Monday, September 15, 2014

What if Robert B. Parker...?

© by Gerald So | | 9:00 A.M.

Last week I joined a discussion on 4 Mystery Addicts about Robert B. Parker's first Spenser novel, The Godwulf Manuscript. With it, Parker was admittedly trying to copy Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe but transplant him to early 1970s Boston. Notably absent from the book are Susan Silverman and Hawk, who would become series stalwarts.

The discussion touched on some later books, and I realized my investment in Spenser and Susan's relationship deeply affects my opinion of the series. To other readers, the relationship is and always has been trivial, but to me it was what set Spenser above characters like him. Work didn't consume him. He had a life.

From books two to eleven, Parker played out the ups and downs of Spenser and Susan working on their relationship: he the intuitive, self-professed "literate thug", she the classic analytical academic. In book seven, A Savage Place, Spenser cheated on Susan with Candy Sloan, a reporter he met in Los Angeles. Candy died in the same book, and Spenser and Susan made up, but book ten, The Widening Gyre, began a three-book arc in which Susan moved away, broke up with Spenser, and found a new lover, Russell Costigan. Costigan turned out to be an abusive villain from whom Susan had to be rescued.

I've always wondered: What if Candy Sloan lived? What if Susan's new lover were a decent man and Spenser did the honorable thing, let her go permanently? If either or both happened, I would have found it more nuanced and believable than the rescue in book twelve, A Catskill Eagle, and the relatively unchallenged relationship in Parker's last twenty-seven Spenser books.

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