A penny saved is ridiculous.

A penny saved is ridiculous.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Talking about Spenser

If occasionally bordering on a dinner tribute/fawning feeling, In Pursuit of Spenser: Mystery Writers on Robert B. Parker and the Creation of an American Hero was ultimately a rewarding, and often very entertaining reading experience. It was both informative and a lot of fun to learn that so many writers- including contributors S.J. Rozan, Dennis Lehane, Loren D. Estleman, and Ace Atkins- held Robert Parker's Spenser series in such high esteem, and why.

In particular, it was revealing to find out (via several of the essays here) that Robert Parker's formula of mixing a detective plot with the personal goings-on of the central detective character, and an ongoing supporting cast, was actually quite innovative back in the 1970's when Parker's early entries in the Spenser series occurred.

Before Parker, detectives brooded, drank scotch, bedded occasional women they really didn't give a hoot about, and stayed focused in a razor-sharp way on the case at hand. That wasn't bad for a while (there are some darn good Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler novels that are testament to that), but the genre quickly became limiting and predictable, with only a niche following.

But then Parker came along with The Godwulf Manuscript and things opened up: he kept what was great about the top private eye novels of the past, but let the genre breathe. Spenser complained about life, was concerned about paying the bills, asked normal women out in a normal manner (as opposed to just encountering femme fatales), developed a network of friends and acquaintances that would reappear on a regular basis, and- like so many of us- eventually became part of an ongoing committed relationship. In other words, Parker married the detective genre to general fiction.

That formula may be an obvious and very popular one now, but it was new then, attracting huge numbers of mainstream readers to the mystery genre, paving the way for Janet Evanovich, Sue Grafton, Dennis Lehane, and so many other mystery writers who have achieved mainstream success by emulating the Robert Parker mold of introducing a new detective plot in each of their series entries along with the latest developments in their detective heroes' personal lives.

As well as discussing the above innovation, and a few other contributions of the Spenser series (including the rewards of creative cooking even if one is just a bachelor eating at home), the dozen-plus essays here also discuss Parker's Jesse Stone character, the various Western novels the author wrote late in his career, and the television adaptations of Parker's works. It's all fun to read about.

So, yes, SmartPop Publications and editor Otto Penzler did a nice job here. In Pursuit of Spenser felt like a meaty panel discussion held at a top mystery novel convention. I can't imagine a regular reader of Robert B. Parker, and especially a fan of his Spenser series, not getting a lot of enjoyment out of this book.

I read a handsome trade paperback edition of In Pursuit of Spenser, but if you get the book on Kindle right now, it'll only cost you a mere $1.99.  If you're at all interested, get it now.  That low price won't last forever.

Get shaken

Three different timelines with three different scary scenarios comprise Shaken, a recent entertaining entry in J.A. Konrath's Jack Daniels thriller series, which began several years ago with Whiskey Sour. 

Jumping between 1) an early serial killer case of Jack’s occurring more than twenty years ago, 2) the hunt for another killer set in the recent past, and 3) a grisly confrontation with that killer set in the present day, Shaken sends readers all over the map with the usual Konrath scares and laughs. 

For longtime fans of the series, it was also fun to see history in the making, as we see (in the earliest timeline) how Jack met her future detective partner Herb Benedict, and other notable “firsts”.  The unusual story construction this time out does sacrifice some of Konrath’s trademark fast pacing, but things never get confusing and the jumping around thing was ultimately fun. 
It was kind of weird, though, that dumb luck, not so much Jack’s bravery and skill, plays a big role in her final fate in this one. But I guess I can’t complain too much, as dumb luck often plays a part in our lives, doesn’t it?  Anyway, fun novel, and one that is sending me right to Stirred, its follow-up.
Shaken is available for $3.99 on Kindle, or is free to borrow on that device if you're an Amazon Prime member.  A good deal either way!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Checking in

We'll return to our regularly scheduled blog shortly (I may even try to beat the summer doldrums and make it a little more regular).  But for now, to hold the masses at bay, is a nice little photo of our newest cat, El Diablo, which was taken a few days ago.  Interestingly, the photo snapped only a day or two after we finally had the little guy fixed.  As you can see, he really bounced back fast, and has now happily resumed his playful terrorizing of our other cats (hence, his name).

Oh, I should probably give a shout-out to Old Marple Animal Hospital in Springfield, Pennsylvania.  Great doctors, great staff.  They really made El Diablo feel like a star (not that he doesn't think of himself in that way, anyway).

Up shortly: Thoughts on some of the big summer movies (Including The Amazing Spider-Man and The Dark Knight Rises) and a few recent books and audios I've enjoyed poolside.  But be patient, okay?  It's really been nice outside lately.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Hello, "Good-By"

Originally published in 1964, John D. MacDonald's initial Travis McGee novel, The Deep Blue Good-By, mixes lurid treatments of sex and violence with fascinating philosophical observations about life in America in the 1960's. An engaging reading experience, the novel is also pretty dark, as- be warned- not everything turns out well for our man McGee and the people in his sphere.

Of particular interest was the fact that, for a novel originally aimed at young men who purchased adventure paperbacks from drugstore spinner racks back in the 60's, The Deep Blue Good-By is populated mostly by women characters, and nicely fleshed out ones at that (pun slightly intended). Seriously, it was enjoyable to see nuanced, complex female characters, who weren't just there to hang on the arms of "salvage specialist" McGee during the course of his adventures (not that one or two don't do that a little).

I also liked the contrast between the beautiful Florida locales and the dark doings going on there, as Travis McGee tries to recover for his client Cathy Kerr a treasure her late father brought back from World War II but was then stolen by a devious acquaintance of her father. That acquaintance is Junior Allen, who turns out to be quite a memorable villain, first romancing Cathy to find out where the treasure is hidden, then horribly victimizing Cathy and several other women once the treasure is in his grasp.

The philosophy in the book comes from McGee's frequent internal pronouncements (about once per chapter) on whatever aspect of American life is getting under his skin at the moment. Though sometimes a little tiresome, most of McGee's little monologues are kind of interesting, though one has to wonder what adventure readers of the 60's- who probably just wanted a fast-moving atory- thought of all the mini speeches that frequently back-burnered the plot for a few minutes.

Anyway, I'm glad this thriller fan is finally taking on the Travis McGee novels, and look forward to the second book in the series, Nightmare in Pink.

Oh, one more thing: the Travis McGee novels aren't yet available as e-books, but brand new unabridged audiobook versions of all 21 entries were recently produced by Amazon's Audible subsidiary.  They're all read by Robert Petkoff, who did an excellent job with the first book, combining sharp, clear enunciation with depth, nuance, and emotion.  I'm glad I experienced The Deep Blue Good-By on audio, and will likely do the rest of the books in the series that way, too.