Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The End?

One year ago today, Robert B. Parker died at age 77 "just sitting at his desk". Not all fans will agree with me, but I don't think Spenser should die with him. Iconic P.I. Philip Marlowe outlived Raymond Chandler in the short story collection, Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe: A Centennial Celebration and in Parker's commissioned continuation novel Perchance to Dream. Despite persistent criticism that Parker merely and quite intentionally imitated Chandler in creating Spenser, Spenser's well-adjusted, well-rounded personality distinguishes him. And there's no denying how many subsequent characters Spenser influenced. Love him or hate him, for at least the past twenty-five years, Spenser has been the iconic P.I.

It's true Parker complained about his lack of real involvement in ABC's Spenser: For Hire, similarly denounced the follow-up Lifetime movies, and insisted on scripting the mediocre A&E Spenser movies starring Joe Mantegna. Perhaps acknowledging those movies' cool reception, Parker finally gave Tom Selleck control of the CBS Jesse Stone movies and gave Ed Harris control of Appaloosa. I don't think he would keep anyone from continuing Spenser's legacy.

Yesterday, the title of Jeffery Deaver's James Bond novel was announced (Carte Blanche), as was the news that Anthony Horowitz would be writing a Sherlock Holmes novel. I'd love to hear Parker's heirs give their blessing to more Spenser novels, perhaps written by someone who followed Parker as faithfully as Gores followed Hammett or Collins followed Spillane.


Keith said...

I do disagree. Bond and Holmes aren't that interesting, dialogue-wise. There's no personality to them. Spenser's dialogue--including his narration--is who he is, and I don't think anyone else can write it.

The plots, sure. In a Spenser novel, who cares about the plot? But that singular angle of attack on his own thoughts, the erudition, the way he's tied to an era? No one else is going to accomplish that.

We've already got enough Spenser knockoffs. Spenser doesn't need to become one.

Bill Crider said...

I disagree, too. I don't mind reading the Holmes pastiches, and in fact I've written a few. But I've never been able to read the Nero Wolfe books by Robert Goldsborough. The may be wonderful, but they're not for me. Nor have I read the Bond novels not by Fleming. If anyone continues the Spenser books, I won't be in the audience.

C. N. Nevets said...

I think the question is, assuming a new novel would be done well and faithfully and capture much of the voice and spirit, would you still object to another author's continuing with Spenser, just on principle?

I wouldn't want to see it done badly, and I would like to see some measure of time before it is begun, but I don't see anything wrong with the idea, per se -- only with permitting work that tarnishes the legacy, as it were.

Kevin Burton Smith said...

With another Spenser on the way, and rumors of maybe one more in the bag, I'm in no rush for some hack to deface an icon.

I mean, sure, we might like someone like Crais or Coben to tackle Spenser, but we'd probably end up with some fan fiction hack.

Let's wait 40-50 years; then have this discussion.

Jonathan said...

I love the Spenser novels (my favorite being "Early Autumn"), but I think that asking a different author to continue them is a bad idea.

The biggest problem I see is that Spenser is already too old for his job. He started out being a Korean War veteran, and now, presumably in his forties, would be a Gulf War vet. Only problem is that he doesn't act like someone who grew up in the 1970s, he acts like someone who grew up in the 1940s.

I agree with Bill Crider above that the Goldsborough pastiches of Nero Wolfe are sad imitations of the Rex Stout books. I would hate for Spenser to suffer the same fate.

Gerald So said...

I see everyone's points. Maybe it's denial talking, but I'm not looking forward to the day there's no Spenser left.

In answer to Jonathan, a new Spenser novel wouldn't necessarily pick up at Spenser's current age. The non-Fleming Bond novels have jumped around in time.

Another point against continuing Spenser novels is that Parker pretty much explored every aspect of his life on a yearly basis, unlike the gaps Hammett left in Spade's life that Joe Gores filled in SPADE & ARCHER.

Jonathan said...

Gerald, the idea of a 34-year-old Spenser in the present day is interesting, like the Casino Royale movie, but don't you think that part of the charm of his interactions with Susan stems from the time he grew up in?

Maybe you mean, of course, that we could go back and revisit Spenser in the late 70s. That would be another option.

Gerald So said...

Yes, I meant a return to the 70s-80s era Spenser. I agree that it's difficult to update him, as Spenser: For Hire tried to do, making him a Vietnam vet.

Rick Helms said...

As one of that sizeable group of authors who have created characters Pelecanos once decried as the "sons of Spenser", and a thirty-year fan of Bob Parker's work (he even provided a cover blurb for one of my novels), I can write just like him. I've even done it, on occasion. I'd love the opportunity to contribute to the Spenser canon.

Having said that, I really think Spenser should end with Parker. While there are a number of authors who may be able to produce reasonable facsimiles of Parker's work, they would be just that--facsimiles. I could see, perhaps, a tribute short story anthology of some kind, but the main line of Spenser novels should come to an end now that his creator has passed on. I believe that this was Bob Parker's wish, in that he stated at least once in an interview, that Spenser would die with him.

Anyone who reads Parker's earliest works can tell that he ascribed to Chandler's dictum that one learns to write by "analyzing and imitating." THE GODWULF MANUSCRIPT is basically a Philip Marlowe novel with a different protagonist, which figures since Parker was a Chandler scholar who built his own doctoral dissertation around Chandler's work (along with Hammett's and Macdonald's). As time went on, however, Parker innovated on the Chandler style, producing that distinctive Parker style that peaked with A CATSKILL EAGLE, before he took another creative turn and began to work on a leaner, more minimalist style that marked the last fifteen books or so of the series.

I think be best tribute aspiring authors could offer Parker would not be to extend the Spenser series beyond its natural lifespan, but rather to learn from Parker, imitate his style, and then use that to develop their own voices--perhaps, in the process, allowing one or more of them to become the next great wave in PI literature.

Gotta boogie. Things to write.