Like Robert B. Parker, Stuart Woods has been a very prolific and successful writer. Over the past 30 years, he has written 35 books. His first novel Chiefs won a MWA ( Mystery Writer’s of America) Award and he has attracted a loyal following which consistently places his books on the best seller list. He has no less than three series featuring Stone Barrington, Holly Barker and Will Lee and it looks like he’ll add one more featuring the New Mexico based lawyer, Ed Eagle. The early books were page turners. The story line was not particularly complex and the protagonists were not quite believable but Woods had ( and still has) the gift of moving the story along quickly. However, in recent times, the novels have deteriorated markedly as Woods continues to pump out novels at the rate of two and three a year.
His most successful series stars Stone Barrington who retired young from the NYPD because of a bullet wound. Since then, Stone has acquired a law degree and works as a investigator cum lawyer for the law firm of Woodman and Weld, handling the ‘dirty’ work that W &W would rather not do themselves. Holly Barker began as a police chief in Cold Harbor, a little town in Florida, but ‘acquired’ a couple of million that now sits an offshore account and she now works for the FBI. As such, her path sometimes crosses that of Stone Barrington and she has occasionally warmed his bed. Stone is quite the philanderer and usually beds a couple of dames, gorgeous naturally, in the course of a book.
Stone has few qualities that are commendable. His big thing seems to be hanging out at Elaine’s, the trademark Manhattan nightspot, sucking down Knob Creek bourbon and polishing off steaks in the company of his ex-partner NYPD Lt. Dino Bracetti. He has been through so many women that I can’t keep count and he has expensive tastes that often leave him desperately short of cash.
Fresh Disasters, the latest Stone Barrington novel, begins with Stone dining at Elaine’s with Dino Bracetti and Bill Eggers, his boss at Woodman and Weld. Herbie Fisher, a young, stupid ne’er do well, is beaten up by some mafiosi who are trying to collect on a gambling debt. Dino intercedes and saves Herbie and Bill Eggers decides that it would be good publicity for W&W to sue the mafia chieftain Carmine Dattila on Herbie’s behalf. Stone is forced to take the case since he is facing a cash crunch and can’t losing the law firm’s retainer. How believable a plot is that ? By the end of the novel, Stone has gotten Herbie Fisher off the hook, replenished his coffers with millions thanks to his fee in a messy divorce case, helped ‘solve’ a nasty murder and is in bed with a curvaceous girl friend ( his third in this book, no less). As always, Dino and the NYPD are there to help. In earlier books,Stone has been able call on the FBI and the CIA for assistance.
With a plot so implausible , the book is like a mystery for juveniles and yet, readers seem to lap these books up. As of 2008, Woods plans to write 3 books per year at the request of his publishers.What is it about these books that readers like ?
I think that male readers aspire to the kind of life lived by Stone– living in a Manhattan brownstone, driving a fancy car, piloting an airplane , throwing money around, boozing it up at swank restaurants , climbing into bed with a succession of lovelies etc. The uncomplicated plot is actually a plus since it doesn’t tax the brain too much and one is swept along by the action. What women readers see in these books I don’t know.
In the case of Parker’s books, I can only imagine that readers see themselves in the role of Spenser, the chivalrous knight errant rescuing the damsel in distress and that they like the Boston setting of the books. It looks as though both these authors have analyzed their readers and are giving them what they want.
What puzzles me is that critics don’t speak out against the sad diminution in quality of the output of these authors. In The Triumph of the Thriller, Patrick Anderson was not loath to criticize authors such as David Baldacci and James Patterson but there was only a passing mention of Parker and Woods. In my opinion, the best of the recent efforts by Parker or Woods compares unfavorably with anything written by Patterson or Baldacci.