RARA-AVIS: Re: Spenser

From: Kevin Burton Smith ( kvnsmith@colba.net)
Date: 15 Dec 2000

What? You guys don't cook? Tsk-tsk. And it would make sense for all these down-on-their-luck DIY bachelor P.I.s to know how to cook. Some might even enjoy it.

As for Healy, he was indeed, and by his own admission, heavily influenced by Parker, especially in the early books. He's since evolved beyond his influences, as good writers always do.

Citing old, and in some cases pretty obscure or minor eyes such as Bill Lennox, John Smith and Ed Rivers (and you could toss in Carney Wilde, Pete Schofield, Jim Bennett and Johnny Marshall) as P.I.'s in steady relationships does nothing to diminish the impact or influence of Parker creating a viable, long-term, steady relationship between two people that goes beyond having someone around to do the cooking and the laundry. (Though, to be fair, Parker wasn't alone. In the last thirty years, Lawrence Block, Jeremiah Healy, Michael Collins, Bill Pronzini and Joseph Hansen have all introduced long-term relationships into their P.I. series, though not all of them have placed as much emphasis on it as Parker.)

But even mentioning the two or three rough chapters Chandler wrote of
"Poodle Springs"is really stretching it. It would have been interesting to see where Chandler took it, but he died. As for Michael Shayne, that cookin' fool, yeah he was married through the first six or seven books in the series, but that certainly didn't last long, did it? And that relationship always seemed rather perfunctory, probably because Phyllis was, as James put it, a ditz.

Susan Silverman, on the other hand, may be a lot of things, but ditz isn't one of 'em. Increasingly, annoyingly and incredibly self-centered, yes, but not a ditz. Yeah, she makes me grit my teeth too, sometimes, but once upon a time she was a blast of fresh air. Imagine, into the world of he-men private eyes comes a woman who's smart and sexy, and does more than seduce or be a victim! No wonder the old school boys, with their trenchcoat-and-fedora fetishes, felt threatened. And Parker continues to keep her, for the most part, believable, even if she's not always likable.

In fact, the early Susan Silverman might have been one of the spiritual sparks for the horde of female eyes that came swooping down upon us in the late seventies and early eighties. Of course, the old school boys also felt threatened by that. So blame Parker for that, too.

And come in sideways and blame Parker for Lehane's faults, too. Yeah, Lehane was probably influenced a bit by Parker, but even if Lehane stole every single bit of everything he ever wrote from other writers, it's Lehane himself who should be held accountable, not those he stole from. Bubba may be a lame variation on Hawk or Mouse, but that's hardly Parker's (or Mosley's) fault. And anyway, Parker writes short, quick books for the most part, and is often accused of underwriting, of not developing a character or situation enough. Nobody could ever accuse the author of Long, Long, Long of that.

Look, I know Parker isn't for everyone, but like it or not, he put his mark on the last twenty or thirty years of crime fiction, particularly the detective novel, in ways that few others have. The relationship thing, the sidekick thing, the move away from the California/New York axis thing (and his defiant emphasis on it), the out of past and into the present thing (Spenser, for all his bellyaching about the good old days, is a man of his times). Other have done them, as well, but only Parker did them all, in such a way that they couldn't be ignored. Yes, he was influenced by Chandler
(and Hammett and Macdonald and even Spillane), but he also went on to influence Healy and Lehane and Roberts and Grafton and Barre and a ton of others. Like I said, good writers always evolve beyond their influences.

Probably Parker's biggest crime against his current literary reputation has been that he didn't pull a Buddy Holly and die young, or become a bloated alcoholic has-been and stop writing after a handful of books.


Kevin Burton Smith The Thrilling Detective Web Site http://www.thrillingdetective.com
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