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.

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