January 19, 2010
Taking a break from a project, I meant to just check my Twitter feed, and received the emotional gut punch of learning of the passing of Robert B. Parker.
In my twenties, I read quite a few hardboiled detective novels, thinking that Raymond Chandler, Jim Thompson, and Dashiell Hammett spoke to me in my semi-loner, I'm-my-own-man mindset. At least, I thought they did...until I watched Spenser: For Hire.
From there, it was a short leap to Parker's books, and for me, Spenser (with an S, like the poet) was maybe the first tough guy whom I could realistically aspire to be. Literate, smart, tough, with his own ethical code and exceptional culinary skills...in many ways, Spenser seemed to be the perfect template for a guy like me who was trying to find his identity, his values, his way of being in the world. Parker's writing resonated with me on a much deeper level, since he just didn't write about crime, but he wrote about people and relationships, with all their complexities.
One key example is my favorite Parker novel, Early Autumn, in which Spenser provides a troubled young man guidance, helping the boy determine his own needs and desires. What could have easily been a trite novel becomes a very strong, character-based study not only of a man willing to live up to his own code of honor, but a young person breaking free of the dysfunctional styles of his parents.
(I also have to admit, Parker's prose is the type that looks very easy to write...until you actually try to do it. I was inspired to try to create my own mystery character in college. I have a nice large pile of rejection slips to show that just because something looks easy, it takes a lot of effort to make it seem easy. Perhaps the only two things that Spenser has influenced in me is a strong urge to visit Boston...and a love of beer)
In recent months, I've been on something of a Parker renaissance, enjoying Parker's novel of Young Spenser entitled Chasing the Bear (with a one line summary of Spenser's moral philosophy that's short yet eloquent; the most recent Spenser novel entitled The Professional (which reads a lot like classic Parker), Early Autumn and I just finished reading Promised Land. (My next Parker novel for review will be Ceremony, but only because I recently read the sequel, Hundred-Dollar Baby.
In short, I could talk about how Parker single-handedly saved the detective genre...but I won't. I will say that I think Parker's novels are worth reading and rereading...and that someone ought to adapt one of them as a graphic novel. Maybe I'll take up that task.
Anyway, it's worth adding to my collection of rejection letters.
RIP, Robert B. Parker. You'll be missed.