RARA-AVIS: Take the square root of Pronzini and multiply by Crais

From: Kevin Burton Smith ( kvnsmith@thrillingdetective.com)
Date: 09 May 2002

>I think Lyons is one of the great underrated PI writers of the last
>twenty-five years. I never understood why Parker became so successful and
>Lyons remained obscure. Lyons is three times the craftsman Parker is, even
>in his early years.

Three times? Gee.

Well, I like Lyons too. A lot. He's got off some of the finest Chandleresque one-liners of the last few decades.

But it's not like the success of Parker had any effect on Lyons' success, except maybe helping him sell a few more books (not enough, evidently, though). I've also heard Parker sort of sideways-bashed in the same way during discussions of Estlemen, Pronzini, Randisi and other P.I. writers of a certain era. And in actual books by several of his contemporaries. It's not one of the more admirable traits of some members of the PWA.

Obviously, Parker's success rankles a lot of people in this genre. And no, not everybody has to like his books. But his success didn't prevent anyone else from succeeding, so the regular griping from his peers usually comes off more as sour grapes than anything.

Parker's big sin is he wrote books people liked to read. How dare he! And he tinkered with the formula and put enough of a personal and contemporary spin on it to bring in new readers, without betraying its roots. Lyons, on the other hand, stuck with the tried and true. His Acsh harks back more to the traditions set down forty, fifty years ago. In his own way, he's as anachronistic as Estleman's Walker, albeit from a left-wing viewpoint.

So maybe that explains his success, at least partially. Lyons wrote stuff people who already like this stuff will enjoy, which is a fine thing. Hell, I'm one of them. Parker wrote stuff that could appeal to those same folks, but he pushed the boundaries a bit more, and appealed to new readers as well. Which is also fine. And he did it with a prose style that's very readable.

As for Erick's comment that Parker's stuff is cliché­²idden? I dunno. Half the cliché³ Parker's always accused of, he popularized. He certainly took a few more chances with the form than a lot of his contemporaries. No, they weren't always successful innovations, but they sure were influential in the genre. So somebody must have liked them.


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