Today is Robert B. Parker's birthday. I just read the paperback of Hundred-Dollar Baby, the return of April Kyle. In recent years Parker has tried various techniques to freeze Spenser's age, but this book is once again filled with cultural and period markers, from the Red Sox 2004 championship to iPods to Paris Hilton. The story is grounded in the now, yet Spenser doesn't seem too old. The dialog doesn't seem as repetitive. One wonders why Parker ever shied away from such markers.
Parker's output shows no signs of slowing; however, I believe I've hit on the most crucial element missing from his recent books. Many have made the point that Parker no longer writes mysteries. His culprits are revealed fairly early, and you know his heroes will succeed in the end. The lack of mystery doesn't concern me as much as the lack of urgency.
Parker's protags conveniently get as much time as they need to solve a case. In recent books, Spenser and Hawk have been shot almost to death, but have taken a year off to recover and picked up the trail. I think this is because Parker needed time to see where the plot was going. Because he no longer plans ahead or revises, he can't take full advantage of a classic suspense-building technique—the ticking clock. Parker's books, though physically shorter, read needlessly longer.
Time pressure is a basic component of reality, and the lack of it has relegated Parker's once thought-provoking books to escapist beach reads. What self-respecting professional couldn't complete all his tasks given unlimited time?