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« Orc logic | Main | Mannion sees Parker's Boston »


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Parker's been phoning it in for quite a while now. Even in the Spenser novels, the female characters have become either whores who want his manly essence, which belongs only to Susan, or tough-guy compadres who still want his manly essence, they just understand it belongs to Susan. The nadir was probably "Pot Shot" (I think), where Parker baldly re-wrote "The Magnificent Seven."

The early Spenser books are great: funny, sharp, fast-moving. Lately, Parker's been like Patricia Cornwell--every book will sell a million, so why bother to stretch?

Also, he's done the "butch-gay-guy-who-can-kick-your-ass-but- 'wow'-what-a-sense-of-humor" so often that it's become its own cliche.

Exiled in NJ

I wrote almost the same complaint about Burke's Dave Robichaux in a mystery newsletter on line. Bayou Dave is always going back to 1957 and some obscure Jimmy Clanton song. I'd be reading, entranced by the crooks and sidekicks Burke would create, then all of sudden it would seem like I was in a bar listening to Dave grouse over his life.

I would love to see a fight between Hawk and Burke's Cletus McBride.

I take it you have given Parker absolution for finishing "Poodle Springs."

Kevin Wolf

"But I think what I really don't like about the Stone novels is that in them Parker has given himself license to indulge all the tough guy detective cliches he either avoids or undercuts with humor in the Spenser novels, including the license to write sloppily."

I happen to think there's some great writing in the detective genre (I'll mention Chandler and leave it at that for now) and no more sloppy writing than in any other genre. So, this sounds a little unfair to me.

I live in Boston and was just at that same corner of the common recently. Strange to read that excerpt. (Though, sorry, I haven't read any Parker other than one novel 20+ years ago.) Almost as strange as when I lived in Long Island City/NYC, and in one of Patricia Highsmith's thrillers read of a character going out on the train to Ditmars Blvd. That was my stop!



I didn't mean to dis detective fiction. I know there have been a lot of great writers working the beat, Chandler, of course, and the two MacDonalds, John D. and Ross, and when Parker was on top of his game he was one of the very best. I've done a couple of posts on my favorites, although this one is the only one whose title I can recall right now.

And you're right, there are cliches and bad writing in every genre, including what's called "serious" fiction. The mark of good writing is how well the writer avoids the cliches inherent in the form their working in. In the Stone novels, Parker doesn't avoid them as well as he does in the best Spensers; in fact, he seems to actually embrace them.


There was a period when I was ready to give up on Spenser. Thin Air was the nadir. But I think he recovered with Hush Money and has done pretty well ever since---well, except for PotShot, which you are very right about. None of the last five or six have been as good as the stuff from the Rachel Wallace days, but I really liked HM, Bad Business, and Widow's Walk. You've definitely identified one of the big weaknesses of the Spenser books though.


Burke is one of the writers I had in mind when I was writing about self-pitying detectives. I'd enjoy reading your essay. Is it online?

Anne Laurie

Sorry, Lance - Parker is on my list of "ought to read, someday" mystery writers; I read one Spenser novel in the mid-90s and it didn't take my fancy enough to encourage me to hunt down any others. And I live north of Boston, but my town is a land-locked little burg where the population goes from 100,000 to almost 500,000 on workdays, because we're still doing light industry, small-scale manufacturing, and barely-white-collar cubicle farms. (You know you live in a blue-collar town when the high-school teams proudly bear the name "Tanners", after the hard dirty industry upon which it was founded.) Mostly I read for characters, not plot, which made it easy to develop a taste for mysteries -- but always I read with an ingrained Irish skepticism, so I'm more interested in those mysteries where the characters maintain a certain detachment; not irony exactly, but the sense that one is always, to one degree or another, involved in a performance of one sort or another. On the other hand, I'm not fond of whimsy, or Dorothy Sayers. I've been a fan of Donald Westlake since the mid-1960s, when I was just moving into double-digit birthdays, and I love Dortmunder dearly, but I've never been able to finish one of his Richard Stark books. Similarly, I preferred John D. MacDonald's non-serial mysteries to the Travis McGee books, and Ross MacDonald to John D., and Ross' wife Margaret Millar's mysteries to either. I think you're right that the "Tough Guy Detective" genre is rooted in a kind of self-indulgence, a voice where the main character (historically the narrator) is so involved with his own psyche and his own troubles that details like supporting characters and plot details are scanted. I adore George V. Higgins, for instance, except for the Jerry Kennedy books -- and Jerry was the closest Higgins got to a Tough Guy Detective, as well as the character probably most like Higgins himself.


Here's a plug for Nero Wolfe. Stout never seemed to write in clich├ęs, at least not that I could detect.

I agree with Annie that the non-McGee books were the better ones from John D. I find myself rereading those once in a while, which is not something I do with the Busted Flush owner.

Davis X. Machina

When I was twenty-three, and living alone in Atlanta, far from any friends or family (born on Dorchester), I used to read George V. Higgins novels all the time, just for the dialogue.

And I saw The Verdict four times. The Paul Newman character wore his BC class ring everywhere, like my dad, and the long shots down G Street in Southie made me cry.

I was that homesick.



If I could be any character in fiction, I'd be Archie Goodwin.

Anne, I'm with you on Ross MacDonald and Higgins. We've got some differences on McGee and Lord Peter.


I know what it's like to miss Boston that much. And I've read Higgins to feel like I was back home.


If you like Wolfe and Archie, here's a fan site. Honesty compels me to admit I helped a little with the "Wolfe's Reading List" section.

Exiled in NJ

I recall that the McGee's I liked had Meyer in them; the ones where he worked alone were not as good. In reality, I tend to dislike series detectives, Marlow and the procedurals of Martin Beck being the exception. Even the great MacDonald fell into the habit of using the same plot device, the deeply buried secret, too often.

The Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine psychological novels are by far the best mysteries written in the latter half of the last century. Higgins was interesting for he did not concentrate on one character. "The Friends of Eddie Coyle" must be the most underrated film of the 70's.

I recall the shock when reading Nicolas Freelings third or fourth van der Valk mystery when I realized the author was going to bump off his detective. I only wish others had the same courage.

Lance, Here is a link that may or may not work. Note the comment that Robichaux might be based on the Robert Mitchum remakes of Marlowe stories in the 70s. Also, see the comments on Westlake. Ironically, the piece is titled "mailing it in"


I have to confess, for a person who reads so many mysteries, I don't really like the genre as a whole that much. I think it actually works much better as a film genre than as a written one. I've read a few Parker books and I came away with a ho-hum feeling (same with a lot of the other "luminaries" in the mystery biz - Lawrence Block, P. Cornwell, Paretski etc.). Not bad, but nothing hugely interesting anymore.

I do like the more outrageous of the noir school - David Goodis in particular, Cornell Woolrich and Jim Thompson. In reality, these guys don't write mysteries so much as crime novels. I also like Joe R. Lansdale's mysteries (The Bottoms and A Fine Dark Line) as well as Laura Joh Rowland and Robert v. Gulik

Anne Laurie

Burritoboy, if you like Cornell Woolrich, you should try Ruth Rendell and Margaret Millar. They're good at the same fine sense of claustrophobic dread -- the simultaneous feeling, on the part of the protagonist, that one is pursued by a malign and brutual fate whose punishment has also, somehow, been earned if not courted...

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