Monday, January 14, 2013

The Flipside

In an entry last week, I cited Robert B. Parker's Spenser series as violent fiction offering positive inspiration. It's only fair I bring up one of the series' negative messages.

I mentioned that Spenser and Hawk have strategies to keep their use of violence in check. Hawk is no less a criminal, a leg-breaker, a killer, yet, after his first appearance in Promised Land (1975), he and Spenser haven’t clashed wills. Their past as young boxers on the same card may explain why Hawk has become Spenser's most trusted backup; it doesn't explain why many of the rest are killers he hasn't known as long. Every one has a code of honor like Spenser's, yet their principles don't prevent them from lives of crime.

Critics point out that working with killers lets Spenser's hands stay comparatively clean. I can only guess his logic for teaming up is, "They may be bad guys, but they're helping me do some good in this case."

I distinguish killers—people who train solely to kill for personal gain—from policemen and soldiers, who may be forced to kill in the line of protective duties. No matter how honorable, killers are killers, and Parker's message of honor would be better delivered if Spenser clashed with them more often.

Still, if we come away from the series questioning the morality of working with killers, it has served a positive purpose.

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