness for the ladies, and his recent marriage has not changed that one bit, so he agrees to let her hide out in his room for a few days.

It doesn’t take the thugs long to figure out where Elly is hiding, and soon Elly and Grofield are on the run, involved in a complex web involving three fathers and three grown children, an imminent political assassination, a former governor of Pennsylvania, the current dictator of a banana republic, and a one-eyed scarred ex-convict running around half naked with a very large knife.

It is a bit odd reading The Damsel in its chronological place, after eight slabs of raw Parker. For one thing, The Violent World of Parker doesn’t seem so grim anymore. Elly is a first for Stark–someone whose primary motivation is not her own self-interest. Elly is a genuinely decent human being who is trying to save someone’s life because she feels that murder is wrong. That the other characters could easily slip into any Parker novel in no way diminishes the impact of this.

After so much effort has been put into creating the amoral world in which these characters exist, it seems a strange choice to dilute the dark atmosphere of Parker’s world with a character like Elly. Many Parker fans find this a bit off-putting (myself included, in a fan-geek sort of way) and some outright don’t like the series. However, the Grofield series does have its fans, and those that can get over their purist hump will find The Damsel to be a fairly entertaining yarn. Grofield always was one of the Parker series’ best side characters and it is fun to spend some time with him.

A detailed synopsis of The Damsel is here. Warning: Spoilers galore!

Known printings and cover gallery here

To The Handle, the Parker novel that precedes this book chronologically

To The Rare Coin Score, the Parker novel that follows this book chronologically

To The Dame, the next novel in the Alan Grofield series