RARA-AVIS: Re: Parker as an Influence

From: Kevin Burton Smith ( kvnsmith@thrillingdetective.com)
Date: 16 Apr 2008

On Apr 14, 2008, at 7:44 AM, Mario wrote:

> But out of that entire lot you mention, there isn't one I would
> reread.

But it's not what YOU'D read that counts so much as what other people would read -- and are reading.

> I tried to reread a Grafton (her "C") recently and I regret to
> say that it read like kids' stuff, and also very dated. It surprised
> me because I had liked her first six or seven books in the series, and
> my memory was that "C" was one of the best. This time it was hard to
> get to the end. Last year I had a similar experience with Paretsky
> during a trip, though it was not as bad as with Grafton.

Yep, your disdain for the work of "that lot", particularly Grafton and Paretsky, has been duly and regularly noted.

> I am not sure what will endure out of that eighties explosion of the
> PI novel...

Well, it's been twenty-five years now, and the books by Grafton and Paretsky's series are still going strong (as are those of people like Crais and Mosley and Pelecanos), and regularly being reprinted, while many of their more traditional contemporaries are long out of print -- including several of our recently discussed "missing" authors -- so I guess we already know. You may not like the new breed, but there's no denying their popularity. And we are, after all, dealing with pop/pulp fiction. It's what people actually read -- not what you or I think they SHOULD read -- that counts.

The changes brought to the genre in the seventies and eighties have endured, and what's popular in the hard-boiled P.I. genre has already changed.

Without, I think, changing the essential nature of the P.I. sub-genre. Ultimately it still rests on an individual, a "man" of his times, trying to go down those so-and-so mean streets, trying to do right in a world where it probably won't do a lick of good. It doesn't mean more traditional P.I. fare has disappeared, or that it doesn't still sell, but the pale male lone wolf eye -- a frequent object of derision even in Chandler's day -- is no longer the only game in ShamusTown.

In many ways I think Parker not only revived but refreshed the P.I. genre, tailoring it for a reading public that had lost interest, but without sacrificing one drop of the obvious appeal and respect he has for the genre. (And it's interesting to note that, while the once- massive popularity of the P.I. in film and television has withered away to almost nothing, private eye novels still regularly make the best seller lists).

In another twenty five years? Who knows? Maybe time-traveling talking space cats with compulsive disorders and P.I. licenses who go around solving crimes utilizing their psychic powers, and knitting patterns in the back of every book. But somehow I doubt it.

The private eye novel has always cast an eye -- a private eye, unfettered by bureaucracy or organizational politics, if you will -- on our society. It would be silly -- and dishonest -- for any writer worth his salt to have a detective looking upon 2008 as though it was still 1938. Or worse, pretending it WAS 1938. I don't mind retro, but god save us from a slavish devotion to a past that shriveled up and died ages ago.

And cpt wrote:

> The use of the word "still" nails you. I say this as someone who
> continues to read every
> book in the series upon release. But, I "still" read them as well,
> so I know of what you
> speak.

Yep. And beyond all the hoops of Parker's arguable importance and influence I've been jumping through the last few days, I think a lot of my affection for his work simply goes to his writing style. I have to read tons of books all the time for various projects, and frankly, I'm frequently left cold by some of these "important" new books by one of these highly touted "important" new writers. Too often plowing through these platters of overly earnest, over-hyped puffiness feels too much like work, like I'm trying to push those dull, turgid words one at a time into my brain.

But Parker at this point is pretty much review-proof. So when a new Parker -- particularly a Spenser novel -- comes out, it's like the recess bell going off for me. I don't have to worry about making a case for or against a particular book -- I can simply plop in my chair, crack open a beer and simply enjoy.

There are worse crimes.


This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 16 Apr 2008 EDT