Dust jacket illustration by Vincent Chong.
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.
The Big Score is a comic gem that shows us another side of K.J. Parker’s prodigious narrative talent. Original, ingenious, and often laugh out loud funny, it also offers a heartfelt commentary on books, art, and the comforts they provide. It is a first-rate entertainment by a gifted writer who never fails to surprise and delight. This one is just too good to miss.
Limited: 1000 signed numbered hardcover copies
From Publishers Weekly:
“Parker provides plenty of laughs as the preposterous crime plays out…”
“The Big Score sounds like a title from the golden age of sleazy paperbacks, or maybe a high-octane, low-budget action flick. In fact, it was both, and I suspect K.J. Parker either knew this or didn’t care in choosing it for the latest novella set in his hilariously corrupt version of Renaissance Europe, which has shown a remarkable consistency over the years, with its endless cast of scurrilous alchemists, rogues, scoundrels, liars, cowards, and double-crossers… Parker manages to neatly skewer both literary scholarship and literary fashion in a few lines here, and such sharp-edged asides are a good part of what keeps his fiction entertaining, along with his shamelessly corrupt characters.”
The Big Score
I didn’t enjoy my funeral nearly as much as I thought I would. I’d been looking forward to it, but it turned out to be something of a disappointment.
For a start, it rained, and that always takes the edge off a good party. Maybe it was the weather; there were far fewer people there than I’d anticipated, or catered for. I’d spent a lot of money I hadn’t really got on good food and fine wine (and I hardly drink at all myself, now I’m dead) and the servants ended up taking most of it home with them. The preacher’s eulogy was dreadful, and most of the guests who did turn up proved to be representatives of my creditors or various law enforcement agencies. Nobody from the universities, the theatres, the Sashan embassy or the Imperial court. Instead, there was this granite-faced man with a shiny head and huge eyebrows who buttonholed me as the coffin was lowered into the hole—
“I’m his cousin,” I explained. “Only living relative.”
He considered me, as though I was a dangerous crack in the wall of his house. “You were close?”
I shook my head. “Hadn’t seen him for years.”
He had that expression, the one that says, you’re about to lie to me. “So you’ve got no idea where it all is.”
“The manuscripts, you mean? The research notes?”
“The money he stole.”
“No idea,” I lied. “Like I said, we weren’t close.”
“I never knew he had a cousin.”
“On my mother’s side,” I said. “Twice removed.”
Environment and circumstance; that’s what makes you what you are, not what’s inside. The shell, not the egg; the scar, not the wholesome flesh beneath. Take me, for shining example. I have, by universal consensus, the finest mind and the most beautiful soul that ever was. I’ve written the best plays and poems, the wisest and most perceptive philosophical tracts; I’m the greatest scientist of all time. My name—Saloninus, as though you needed to be told—will live forever. Nature (as I once put it) might stand up and say to all the world, this was a man.
Quite. And, given such rich and rare gifts, what did I do with them? To which I’m compelled to answer; apart from a few years when I lived quietly and comfortable on the proceeds of my groundbreaking formula for synthetic blue paint, nothing I care to dwell on. Lots of really bad stuff, mostly; thieving and swindling and issuing false coin (I was really good at that) with occasional lapses into the most deplorable kinds of violence. Not because I’m naturally bad and vicious—quite the opposite, since (as I convincingly proved in my Ethical Dialogues) beauty and virtue are essentially the same thing; therefore you can’t create a substantial proportion of the beautiful things in the world, as I have, unless you’re fundamentally good. No, it was always bad luck, mostly not having any money. And bad luck is just a slovenly way of saying environment and circumstances. If you end up living in Poor Town, always one jump ahead of the authorities, a certain category of things are almost inevitably going to happen to you, all of them miserable. You can call it bad luck if you like, but I’m a scientist.
So; if you take the good man out of the bad place and put him in a good place, where he’s got loads of money and nobody knows who he used to be, you give him a chance to be himself; and that was precisely what I’d planned to do. Just one more little white lie, and everything would be just fine.
- Vincent Chong
- K. J. Parker
- 104 pages
- United States
- Subterranean Press
- In Print