Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Spenser Speculation

It's rumored that Robert B. Parker wanted to kill off Spenser in Valediction (1984) but his publisher talked him out of doing so. I wonder...

I'm not saying Parker should have killed Spenser, but what if he had stopped writing him for a while and concentrated on other projects/possible series (as Robert Crais, Dennis Lehane, and Harlan Coben have done). Then when Spenser returned, fans might be more eager than ever to see him.

If Parker couldn't refresh Spenser with new ideas, perhaps a hiatus from writing him would have done the trick. Of course, it's possible Parker's readers and/or publisher have demanded a new Spenser every year. And it's possible if Parker stopped writing Spenser, he'd have trouble starting up again.

Comments?

14 comments:

Graham said...

Well, Lawrence Block felt like he'd used up Matt Scudder in EIGHT MILLION WAYS TO DIE, but he was able to come back with a different approach in WHEN THE SACRED GINMILL CLOSES.

Yeah, I think changing things up would have helped the Spenser series. I am not one of those who feels that characters need to grow and develop - after all even Philip Marlowe didn't change until THE LONG GOODBYE - but judging just by entertainment value, the later Spenser books have not measured up.

(Though I am not a Spenser expert!)

JD Rhoades said...

We all know who needs to die in that series, and it's not Spenser.

Jim Winter said...

There are times I wonder if, assuming you don't count Sunny Randall, Susan Silverman is really a plump, grey-haired, middle-aged woman who only keeps Spenser around because he still sees her as she was in her late twenties.

If a story were written from Susan's point of view, might we find out that Spenser not only exaggerates, but hasn't been able to do a one-handed push-up since before Ford pardoned Nixon.

Anonymous said...

Jim Winter, you made me laugh. Spenser has been a paragon of early middle-aged manhood for three decades now.

I think Parker is damned if he does/doesn't with Spenser. Any radical deviation from the 'standard' elements of the series would be met with the howls of legions of fans. Seems like his other series and recent extra-genre work may be his way of dealing with wanting to move away from those elements.

Gerald So said...

I think Parker is damned if he does/doesn't with Spenser. Any radical deviation from the 'standard' elements of the series would be met with the howls of legions of fans.

I agree it's probably too late now for Parker to make changes, but back when Valediction came out, any formula to the series was less established.

I'm not suggesting he make any changes at that point, just that a break from writing Spenser then would have created suspense--"Will Spenser be back? What shape will he be in?"--without Parker having to write a word. And when the character did come back, fans might be even more excited.

Given that even in his non-Spenser series and standalones Parker never has departed from the themes of manliness and enduring love, can we be sure fans wouldn't like a departure?

raymondomagnifico said...

"I agree it's probably too late now for Parker to make changes, but back when Valediction came out, any formula to the series was less established."

I think some folks have always wanted something different from Parker and Spenser. Books that are now considered "classic" Spenser certainly had their detractors. The first few books were dismissed as Chandler pastiches;Judas Goat was called a bad James Bond imitation; Valediction critcized for focusing too much on Spenser's emotional pain, etc, etc.

Parker's always been up front about his writing in that he does it to a) pay the bills and b)talk about things he wants to talk about.

I don't disagree with your suggestion that a break might have been good for Parker and his readers, but I think it would have been risky to do so at the time of Valediction. I seriously doubt that he had any intention of killing off the only character he was writing at the time, and form quite awhile afterward.

I get the feeling, and this is just my opinion, that Parker nowfeels comfortable enough to both have a little fun with the Spenser formula, e.g., the Magnificent Seven homage, and explore some other aspects of the themes he likes to visit with other characters or standalones.

Gerald So said...

...I think it would have been risky to [take a break] at the time of Valediction.

I agree it would have been risky, but no more risky than what he'd already done, separating Spenser and Susan for two books. You're right he couldn't have pleased everyone, but I would've liked to see him continue to err on the side of taking risks with his characters.

raymondomagnifico said...

Not so sure separating Susan and Spenser was so much risky writing as Parker working through a similar separation in his own life.

I know this is just noodling but, out of curiosity, what different/risky developments would you have liked to see?

Gerald So said...

Not so sure separating Susan and Spenser was so much risky writing as Parker working through a similar separation in his own life.

True, but a separation was nonetheless risky for the characters. He hasn't taken a chance like that since. Spenser was shot in Small Vices, but who didn't think he'd come back from that?

Parker could have done any number of things similar to planting doubt in Spenser and Susan's relationship. He could have put Hawk more at odds with Spenser, he could have made Quirk less tolerant of Spenser getting involved in police business, and so on.

Dave White said...

The problem now--I think--is that Parker has so Spenser-centrified his universe that no one hates him. I would love to find a way Hawk and Spenser could be at odds again. Ultimately, Hawk is still a hitman, but he rarely seems to be killing people except for anyone Spenser needs killed. In fact, one of the best moments in one of the novels was when someone tried to hire Hawk to kill Spenser and Hawk turned him down, then went and told Spenser. I thought that was very clever, but it's happened a few time since, if I remember correctly.

I've long said that the only way to shake up the Spenser world is to have Hawk kill Susan and send Spenser on a rampage of revenge. But everyone in the novels loves Susan, so that could never happen. Isn't the Gray Man even on Spenser's side now?

raymondomagnifico said...

I've long said that the only way to shake up the Spenser world is to have Hawk kill Susan and send Spenser on a rampage of revenge.

Now that would definitely be a departure!

Since Hawk's criminial activities have taken a back seat to his status as Spenser's backup (and warped double), Parker has introduced several more overtly criminal characters who, in turn, have also shown a more noble side.

This is starting to sound like someone's thesis!

Gerald So said...

...Parker has introduced several more overtly criminal characters who, in turn, have also shown a more noble side.

But is this a good thing? I prefer the grayer, less categorizable Spenser (and Hawk) of the past.

raymondomagnifico said...

I can't say if it's good, but I think we're back to the damned if you do/don't argument.
Hawk's a self-described thug.
Vinnie's a shooter for a mob boss.
Both have backed Spenser to the detriment of their "careers."
When Parker highlights this dichotomy, it's "same old same old." When he doesn't beat us over the head with the fact that, for instance, Hawk's a stone killer, the characters are going soft.

Gerald So said...

When Parker highlights this dichotomy, it's "same old same old." When he doesn't beat us over the head with the fact that, for instance, Hawk's a stone killer, the characters are going soft.

I see your point, which is why I think Parker ought to have taken a break from Spenser. That way at least the same old same old wouldn't seem so old. :)