Quick Review: THE BIG SCORE by K.J. Parker (Subterranean Press)

ParkerKJ-BigScoreSaloninus returns, for possibly his most lucrative job yet…?

Welcome to the world of Saloninus, the most unlikely Renaissance Man you will ever encounter. A man of many and diverse talents, he is the hero and narrator of K.J. Parker’s witty, hugely entertaining novella, The Big Score.

Saloninus is a man with two distinct professions. In idle moments, he dashes off immortal masterpieces — philosophical treatises, musical compositions, dramas of Shakespearean range and depth — that never manage to turn a profit. His primary profession — that of thief, grifter and itinerant con man — is equally unprofitable, and he spends his life in constant flight from the encroaching forces of the law.

The story opens in the aftermath of Saloninus’s own funeral, an act of self-concealment he has staged many times before. Newly risen from the dead, he encounters an old flame — a sort of archetypal femme fatale — with whom he shares a colorful — and highly illegal — history. She has a plan in mind, one that involves both of Saloninus’s skill sets: criminality and literary genius. If successful, that plan will lead to the elusive “big score” that will set them free forever. Against his better judgment, and fully aware that failure and betrayal may await him, Saloninus agrees to participate. The result is this ingenious — and very funny — tale.

In K.J. Parker’s latest, he returns to the story of Saloninus. A gifted renaissance man, prone to falling on the wrong side of the law, he finds himself in a position to win the big one — one final con that could set him up for life, if only he can make it all the way through alive and not get cheated. Another fantastic, entertaining and brilliantly-written novella from the master of the form. I really enjoyed this.

Parker’s Saloninus stories are always great reads, and The Big Score is no exception. The first two stories are Blue and Gold and The Devil You Know, both available now and highly recommended.

The Big Score begins at Saloninus’s funeral. As a man who frequently finds himself wanted by law enforcement from one or many nations, he has decided that death is his best option. However, an old colleague of his finds him and “convinces” him to take part in one last caper. It’s illegal, of course. Possibly dangerous, naturally. But also rather clever, all things considered. The plan unfolds over this slim novella, sprinkled with reflections of Saloninus’s and his (unnamed) colleague’s shared past. She’s one of the best forgers in the world (probably the best), and they’ve engaged in a number of clever capers over the years. This one takes advantage of not only Saloninus’s accepted genius, but also his apparent death.

Parker really is the master of pacing. Even though it’s a short novella (barely 100 pages), he manages to get a lot into it. It never felt rushed, and the balance between the past and the now is very well managed. The novella has plenty of references to the author’s other short fiction — certainly other Saloninus stories, but also novellas like Prosper’s Demon. It’s not necessary to have read any of Parker’s other stories in order to enjoy this, but I would certainly recommend them because they’re excellent. The various cross-references and shared history makes for a very interesting, well-rounded world.

The novella is light in tone, and contains some amusing observations and satire of book collecting, authentication, “experts”, and more. His characters are well-drawn, their interactions engaging. (It easily managed to distract me for most of the US’s election night, too.)

If you’re already a fan of Parker’s work, I’m sure this will be high up on your Most Anticipated list for 2021. I do not think you’ll be disappointed — The Big Score contains all the hallmarks of a great Parker story, and brings back one of my favourite characters.

If you’ve never read Parker’s shorter fiction (novellas, short stories, etc.), then I would highly recommend you do so. He’s inventive, witty, and often surprising. His fiction often includes allusions to real-world fiction, science, and history, playfully reworked or twisted for his purposes. Each new novella is a highlight of my year, and I always finish them wanting more.

*

K.J. Parker’s The Big Score is due to be published by Subterranean Press in March 2021, and is available for pre-order now.

Also on CR: Reviews of The Devil You Know, The Last Witness, Downfall of the Gods, My Beautiful Life, Prosper’s Demon, and Academic Exercises

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads
Review copy received from publisher

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