The Godwulf Manuscript; Robert B. Parker’s SPENSER Online Book Club

Finally finished this earlier today and I am eager to hear what others thought of this very first SPENSER novel. I will post more tomorrow afternoon after others have had a chance to comment first. I will say this though, the character and the story rhythms are more fully formed than I remembered them being right from the start.

What was your experience reading, or re-reading The Godwulf Manuscript?

I didn’t receive my homework assignment. . . was this posted about before? I might have participated.

It was!

And even toward the bottom of this one:

Sorry I was not able to get notification in front of you in a timely manner. Your comments and observations are still welcome, even if you have not read the work in some time.

So it was. I still miss things in the new forum format sometimes. Bummer.

My Kindle tells me that I’m 70% finished, so I’ll be able to participate fully soon.

Meanwhile, it was interesting going back to a Spenser book after not having read one for years. I don’t know if I ever read The Godwulf Manuscript previously; it’s not ringing a bell and I seem to recall Hawk as a character in everything I read, but he’s not in this one.

Anyway, the prose is better written than I recall. Either my reaction to his style has changed, or his first/early books took more care than he did later. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone stay so implacably on the level of absolute abstraction” - now that’s a great line!

I’ll be finished in the next 24 hours or so unless something comes up and will participate in this thread more then.

That was about where I was yesterday morning, maybe 80% at the most. Thank you for participating Carol, I know you are busy. But I am so eager to hear your thoughts!

I noticed that line also when Spenser first met Tabor. He also telegraphs his poets heart by noticing how different things look through rain, or from afar. More than later books I think (until his personal life becomes complicated - but let’s avoid that discussion for now in hopes this book club survives to that point in the series), he is more inside his own head than later on.

Hawk has a grand, a GRAND, introduction a few books down the line in Promised Land, and eventually he talks everything over with either him or Susan (who is pretty special in the very next book God Save The Child). Things have more of a consensus feeling after that, he tends to be a man alone in the world until those relationships develop.

As long as I am riffing off the top of my head and not trying to write any seriously organized thought, I noticed:
*Whenever a character is smoking a cigarette it is crumpled and wet looking, including Belson’s cheap cigars (but an attractive woman blowing cigarette smoke across any whiskey is very stimulating for him!)
*He is very, very good at empathy. For a Hard Boiled Noir kind of guy, he sure is good at seeing things from a victim’s point of view.
*He HATES stuffy, pompous educators and administrators. He respects knowledge but has a profound disdain for the trappings of higher education.
*His reluctance to resort to violence is strangely out of place with his hard boiled, smart alack attitude and nature. Not sure if that part of him is balanced by his inner poet or what. I think that is why he needed Hawk later on – a contrast (but a narrow one) to Spenser’s more ideal hard ass. (He also feels real regret when he does resort to violence!)

What observations do some of you others have?

I’ve read TGM twice, most recently as an audiobook a year or two back.

An interesting story, all in all, with the hoity-toity academic environment effectively contrasted with the seedy side of Boston organized crime and a rinky-dink Satanic cult. I thought it held up pretty well, although Parker was obviously still learning his craft and Spenser is not quite the person he is in later books. He’s more world-weary and less the delightful smartass of later books, as I recall. And, noticeably, he’s specified as being a Korean War veteran, a biographical detail that was eventually dropped so that he could be, like Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes and James Bond, essentially ageless.

My favorite line (just looked it up on Amazon) is in this passage, after he’s spoken to a reporter from the university’s student newspaper:

I got up and looked around the basement room. “Freedom of the sword is flaming sword,” I said. “Use it wisely, hold it high, guard it well.”
Iris Milford looked at me strangely. I left.

If I recall correctly, the descriptions of Quirk and Belson are essentially reversed from their portrayals in the (IMHO pretty good) TV series.

This book was so much better than I remembered it being. Having read the next eight or ten books more recently I really had an impression TGM was just Parker getting his feet wet – but he gets in and swims with sharks. The most surprising thing in the whole book was that the secretary he flirts with turns out to be Brenda Loring! Her appearance at the end of the book confused me, but more later.

