RARA-AVIS: Re: They won't have Parker to kick around anymore...

From: Kevin Burton Smith (kvnsmith@thrillingdetective.com)
Date: 19 Jan 2010

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    In rara-avis-l@yahoogroups.com, "jacquesdebierue" <jacquesdebierue@...> wrote:

    > Kevin, little controversies are an American pastime,

    Yes, I've noticed that.

    > but here we have a real writer and we will have a real discussion. Controversies are worthless. You pit A against B where there is no possible synthesis, so it's just an excuse for defenders of A and of B to talk to themselves.
    > What, in your view, are the merits of Robert B. Parker's work? That would be a good start.

    Yeah, it would. Maybe you should have read my entire original post?

    > Commercial success is not really something to discuss, I would say. It's a fact in the case of Parker.

    Commercial success is not something to discuss? On a list devoted to a genre of popular literature? Do you ever read any of the posts on this list? Do you ever read your own? The commercial success (or failure) of everyone from Chandler and Hammett to Jim Thompson and Erle Stanley Gardner has been discussed at length on this list. By numerous people.

    If, as you say, you're not the moderator of this list, stop nagging me every time I post. And telling me what I should and should not discuss.

    > What attracted me to Parker's work initially was the broad spectrum of subjects he treated, societal questions, treated with intelligence and humanity.

    That's just scratching the surface. To me, he represented a distillation of everything that had gone before in the genre, from Chandler's unabashed romanticism, Hammett's terse fast-paced narrative tone and strong women, and Ross Macdonald and Thomas Dewy's concern and compassion for the young. He also brought back Spillane-style ass-kicking, but made it all unapologetically current. I know it's not really true, but in many ways he seemed like the first "modern" P.I. Of course, now he's not so modern, but when he first popped up, Spenser seemed like a very modern hero.

    After all, this detective DID wear running shoes.

    He gave us strongly written, intelligent (but often flawed) women characters that could have been right out of Hammett, and spun ethical and moral issues like a top (cf: MORTAL STAKES, EARLY AUTUMN, CEREMONY, DOUBLE PLAY, CHASING THE BEAR, SCHOOL DAYS, APPALOOSA, etc.)

    He reintroduced the sidekick (and a black one, at that) into detective fiction, ushered in a new, long-absent sense of regionalism into crime fiction (Boston?), and created a viable and long-standing significant other for his detective who existed as something more than a ditzy sounding board or a shallow (but attractive) game piece to be kidnapped or threatened every other book.

    He also brought sex between consenting adults into the genre and popularized the idea of adult relationships in crime fiction, as opposed to the adolescent rutting and expendable bed partners (Boinked in Chapter 6! Dead in Chapter 7!) that had become almost SOP for hard-boiled fiction.

    He brought back repartee and wise-cracks to the hard-boiled genre as well. Ones that were actually funny and were part of the character. and he gave us dialogue as sharp and punchy as Leonard's or Higgins'.

    At a time when Ross Macdonald's (and even John D. MacDonald's) teenagers and young people were starting to seem dated, Parker's throwaway kids suddenly seemed very fresh and current. Uncomfortably so, at times. EARLY AUTUMN, in particular, almost seems like EAST OF EDEN for a different age. (The last Spenser, THE PROFESSIONAL, is an even more obvious shout-out to Steinbeck).

    He also sold a ton of books (that's what commercial success means), and that's relevant and worthy of discussion because it meant people actually liked what they read, and that other writers -- or at least those who wanted to not just write books but sell them as well -- took notice.

    The explosion of blackand female P.I.s (and everything else P.I.s) was made possible by the re-emergence of the P.I. novel as something that was commercially viable. As Max Collins said, "... a lot of us in the 1980s and 90s were able to sell private eye novels because Bob Parker led the way.

    Sure, other writers of his era were also toying around with these things, and some of them were arguably better writers. But most of them disappeared after a few books, and certainly none of them had the lasting impact on the genre Parker had. After all, it's hard to claim to be a major influence if nobody's heard of you.

    Yes, other writers sell more, and some win bigger awards and attract more press (so-and-so's mother was murdered, you know), but it's hard to think of a single other mystery writer over the last thirty or forty years who's had as big an influence on the detective genre (or crime fiction at large) as Parker.

    Kevin Burton Smith Editor/Founder The Thrilling Detective Web Site
    "Wasting your time on the web since 1998."

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