RARA-AVIS: Robert B. Parker

From: George Upper ( gcupper3@yahoo.com)
Date: 16 Jul 2001

I know that Robert B. Parker is not generally held in the highest respect in these parts, but I've just finished his two latest Spenser novels, and thought a brief comment might be in order. Also, I've been tagged by The Gale Group to write up _Potshot_ for
_Beacham's Popular Fiction_ Volume 17, so I thought this might be a good forum to get some of my thoughts together.

Robert B. Parker has written twenty-nine Spenser novels, and I would imagine that there's a number thirty in manuscript form at Putnam by now. There is certainly nothing wrong with such prolific writing in and of itself, but the problem is that Spenser is an interesting character worth, say, 12 books, and maybe a "Return of Spenser" 13th novel about fifteen years after #12 was published. My own opinion is that the first three Spenser novels were quite good, the next three were as good as anything Chandler wrote, and the third three were not bad. _Valediction_, the tenth, was melodrama. _Catskill Eagle_, his eleventh, was melo without any drama. Since then, Parker has published the occasional readable Spenser novel, but none has matched the quality of his earliest work.

Which is a shame, I think, because Parker still has it. Read either of the Jesse Stone novels, for example. They are both quite good--and relatively dark, as well.

Okay...I said I was going to write about _Potshot_; please excuse the venting.


If _Potshot_ were that 13th book mentioned earlier, it would be pretty good. It's highly derivative, but it's mostly derivative of early Robert B. Parker. If you've read _Walking Shadow_, you'll know whodunit in this one. The attractive manipulative woman hires Spenser, but it turns out she's the bad guy, and the local police chief, infatuated with her, has moved to Potshot, AZ, because she did first. In the end, he makes a bad decision because of his love for her. I hope Parker owns a word processor, because it would make the cutting and pasting from _Walking Shadow_ much easier.

I was afraid that _Potshot_ would be another re-telling of Hammett's _Red Harvest_; oh, if only it were! Instead, it's a re-telling of The Three Amigos, which is a re-telling of the pilot episode of The A-Team, which is a re-telling of The Magnificent Seven, which is a re-telling of Seven Samuri, which is a re-telling (according to Frasier, anyway) of the Grail Knight legend. Spenser and six of his macho cronies--you can do the math--clear out a town bothered by a gang of bandits numbering "thirty or forty." Is my memory bad, or does Eli Wallach claim to have at his disposal "forty guns" in Magnificent Seven? To his credit, Parker acknowledges his debt, having one of Spenser's gang turn to another and state
"We deal in lead, friend."

It has been mentioned here recently, in reference to Amos Walker, I think, that Spenser does not seem to age as the novels progress. He was, I believe, 38 in
_Godwulf Manuscript_, making him something close to 70 now. When I was 16 and reading the early novels, I used to think, "how can you be in your forties and still be so tough?" Well, I know the answer to that question now, but that doesn't stop me from wondering how he does it at 70. Interestingly, though neither Susan nor Hawk age either, Pearl the Wonderdog does.

One thing I will Parker, though--at least the attractive women who throw themselves at Spenser have to get drunk first now. In both _Hugger Mugger_ and
_Potshot_, a younger woman actually passes out drunk in the process of attempting to seduce the protagonist. It was unbelievable once; it was ridiculous twice.

Still, if read on its own, _Potshot_ might work. The relationships between the seven gunmen are sometimes interesting, and the plotting and criminal activity Spenser uncovers might be interesting if I hadn't read all about it several Spenser books ago. (I actually predicted a line of dialogue in _Hugger Mugger_ about three pages before it came out of Spenser's mouth.)

One last note on _Hugger-Mugger_: the action in the novel takes place over two brief spans, with a period of roughly a month in between them. To cover the month, Parker includes what is for all practical purposes the only Spenser short story (that I know of, anyway) smack-dab into the middle of the novel. The short story is worth reading. So, my advice is: buy a used copy of the paperback or get _Hugger Mugger_ from the library, read chapters 21-26 (only about 25 pages in the hardcover), and don't bother with the rest.

Okay--thanks for letting me vent. I feel much better now.


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