The hook of the series has always been that the protagonist is a tall, good looking smart alack that was a prize fighter who gets underestimated because he also has the soul (and unofficial education) of a poet. In this book he is kind of hard boiled and cynical, and his sensitivity is shown by his reluctance to resort to violence. The one fault I have with the book is that he is kinda naive to be that guy. He ends up in situations where he has no option and no hope of prevailing. He also has no leverage or backup; that does not make for long or successful careers in this field. Also, he had the drop on two bad guys about to execute his important witness and he - - - says FREEZE! ??? He deserved to get shot. I am not saying that he should have gone full Han Solo and shot first, but he could have tried to leverage his secret presence into a less ridicules outcome. Of course, that did give him a chance to leave the hospital AMA and be tough as nails while seeing things through.

Seeing things through is the hallmark of Spenser as far as I am concerned and even here in the first outing he is true to form. I don’t recall him ever sending a final bill to anyone in the entire run of the series, but he spends fairly recklessly and he often collects retainers—two in this book alone. He never does it for the money; about two-thirds because it is the morally right thing to do, and the last third to prove to himself he CAN do it. Hard not to admire a guy like that (although it would be nice to hear he got paid by at least one of the parties that hired him – even better if the university had to admit he caused the return of the manuscript and also ponied up).

I loved the awkwardness of the exchange after sleeping with the mom in the library or study of the home but again thought the sex itself was ill advised and gratuitous. The not knowing how to address someone you have been intimate with was so vulnerable and human and touching. I felt waves of sympathy and identified with the being awkward. But I felt it was stupid to do that when the husband was likely to arrive home in the middle of it. Not that the husband would have been a threat to Spenser, but that it would have made the job even harder AND the wife obviously resented her husband and wanted to punish him. I think she was hoping he would come home and catch them in the act so he would be humiliated. It was just so shortsighted of Spenser to get used by the wife like that.

Phil was the character that eventually became Vinnie Morris. Phil was kind of a freak with deformities and he was taken down by another freak- the professor’s masculine wife. She was a certain mechanism of the gods as far as I am concerned. Spenser and the professor would have been over if not for her and maybe Quirk would have known – but Terry Orchard would have been ruined and Spenser would have been barely mourned.

My last observation for now is the end of the book. He is driving around with a beautiful young woman who has already slept with him and whom he states he cares about. They go for ice crème, and he buys her cigarettes and makeup. Then as they drive around, she goes from being an independent young woman he has rescued into a child who needs to be protected and nurtured by her parents. He drops her off without even walking her to the door knowing both of her parents are the worst influence in her life with a promise to be in touch in the future. Then he gets lonely and calls the girl he flirted with earlier and has no direct connection to. I do not understand this ending and assume it has more to do with Parker protecting his real life sons than Spenser the character. Now the girl ends up being Brenda Lorring who he sees for quite a while. But Terry was a very real person who admired him and whom he is both fond of and attracted to. It isn’t cradle robbing – they have already slept together. Perhaps my lack of formal education is holding me back from seeing a larger truth.

Except to say there are a hundred details in every Spenser book that make me feel deeply- that is about all I have to say. I am very interested in what the rest of you noticed and how it made you feel or think, and if it influenced you in the long term. (I am far more likely to wonder: ‘What would Spenser do?’, than I am to think ‘What would Jesus do?’)

Also in the early books he quotes things he learned from his mother. In middle and later books she died in child birth giving him life – kind of a tragic hero I suppose.

His disdain for academics remains throughout the series as far as I can recall, but he is often in future books, seen in the highest class dining rooms and the slummiest outskirts with equal aplomb. It is why I try to be as at home in bars as in churches in my own life. And as I have said before, if your life includes a woman as special as Susan, a friend as true as Hawk, and you helped raise a kid like Paul – you have a very full and satisfying life.

Hear, hear!

