Saturday, September 08, 2007

Robert B Parker

I'm currently mildly addicted to Robert B Parker novels.

Parker's best known for his Spenser novels. The tough but sensitive private eye solves crimes with the help of his psychiatrist girlfriend Susan and his hitman pal, Hawk.

Then there's the Sunny Randall series about a female PI. In amongst bodyguarding duties and solving murders Sunny's trying to cope with her recent divorce. This isn't helped by the fact that her ex-husband has connections with the local crime syndicate. Or by the fact that she still loves him.

And there's the Jesse Stone books with a divorced, alcoholic L.A. detective trying to build a new life for himself as a small town police chief.

All the books contain sparse, no nonsense prose and reams of witty dialogue. Action scenes are fairly minimal in the books I've read, although it's mandatory for the middleaged Spenser to have at least one scene per book where he uses his boxing skills to prove he can beat up men half his age. To balance up Spenser's machismo there's lots of literary references, most of which I'm too stupid to get.

Parker seems to have a lot of time for psychotherapy, with both Sunny and Jesse regularly seeing shrinks to help cope with their respective divorces. Spenser meanwhile has lengthy discussions with Susan which she fills with psychobabble. This emphasis on the characters analysing their feelings openly and honestly pretty much kills any subtext but Parker peppers the books with oneliners to compensate.

Therapy sessions aside it's nice that Sunny and Jesse have personal problems, it gives the stories an edge lacking in the latest Spenser novels. The saintly Spenser seems to have pretty much resolved all his emotional problems in previous novels (which I haven't read) so now he and Susan have a blissful loving relationship. Which is all well and good but it can get a bit boring. And after their umpteenth proclamation of love and endless reminders of how attractive they are and how great their sex life is and how they are both strong, resourceful people with careers which they find completely rewarding they can come across as a little smug.

And then there's the feeling that the plots are pretty formulaic. Parker had written over 50 novels and it must be getting hard to keep coming up with new ideas. He does his best though. Even though the various 'tecs always solves their cases they don't always manage to bring the criminals to justice.

Anyway, the books are good fun. I think it's going to be a while before the novelty wears off.

5 comments:

Chris said...

Stu, article about Ditko for you: http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0,,2168911,00.html

btw, you going to FCon?

m.west31 said...

I love Parker, though I've only read the Spenser series and the Chandler one he finished ("Poodle Springs", I think). It's been a while since I've read any of them, so I might try and dive back in.

Quentin S. Crisp said...

Completely off-topic, but I wondered if you'd seen this film:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M5kmkYMqfYY

I haven't, but I dig the rap.

Stuart Young said...

Mark, I'm enjoying the later Spenser stuff and both the Sunny Randall and Jesse Stone series but I've not read enough early Spenser to know how they compare.

Quentin, I may have seen it during one of those seasons of Hong Kong films Channel 4 used to show back in the late 80s/early 90s. The title sounds familiar but I don't remember the scene in the video.

GFS3 said...

Hi Stuart:
I have to say that I've had more than a mild addiction to Parker's Spenser novels. He's had a great run. But I think it's time for Spenser to die with dignity.

Here's my argument:

http://darkpartyreview.blogspot.com/2007/10/robert-b-parker-should-kill-spenser.html