Monday, 30 May 2011

The genius of Robert B Parker

I've been wanting to write about Robert B Parker's books for a while. I've just read Sixkill, which I assume to be his last book as he sadly passed away last year, so I thought the time was right. I initially had a whole long-ass gushing post prepared, but I've tried to take example from the great man and pared it down to a few bullet points that highlight what's exceptional about his books.

  • Writing: It may seem starightforward, but the man could really write. Somebody once wrote about him that when he wrote not a word was wasted. It's the quality I admire most in his writing, not just the way he wrote- fluid, cogent, cohesive, manging to be literary without meandering into great woods of description, but his innate sense in knowing what to leave out. There's never anything unecessary included, it's just taut brilliance. It's best shown through his dialogue.
  • Genre: Parker's stories are essentially westerns transplanted into the body of Chandler's hard boiled private eye genre. They hark back to an era when even the villians had rules and codes by which they lived and were to an extent, men of their word. The men who feature in westerns and detective tales are not disimiliar in their charcteristics and values, tough, lone-wolf types, seemingly morally ambigious but with an inherent sense of right and wrong and Parker fused the genres effortlessly.
  • Ensemble cast: The Spenser books have one of the best ensemble casts in literature in my humble opinion. You have Hawk, Vinnie Morris, Martin Quirk, Frank Belson, Bobby Horse, Chollo, Bernard J. Fortunato, Teddy Sapp, the Grey Man. Writers often introduce recurring charcters in their books, but it's a testament to Parker's skill that they were almost always present in a narrative only when imperative to the plot, yet they never felt like cardboard characters, there's a sense of each personality. When they all came together in Potshot, it was unbridled awesomenss.
  • Ideology: Parker managed to weave in the threads of politics, gender, race and sexuality into his stories in an intelligent manner which never overwhelmed the narrative; the reader doesn't feel as if they're being preached to or being bludgeoned over the head withe author's thinly veiled ideology (*cough*Philip Pullman*cough*).
  • Hawk: There are no words to describe Spenser's best friend. Not to be mistaken for a sidekick, he is the id to Spenser's ego. Apparently in the USA  there have been a few TV movies made of the Spenser books, but in my mind there is no actor who could play Hawk, he's just bigger than that.

Sixkill is Parker at his simple best- witty banter, fist-fights and the marrying of psychology and morality. Spenser is hired once again by Rita Fiore to deduce whether an actor has actually murdered the girl he's accused of killing. Things get interesting when Spenser encounters the actor's bodyguard, a Cree called Sixkill.  Before he passed away, Parker stated his intention to introduce Sixkill as a regular character and with Hawk's absence from the last few books (it's been quite pointedly stated that he's in Central Asia), I can't help but think that Parker was building up to something. Regardless of whether you're a fan, this is a book worth reading. Parker was a writer of rare talent and consistency amidst a floatsam of mediocrity and I for one, shall miss him greatly.

'Oh ho,' I said.
'Oh ho?'
'Yes. Thats what you say if you're a top level sleuth and a clue falls out of a tree and hits you on the head.'
Hawk looked at Nevins.
'Honkies are strange people, Bobby'.

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