Butcher’s Moon (1974)

Butcher's Moon by Richard Stark (AKA Donald Westlake)

Running toward the light, Parker fired twice over his left shoulder, not caring whether he hit anything or not. It was just to slow them down, keep the cops in front of the store while he and the others got out.

At the start of Butcher’s Moon, Parker’s bad luck streak from the previous few novels continues with a failed heist at a jewelry store. Needing money, he decides it’s time to claim the loot that he stashed at the Fun Island theme park in Slayground. He enlists Alan Grofield to help him, and they return to the scene of the crime.

Of course the money is gone. Justifiably assuming that the local mob has it, Parker approaches Al Lozini, the regional boss, to tell him to return the funds.

Parker’s timing is not good. A coup of Lozini’s operation is in the works and about to come to a head. An election pitting two crooked mayoral candidates against each other is days away. And various bad actors have no problem creating a few corpses if it helps assure that their plans come to fruition. When one of those bad actors pushes things too far, Parker decides: This means war.

According to Donald Westlake, Butcher’s Moon was not intended to be the last Parker book; it just ended up that way—for twenty-three years, anyway.

[I]n 1974, Richard Stark just up and disappeared. He did a fade. Periodically, in the ensuing years, I tried to summon that persona, to write like him, to be him for just a while, but every single time I failed. What appeared on the paper was stiff, full of lumps, a poor imitation, a pastiche. Though successful, though well liked and well paid, Richard Stark had simply downed tools. For, I thought, ever. [link]

If it wasn’t a conscious decision to end the Parker series with Butcher’s Moon, surely it was an unconscious one. Butcher’s Moon feels like the epic conclusion of an epic saga.

The first element that marks this as the end of a saga is a plot that hearkens back to the beginning—The Hunter, The Man with the Getaway Face, and The Outfit. Just as in those books, Parker loses money he believes belongs to him, goes up against the mob in order to get it back, and takes the fight to the big boys rather than be hunted down by their goons. This time, instead of splitting the adventure across three spare volumes, Stark pours it all into one—Butcher’s Moon is easily the longest of the Parker books. Thus is the Parker saga brought full circle.

The second and third elements are the reappearance of characters from throughout the series and the references to the earlier books that result—I’m not sure if every previous Richard Stark book (including the Grofield books) is referenced in Butcher’s Moon, but if all of them aren’t, only one or two are missing. All of this gives the impression that we are here for one last hurrah.

The only element (besides Parker not dying, of course) that seems to indicate that Stark intended to continue writing Parker books after Butcher’s Moon is the introduction of a compelling character near the end, who is clearly intended to meet up with Parker further down the line. Everything else screams, “Finis.”

Had Butcher’s Moon actually marked the end of the Parker saga, it would have been a grand conclusion. Starting with the simplest of schemes (go into Fun Island and grab the money), Butcher’s Moon gets bigger and bigger and bigger. Through it all, Parker remains Parker—the politics, skulduggery, and murders matter to him only inasmuch as they interfere with his goal. With a city on fire around him, he’s still the same Parker we met walking across the George Washington Bridge fifteen books ago. He’s still the Hunter.

Note: Brian Garfield (writer of Death Wish and many others) wrote a screenplay for Butcher’s Moon, intended as a Charles Bronson vehicle. We corresponded about getting me a copy, but he unfortunately concluded that it was likely lost for good.

What a loss. How cool would that have been?