In general , writers get better with experience. Their plots get more complex, the characters are more finely nuanced and the writing becomes more polished. For readers, it’s a pleasure to see writers develop and go from strength to strength. Occasionally, however, one does come across successful writers, very successful writers, are content to coast, relying on their past reputations for continued success.
One such writer is Robert B. Parker who has published more than 50 books over the past 35 years. He is best known for his series featuring Spenser, a Boston private investigator who sees himself as a chivalrous righter of wrongs. The Spenser books even led to a TV series starring Robert Urich that ran for two or three years in the mid -nineties.
Parker also writes two other series. One features Jesse Stone who was fired from the L.A.P.D for drunkenness and is now the Chief of Police in the mythical town of Paradise, Massachussetts. His drunkenness was brought on by his wife’s infidelity and, unfortunately for Jesse, she turns up in Paradise where she is a reporter at the local station. The other series features a woman P.I. , Sunny Randall, who is divorced from her husband, a member of an organized crime family, but is still in love with him.
The early Spenser books were good reading. There was some actual detecting done by Spenser and his shaven headed African American buddy with a single name, Hawk; Parker wrote with real feeling about Boston and there was a long running romance between Spenser and his girlfriend, Dr, Susan Silverman. Over time though the Spenser books have become an embarassment, a caricature of what they used to be. They have become thicker even though they probably contain fewer words than before. There is little description as they consist mostly of dialogue . The print is large, the chapters are short, the characters are cardboard and there is precious little plot. Mostly, Spenser and Hawk tailing people, threatening them, striking up temporary alliances with the Boston underworld when their interests are in common. The love talk between Spenser and Susan Silverman is supposed to be arch but it comes across as fatuous. The biggest mystery is how Spenser makes ends meet because most of his recent cases seem to be pro bono or at least they don’t seem to pay very much.
In a recent article in Mystery Scene magazine, Robert Parker is praised for being a writer who never insults the reader’s intelligence. I don’t think that is any longer true. In fact I don’t think that has been true for quite some time. Consider the plot of High Profile , the latest Jesse Stone mystery. A controversial talk show host, Walton Weeks, is found hanging from a tree on the outskirts of Paradise.A few days later, another dead body, that of a young woman, is discovered. Jesse is distracted from his attempts at solving the case because his ex-wife, whom he is still in love with, is being stalked and turns to him for help. Unable to baby sit her 24/7 Jesse enlists the aid of Sunny Randall , the Boston P.I he’s having an affair with. Imagine that! Having your girlfriend bodyguard your ex-wife whom you still have the hots for !! How believable is that ? I would call that insulting the reader’s intelligence, wouldn’t you ?
(To be continued)