Spenser in "Back Story" - has Parker wound down?

I’m a big fan of the Spenser series by Robert B. Parker. I was eager to read “Back Story,” because (a) it was new, and (b) it would be a chance to reverse the subtle downward slide of the series lately.

Only (b) turned out to not be so. In fact, I thought it was sort of the anti-(b).

Everything about this series is comfortable and fits. But it’s breaking no new ground. Frankly, I thought Parker was at his peak in “A Catskill Eagle,” in which he took chances with his characters. But the novels lately don’t take any chances; they just revisit the same narrative ground.

I’m not asking for a Christie-style “Curtain” ending… but it’d be nice to read something new.

  • Rick

I haven’t read the newest one, but honestly, I’m really not very egar to. Spenser hasn’t been what it was for a long while now. He’s always been a smug jerk, but recently he’s been reached superhuman levels of smugness and self-satisfaction.

The problem is just he’s . . . pefect. His judgement is perfect, his ethical decisions are pefect, he has the perfect girlfriend, the perfect best friend, perfect working relationships with the cops, perfect relationship with his adoped son, perfect everything. Whatever he does or thinks will be finally be justified at the end, and whatever method he uses will have been correct, once all the cards are on the table.

Even the minor details of his life have been smoothed out over the years. It’s dull. Not only is nothing going to change, nothing perticularly bad is going to happen.

More recently, too, his world’s been polarizing into white hats and black hats. It’s not enough for Susan’s ex-husband to be a bit of a jerk, for instance. He has to be a monster now.

‘My name is Sherri, and I’m a hard boiled detective!’

Funny. I’m a huge fan of Spenser, but the whole “Catskill Eagle” fiasco still leaves a funny taste in my mouth. Even when that “Lochinvar” idiot showed up briefly in this one, I hated being reminded of it.

I do think that parker has sort of written Spenser into a corner. By that I mean that Spenser has managed to either turn all of the other thugs/hitmen over to his side, or he is on good enough terms with them that they won’t make a move against him.

I also miss the descriptions of food, those were gorgeous.

I would love to have Parker write a novel about Hawk, giving some of his backstory etc.

Not always.

Candy Sloan ring a bell?

The blonde in LA, right? When was that one written? At least a decade ago, wasn’t it?

Maybe I didn’t phrase it right. He was always been larger than life, but recently he’s been godlike.

‘You can never have too much money or too many bullets.’

Now I agree. And that was kind of my point. Spenser was always heroic, which made for a good read… but he was not perfect.

Now, in contrast, it seems as though Parker loves his characters so much - he’s spent so much time and energy developing them to their fullest potential - that he is reluctant to challenge them.

That’s fine - it only means that they should retire. He can’t keep them pristine perfect and write engaging fiction at the same time.

I’ve never been a huge Spenser fan. Parker’s plots are always absurd, and he’s never been much of a storyteller. Parker’s one and only talent (and this is a heckuva GOOD talent to have) is for clever banter. Even Parker’s most absurd stories were often completely salvaged by Spenser’s wisecracks.

What can I say? As long as Spenser’s making me laugh, it’s fairly easy to overlook Parker’s preachiness, his politcal correctness, and his ridiculously implausible storylines.

Problem is, about midway through “A Catskill Eagle” Parker stopped trying to be funny, and started fancying himself an Important Writer. Ever since, the Spenser novels have been a snooze-fest, in my opinion.

The whole timeline left the borders of “Plausibility” a few decades back. In the early books (1970s), Spenser was a Korean War veteran. Assuming he was 16 and fought in the final fifteen minutes of the war, that makes him what? In his late 60s now? Still outrunning young hoodlums and beating the shit out of professional killers? Uh huh.

Well… initially, I think Parker based Spenser on Archie Goodwin, the wisecracking gumshoe who worked for Nero Wolfe. And just as Rex Stout never let Wolfe or Goodwin age, Parker has pretty much kept Spenser the same age.

This used to lead to absurdities in Stout’s stories, too. In “Too Many Cooks,” written back in the 1930s, there’s a black teenage boy working in the kitchen who provides Wolfe with vital information. Thirty years later, in “A Right to Die,” that same black boy was now a middle aged professor… but Goodwin and Wolfe hadn’t aged at all.

Actually, although Parker is a big Stout fan (he references Wolfe occassionally in his stories), he is on the record as stating that he objected to Stout keeping Wolfe and Archie the same age throughout the series. So I think it’s kind of amusing that Spenser hasn’t aged much either. Perhaps Parker figured out that a man in his 60s isn’t as fast as one in his 40s.

I agree that lately Spenser has gotten pretty boring. He and Suze are so perfect it makes my teeth hurt. Of course, ain’t nothing wrong with Hawk being perfect. He just is.

I’m sad to see Pearl the Wonder Dog aging, while no one else seems to be:(

My dad and I went to hear Parker speak about 15 years ago. My dad asked him if there would ever be a Spenser cookbook. Parker said that the idea was being kicked around. We’re still waiting.

What I found interesting about the whole aging thing was that he made such a big deal of it for 4-5 books (Spenser getting reading glasses, slowing down, not able to drink as much coffee, etc.). And now, it’s as though all that has disappeared. Just read “Widow’s Walk” (I only get 'em when they come out in paperback since then they match the rest I own), and it appears that to combat the aging problem, he’s gone to compressing novels into a shorter time. By which I mean that earlier novels used to occur a year or so apart, and now they’re only a couple of months or less in “Spenser time”. Is that the case with “Back Story”?