Saturday, September 30, 2023

Fifty Years of Spenser

© by Gerald So | 5:30 AM

2023 is the fiftieth anniversary of fictional Boston private eye Spenser's debut in The Godwulf Manuscript. Earlier this week the website CrimeReads marked the occasion with an essay by L. Wayne Hicks, including quotes from creator Robert B. Parker's late widow Joan, his older son David, Spenser: For Hire developer John Wilder, and continuation authors Ace Atkins and Mike Lupica.

For those new to all this, in The Godwulf Manuscript, Spenser was an update of Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe, but with book two, God Save the Child (1974), Parker began to set him apart, having him meet psychiatrist Susan Silverman, with whom he would have an enduring romance. In book four, Promised Land (1975), Parker introduced legendary legbreaker Hawk, one of Spenser's oldest friends, a reminder how close good and evil can be.

I started reading Spenser in 1993, eclipsing my memory of Spenser: For Hire. In 2001 I created an email discussion of Parker's works and legacy, Spenser's Sneakers, moderating it until 2018. The perks have included writing a tribute to Parker for a 2007 lifetime achievement award, interviewing Ace Atkins two days after his 2011 announcement as continuation author, and advance-reviewing the Spenser sequels..

Spenser's appeal is his relatability, how he reflects his time and place and tries to apply his morals. Yet as the character grew popular, Parker blurred Spenser's age, place, and time to prolong the series. In the late 1990s, he created series led by small-town police chief Jesse Stone and female P.I. Sunny Randall, but said he would keep writing Spenser books "until a) I die, or b) no one buys them."

By contrast, Ace Atkins capped his run at ten sequels. Featuring a Spenser aged into his fifties, his plots were inspired by true crime and he depicted place accurately, restoring relatability.

Mike Lupica steps into Spenser this November with Robert B. Parker's Broken Trust. Before the promotion, he ably emulated Parker in four Sunny Randall and three Jesse Stone sequels. His writing in Spenser's voice, though, is less flowing than Parker's or Atkins'. His Spenser is also quick to explain poetic remarks. These changes lessen my enjoyment, but they may make Spenser more accessible to people not as steeped in poetry. That might boost sales and create demand for further Spenser.

Similarly, Netflix's 2020 picture Spenser Confidential didn't aim to please Spenser readers; it aimed to draw Mark Wahlberg fans. Maybe they'd read Spenser from there, maybe not. How many more books, TV shows, movies can there be? The market will decide.

Monday, September 25, 2023

David McCallum dies

© by Gerald So | 10:00 PM

Venerable actor David McCallum, most recently of TV's NCIS, died this morning aged 90. McCallum made a lasting impression on me as The Man From UNCLE's Ilya Kuryakin, pairing gravitas with Robert Vaughn's levity and sending the aspirational message that in a time of cold war, agents from all over the world could cooperate for the greater good.

Later his one-of-a-kind presence on NCIS helped the show draw older viewers. I think the secret to the show's success is characters of every generation—Ducky, Gibbs, DiNozzo, McGee, Palmer, Bishop, Kasie—respectfully working together.

Mastodon Update

© by Gerald So | 4:00 AM

As Elon Musk floats the idea of a monthly fee for all X users, free open-source social networking software Mastodon has rolled out version 4.2.0, with noticeably improved search features letting users find friends and posts by entering key words, phrases, date ranges, or hashtags.