A few random thoughts…

*Spenser served in Korea. If he was 18 in 1953, and 37 in 1972, he would be 85 in 2020.
*Attorney Vince Haller. Related to Mickey Haller? Inspiration for Michael Connelly?
*$5 for 4 beers and 2 corned beef sandwiches!
*"Sometimes it felt like all the rooms I was ever in looked out onto alleys.” That’s a great line.

11:16 pm 22 November 2020

It just now occurred to me, after all these years that Spenser very seldom has any plan at all. Even when he is putting a big scam together (like in Promised Land) it is obvious that detailed planning is not his strong suit. That probably applied in a bigger sense also, he became a cop because he had the skill set after Korea. When that proved to be too restrictive for his personality – he quit and acquired a private license because that was the path of least resistance, the easy solution. There he was able to have success due largely to tenacity and persistence.

His whole life philosophy (as I have described it) fits very well with a portion of Australian comedian Tim Minchin’s nine life lessons – specifically his first lesson: “You don’t have to have a dream”. Minchin phrases it thusly:
“. . . . I advocate passionate dedication to the pursuit of short-term goals. Be micro-ambitious. Put your head down and work with pride on whatever is in front of you. You never know where you might end up. Just be aware the next worthy pursuit will probably appear in your periphery, which is why you should be careful of long-term dreams. If you focus too far in front of you, you won’t see the shiny thing out of the corner of your eye.”
Micro-ambitious is the very definition of Spenser’s life and work ethic. He focuses on the task at hand and doesn’t allow anything to distract him. He does not need a business plan, or anything of that nature. He has competence, willingness, and determination – that is what allows him to be flippant and a wise ass. He knows he can and he gets to choose if he will.

In this first book he is the raw material to be a very admirable man. He is moral and well read, he is tough but kind, he is compassionate, he is passionate, but he is a bit reckless. He needs what every hero needs, the love of a good woman. Don’t you wonder what might happen if he meets a nice Jewish girl and falls for her?

I hope to hear more from others, I might make more observations tomorrow when I am better rested, but I am so very interested in what some of you thought of this book.

I hadn’t read TGM in years. My memory of the plot was accurate, but plots aren’t really the point of RBP books, they’re more character and even moral driven. Not looking it up but I believe Parker actually said a book isn’t about the plot.
I remembered TGM as more of a warm up before Parker really got the rhythm of Spenser. I think that is true, but much less than I remembered.
Doesn’t quite have the wit, doesn’t quite have the confidence, is considerably more of a womanizer, works out at the Y and the paragraphs are MUCH longer than in later novels.
But a lot of the themes still were planted early - not a fan of academia, discussion of homosexuality was atypical for time, loner.
I thought we saw more of Brenda Loring than we did. I have long that it was a mistake for Spenser to focus on Susan so quickly and thought Brenda was actually a more interesting character. So far Brenda isn’t much of a character so that might be more my imagination.
TGM wasn’t the first Spenser book I read (I am saving that story for when we get to it). And honestly I’m not sure I would have become addicted if it had been, but it’s a stronger start than I had remembered.

I agree with every point you make. Did you have a favorite line, or chapter, or character? Personally, I loved the level of self delusion the professor showed. He believed himself to be the hero and the kingpin – but was an expendable dupe. He sort of embodied the notion that outside of school is the real world and college only seems deep and meaningful while you are there.

Hmmmmm. I know the scene where he rescues his client from the cult is the only one that stuck in my mind.
Phil seems like an early version of Vinnie Morris. Apparently Parker liked the character enough to rebirth him - with the same boss - as Vinnie.
I agree on Hawk’s entrance being a classic.

With the holiday upon us I thought I would give this one more bump to ask

Any additional observations?
Any interest in doing another book?

In all honesty I don’t think I’ll continue. It was a good idea but it didn’t really get off the ground. Thanks for the attempt though.

I’m glad to keep taking part. I’ve been rereading all of the Spenser books, in order, in recent years.

Shall we try God Save The Child next?
December 20th should give everyone a chance to secure and read the book by then, but that is the week of Christmas. Would the 13th or the 27th work better? Please let me know your thoughts.