The Blackbird is the third of four Donald E. Westlake aka Richard Stark where heist driver and full-time actor Alan Grofield appears independently. The events in The Blackbird follow those in The Damsel and The Dame as well as the Parker thriller The Handle. You do not have to have read the earlier mysteries to enjoy what turns out to be a comic spy caper.
The Blackbird opens with Alan Grofield in Quebec City on a heist with Parker. Their car crashes and Alan Grofield is arrested. While in hospital, he is visited by agents from a special and unspecified branch of the U.S. government. If Grofield accepts to do a bit of spying at Chateau Frontenac where the leaders of seven small countries are meeting he will be given his freedom. Grofield is perfect for the job as he knows General Pozos from The Damsel and a man named Marba from his adventures in The Dame.
Richard Stark and Donald E. Westlake have a lot of fun with the spy novel tropes in The Blackbird. Grofield tries to evade his handlers but fails. People keep showing up in his room unannounced. Everybody knows more than he does and he is the one who is supposed to get information. Grofield gets kidnapped a couple of times or so by various parties. He escapes three or four times for good measure.
Stark uses the late sixties period and events in Quebec politics to his advantage here by tossing in a Quebecois independence group for local colour. Unfortunately, his geographical references are all over the map as Richard Stark puts the Laurentian mountains just outside Quebec City when in reality they are at least three hours away by car. Also Roberval is twice as far from Quebec City as he puts it. It doesn’t matter but for a local reader it is annoying.
The reason for the meeting in Quebec City is revealed and is it standard spy thriller fodder. Its banality does not get in the way of a good story.
The Blackbird is followed by what is the best and last of the Alan Grofield mystery novels: Lemons Never Lie. This is where Richard Stark aka Donald E. Westlake have fun seeing how far they can go cranking up the suspense and believability.
Donald E. Westlake
An Alan Grofield mystery
Originally published 1969
University of Chicago Press 2012
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