The Jugger (1965)

The Jugger by Richard Stark (AKA Donald Westlake)

When the knock came at the door, Parker was just turning to the obituary page.  He put the paper down and looked around the room, and everything was clean and ordinary.  He walked over and opened the door.

I spoiled a book by having him do something he wouldn’t do. The sixth book in the series is called The Jugger, and that book is one of the worst failures I’ve ever had. The problem with it is, in the beginning of the book this guy calls him and says “I’m in trouble out here and these guys are leaning on me and I need help,” and Parker goes to help him. I mean, he wouldn’t do that, and in fact, the guy wouldn’t even think to call him! (laughs)

–Donald Westlake, from the Austin Chronicle interview

Mr. Westlake has more than once cited The Jugger as a failure, and although I’ve never seen it straight from the horse’s mouth, I’ve heard he considers it the worst book he’s ever written. Well, Mr. Westlake, if this is the worst you can do after cranking out more books than I can count, I am in great envy of your abilities.

Mr. Westlake is wrong about Parker acting out of character in The Jugger. He seems to have forgotten the details, which is perfectly understandable, as the book was written in 1965 and he probably has not had much reason to revisit it if he doesn’t care for it that much.

What actually happens is that Joe Sheer sends a letter asking for help because Captain Abner Younger is leaning on him, and Parker goes to Nebraska to determine if he is going to have to kill Joe Sheer in order to keep him from blowing Parker’s Charles Willis cover. Far from going to help a buddy! As for Joe Sheer asking Parker for help, given the circumstances, an old man with a fading mind may well have done something like this, a point adequately covered in the book.

This said, The Jugger is not a great book, and it is perhaps one of the least in the series. Captain Abner Young is not as interesting as some of Parker’s other opponents and the story lacks some of the slam-bang excitement of The Score or The Outfit.

The psychological game Young plays with Joe Sheer in an attempt to make him crack and turn over a half million dollars makes for both frustrating and fascinating reading. It is often difficult to stomach an old man having to go through such things (although much is left off-camera), but the techniques used are clever, merciless, and compelling, and this section would make a good inspiration for one of Stephen King’s non-supernatural novels.

Known printings and cover gallery here

The Jugger has been filmed as Made in U.S.A.

To The Score, the previous book in the Parker series

To The Seventh, the next book in the Parker series