The Mourner (1964)

mourner64When the guy with asthma finally came in from the fire escape, Parker rabbit-punched him and took his gun away. The asthmatic hit the carpet, but there’d been another one out there, and he landed on Parker’s back like a duffel bag with arms. Parker fell turning, so that the duffel bag would be on the bottom, but it didn’t quite work out that way. They landed sideways, joltingly, and the gun skittered away in the darkness.

Bett Harrow still has the gun with Parker’s fingerprints on it that she snagged in The Outfit. She uses that as leverage to force Parker to meet her father, Ralph, who needs a professional thief for an unusual mission that plunges Parker into a world of international intrigue.

Ralph Harrow has stumbled across one of three lost Mourners of Dijon, part of a series of 82 statuettes made to honor and placed in the tombs of John the Fearless and Philip the Good, Dukes of Burgundy. The mourner resides in the private collection of a man named Kapor, an official with the tiny Eastern Bloc country of Klastravia. Kapor doesn’t know what he’s got, but Harrow doesn’t dare make an offer for it because Kapor would immediately investigate and discover that the statuette is priceless. Parker’s job: Steal the mourner in exchange for the return of his gun.

Of course, it isn’t as simple as stealing a statuette from someone who doesn’t know he owns it. It turns out that Kapor, who is based in Washington, D.C., has been embezzling from his home country for years, and soon plans to make a break for it. On his trail is Klastravian secret policeman Auguste Menlo, who has also decided that this stash of loot presents him with a fine opportunity to betray his country in exchange for a luxurious life on the more-pleasant side of the Iron Curtain.

Auguste Menlo is a great Stark creation; ruthless, charming, and brilliant, but lacking the knowledge and experience to fully function in the United States beyond the confines of the D.C. cocktail circuit. That makes for some great moments—Menlo gets into a spot of trouble because he doesn’t have a license or registration for the car he’s driving, a scene that perhaps deliberately contrasts with the opening of The Hunter, where Parker creates a false identity and backup paperwork with ease.

The Mourner’s chief flaw is that a main plot point revolves around Menlo, as professional at his trade as Parker is at his, making a mistake that an amateur would not have made. Stark seems to realize this and provides Menlo with excuses, but I just wasn’t buying them.

Despite this, The Mourner, abetted by a rogue’s gallery of great characters, provides a satisfying conclusion to the story arc that began in The Hunter. It’s a pity Auguste Menlo never made an encore appearance.

  • Known printings and cover gallery here.
  • To The Outfit, the previous book in the series.
  • To The Score, the next book in the series.