Re: RARA-AVIS: Boston: the Combat Zone

From: George Upper (
Date: 08 Nov 2001

--- wrote:
> I did read a Parker in preparation for Boston month
> (can we do London at some point?) and was not hugely
> impressed. I don't have it with me, but it is late
> in the series and involves Mexican Americans in a
> city near Boston, Prestwick? Prestbury?

Sounds like you read THIN AIR--not one of Parker's best. I can remember where it's set, but I seem to recall that Parker made up the town name. (I might be thinking of WALKING SHADOW, though, where I know he did that.) He went through a phase after CATSKILL EAGLE where all of the major characters, and some of the minor ones, who helped Spenser in earlier books came to Spenser for help on their own issues, like some sort of payback. Now, after receiving more help from six such characters in POTSHOT, Spenser may need to travel around the country repaying those favors. But let's hope not.

To anyone who hasn't read Parker, or hasn't read much of him, but wants to try him out for Boston month, I'd recommend any of the early books (1980 or earlier) in the series. My personal favorite is probably MORTAL STAKES (#3) or PROMISED LAND (#4). His early non-Spenser book WILDERNESS is also excellent, if only medium-boiled, and highly recommended. It's set in Mass. and Maine, which used to be part of Mass., so I guess we could call it a Boston book without too much rule-bending.

Parker often writes about Boston itself, describing what he sees as he runs along the Charles River or fights bad guys by the Bay. I never get much of the sense of the city from him, though, and I would expect it would be easier to "reach" me that way because I grew up in Foxborough, MA and spent a lot of time in the city. (The one exception might be his first, THE GODWULF MANUSCRIPT.)

His descriptions of the Combat Zone, for example, seem to me to be written by someone who's never been there and only imagines it. In Spenser's Combat Zone, every other person is a hooker or pimp. There are certainly hookers to be found there, but there aren't two on every corner as Parker might have us believe. He is a pretty good judge of restaurants, though--if Spenser enjoys a meal in a restaurant somewhere, I've always enjoyed the restaurant myself.

Conversely, I think Parker often does a better job describing other areas. His descriptions of Cape Cod in PROMISED LAND, for example, are right on the money, and he does a good job with rural Maine in EARLY AUTUMN. Maybe he's just too close to Boston to feel the need to describe it well.


===== George C. Upper III, Editor The Lightning Bell Poetry Journal

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