RARA-AVIS: Parker and predictability

From: Brian Thornton ( tieresias@worldnet.att.net)
Date: 15 May 2002

Hello everyone,

My name is Brian Thornton, and I live in the decidedly soft-boiled city of Seattle, Washington. I have been lurking here for a few days, and am thrilled at the level of conversation on this decidedly active list.

I am a huge fan of both Hammett and Chandler (go back and forth over the question of which one I like better), and am currently working my way through Ross MacDonald's work (loved The Zebra Striped Hearse). Although I enjoy his work, I'm not sure it ranks with the first two.

I decided to make my jump into the discussion here by weighing in on the question of Parker's "legacy" if you will, because I feel that I am a perfect example of the type of person Parker introduced to the genre with his innovations, and who has gone on to enjoy other writers therein. My first Parker book was "Early Autumn". I started it on a road-trip and was so taken with it, I started reading long passages of his dialogue to the guy who was driving (in between peals of laughter), and he was soon laughing too. I was hooked.

As for Parker's work being "predictable", I agree that after two or three books he seldom surprises, but the dialogue is so good that I find that and his carelessness with his proof-reading to be eminently forgivable. This might have something to do with the fact that I am currently working on the third (and final) draft of my own first crime novel, and am inclined to be forgiving, because this draft and revise carousel ride can sure get tedious!

Thanks for having me!

Brian Thornton

At 07:41 AM 5/9/02 -0400, you wrote: 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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