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Monday, January 24, 2005

Robert B. Parker

Ed here:

A discussion on various logs of late on the relative worth of Robert B. Parker at this stage in his long and industrious career.

The consensus judgment seems to be that he wrote brilliantly early on, that in fact he rescued the entire private eye genre from malaise and cliche, and that he brought tens of thousands of new readers to the form.

I agree with all of that.

Where I have trouble is the funeral pyre so many of his critics seem to be building. Doesn't take the care he used to; isn't as inventive as he once was; writes the same book many times over.

Now I'll agree that these things are occasionally true of his last decade or so at the writing machine. But it's certainly not true in general.

Is Spenser tired and parodic? I think so, yes, in many of the books. Am I sick of Susan Silverman? Oh, my God, I wish she'd take a job at the Lifetime channel and never have time to talk let alone see Spenser again. Still, every once in a while, every three books, say, there's a return to form. Maybe not great Spenser but solid and fun Spenser.

But what I really don't understand are the harsh judgments on his Jesse Stone series.

I'm just now finishing STONE COLD and I have to say it's one of the most entertaining books I've read in the past twelve months. The dialogue is prime Parker, character drives the story far more than the plot, and even though Stone's machismo gets tiresome, he comes off as a decent, complicated, beleivable middle-aged man who is a) an alcholic and b) in love with Susan Silverman's twin sister.

Now as an alcoholic myself, I can testify that Parker's take on the malady is both moving and clinically true.

The ex-wife is as problemmatic--this is my take only, not a universally held opinion--as Susan but at least not as full of cant and pomposity. But it does make you wonder if the Parker hero, in whatever guise, isn't a masochist in his romantic relationships. Parker sure does convey real pain here; there's one scene where he begins to confront his ex-wife's date that made me writhe. I'm a jealous type myself. You're right there with Jesse and sure wish you weren't.

The A plot has to do with a pair of trendy serial killers, man and wife. They do it for fun. What's notable here, and I assume Parker was aware of this, is that the marriage of the serial killers is a far more loving and supportive one than any marriage a Parker hero has ever been in.

The B plot has to do with a bunch of snotty high school bullies. The kids work fine but the magic scenes are when their prominent parents come to the station and wail on Jesse as only privileged people can. Jesse shows a whole lot of restraint.

So please don't tell me it's over for Parker because it isn't. Nobody--not even Balzac or Dostoyevsky or Dickens, all of whom wrote a whole lot of books themselves--can possibly trot out a winner every time. Impossible. And writing quickly seems to be Parker's natural pace.

As a book, a piece of writing, an amusement with the sting of truth every few pages, this novel warrants an A and is a whole lot better than many of the sudsy and pretentious novels that critics are genufelcting in front of these days.


Blogger Frank Denton said...

Welcome over here on blogspot. I've been reading your comments and others on your old blog for quite some time. Always thoughtful, thought-provoking and often news-breaking. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.

January 24, 2005 at 5:18 PM  
Blogger Lee Goldberg said...

I think the Jesse Stone books are terrific, too... far better than the Spenser novels lately. DOUBLE PLAY was great, too.

But the Sunny Randall novels take all the worst aspects of the Spenser books...and make them even worse. Can't stand Spenser's constant talk about his dog? Sunny's relationship with her dog borders on psychotic. Can't stand another scene between Spenser and Susan? Wait until you read the Sunny and Susan scenes... yeah, that's right, Susan is in the Sunny books, too.

I wish Parker would stop writing Sunny Randall and give us extra Stone books instead. The Stone books seems to have renewed him creatively. Maybe he should stick with them awhile and give Spenser a rest,too.

January 24, 2005 at 7:11 PM  
Blogger Gerald So said...

Hello, Ed.

I'm a recent fan of yours through the Sam McCain books.

In case you didn't know, STONE COLD will reportedly air as a CBS movie-of-the-week with Tom Selleck as Stone and Mimi Rogers as Rita Fiore. The airdate is Sunday, Feb. 20 at 9pm ET.

Selleck is a bit old for Jesse, but I like his presence, and he could bring something unexpected to the role. Mimi Rogers should do well as Rita. We'll see.

January 24, 2005 at 9:02 PM  
Blogger Bill said...

The new blog looks great!

January 25, 2005 at 6:46 AM  
Blogger Bob said...

I haven't read the last 5 or 6 Spenser books. I was a huge fan but realized there are too many other writers that I enjoy more recently. Jeremiah Healy, Will Christopher Baer, Robert Crais, catching up on some Ross MacDonald's I never got around to reading.

I was also put off by Parker's comments when Robert Urich passed away. I talk about them here, if anyone is interested:

January 25, 2005 at 7:38 AM  
Blogger Lee Goldberg said...

I remember that quote, Bob. It pissed me off then and it still rankles reading it again. What a profounding stupid thing for Parker to have said.

Then again, I'm biased. I worked on SPENSER FOR HIRE. Robert Urich was one of the nicest men I've ever met.

January 25, 2005 at 8:56 AM  
Blogger Lee Goldberg said...

That should be "profoundly stupid," not "profounding stupid."

January 25, 2005 at 10:50 AM  
Blogger Cap'n Bob Napier said...

My relationship with Parker's work went like this: I started out buying him in hardcover first editions; after a few years I started buying paperbacks; and a few years later I started looking in the used book stores.

My one run-in with him was at a San Fancisco Bouchercon in the mid-1980s. I mentioned to him that the ammunition he had Spenser putting in an M-16 rifle was way too big to fit. In my naivete I didn't know this would insult him. My thinking was that he could correct it in time for the paperback edition.
Later, when his interview and Q&A session was going on I raised my hand, along with many others in the audience. He called on others until mine was nearly the last hand up, and still he found someone else to call on. When the session ended my hand was still up and still ignored. I think he was afraid I'd bring up the wrong ammo question again. In fact, I was going to ask if he'd consider killing off Susan Silverman.
I guess I got my answer after all.

January 29, 2005 at 11:39 AM  
Blogger jchess said...

Wandering in again. . .

On this topic, may I ask if there any mystery writers nowadays you would suggest instead of Robert B. Parker?

Thank you for your time.

James C. Hess

January 29, 2005 at 5:40 PM  
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