Monday, March 12, 2012

R.I.P Robert Parker & "Spenser"

I have just recently finished the 39th (and the last) “Spenser” novel completed by Robert B. Parker before his death in 2010 and I’m sorry to report that Susan Silverman, Spenser’s “main squeeze,” is still alive and well and annoying as ever.

 I discovered Parker (and Spenser) in the late 70s after he won the Edgar Award for the 4th Spenser novel, PROMISED LAND. It was witty, sarcastic – funny!! - and introduced a character named Hawk who was a stone-cold (but v-e-r-y cool) hired killer. So I went back and read the previous books. Everything was fine until novel #12, A CATSKILL EAGLE. That novel was so wrong … and the blame can be entirely placed on Susan Silverman. She gets kidnapped and Spenser, with Hawk’s assistance, goes to extreme lengths to rescue her. He even becomes an assassin for the Federal government! It was the first hint of what was to become the ruin of a great mystery series – Susan’s prediliction to over-analyze everything and bring the story to a screeching halt!

Over the next 20+ novels, the Susan chapters became more annoying and cloying and you begin to wonder what the hell Spenser sees in this high-maintenance woman. For someone supposedly so smart, she does stupid things. For someone who claims to be so in touch with Spenser’s psyche, she’s constantly badgering him to “look at himself.” Soon, their conversations became nothing more than parodies of their earlier conversations. So, I just started skipped the Susan chapters.

All this leads to the last Spenser novel (but maybe not, the Parker estate has announced Ace Atkins will writer more Spenser novels … uuGGG!. Ask Margaret Mitchell how well that has worked out.) which gives me mixed emotions. In one way I am relieved that I will never have to read another Spenser/Susan scene, but I am also sad that I will never again get those great scenes between Spenser and Hawk. Like this scene when black Hawk and white Spenser discuss the name of black client they are going to see. To them, his name sounds suspiciously made up.

HAWK: "Name don't sound like no brother."
SPENSER: "Maybe he changed his name."
HAWK: "What do you think his real name is?"
SPENSER: "Old Black Joe?"
HAWK: "Mostly they ain't naming us that no more."

Robert B. Parker
The Spenser novels are filled with small little scenes like that. Great wry banter between the characters. As anyone who writes fiction can tell. Anyone can create a plot, but creating characters through dialogue is the mark of a master. And Parker was a master. It is his enduring legacy as a mystery writer.

So, rest in peace, Mr. Parker, you gave us about 15 great Spenser novels, and the rest of them … well, they have Susan Silverman in them waaay too much to be recommended. 


TuxGuys said...

Susan is Spenser's Safe Haven... perhaps you'll be fortunate enough, in your future life, to require a Safe Haven... and have one.

asianbooblover said...


i read your article with joy as I discovered that i was not the only person who disliked the Susan Silverman character in the Spenser novels. I found her completely obnoxious, and Spenser's idolatry of her sophomoric and juvenile. I quite reading the Spenser series to avoid skipping whatever chapters she appeared in. No one is that irresistible and that brilliant.

Dave- Oakland, California

Juha Nusreddin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Juha Nusreddin said...

I first read your comments before getting to Catskill Eagle; and agreed with the first commenter (TuxGuys) and thought 'why are you so hard on Susan?' Now I've read the novel which I liked right up until they actually rescued her. Boy I shifted to Dave (above) and your side completely after that. They rescue Susan going through all this shhhhhi-aye-yai-yai because she wrote a desperate letter to Hawk. But in the immediate aftermath she's uncertain who she loves? She accuses Spenser of being overbearing throughout their relationship but is not sure she can escape feelings for this rich wicked a-hole who kept her as a bird in a gilded cage? What? Well, that was too much. The problems with the novels so far have been that the women characters (all of them) are written as being pretentiously overly wise while the two male leads are popeye-like in their hyper-machismo. It's too cartoonish all of which came to a head in this novel which, as I said, started out so well. I'll keep going but it seems like it might be a tough slog. Even though Robert Parker has written some memorable lines and characters and in no way do I want to not appreciate the groundwork that he laid, I much more enjoy the Michael Connelly Bosch character, which owes a debt to Parker's work in rebuilding the genre. Harry Bosch's relationships with women in particular seems much more grounded. I recommend the latter to anyone who has read and enjoyed Parker to some or a great extent. Cheers.