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A Savage Place (1981)
he whole point is that the detective exists complete and entire and unchanged by anything that happens, that he is, as detective, outside the story and above it, and always will be. That is why he never gets the girl, never marries, never really has any private life, except insofar as he must eat and sleep and have a place to leave his clothes.
Perhaps no other writer has had so pernicious an influence on modern detective fiction as Robert B. Parker. Paradoxically, having immersed himself in the writings of the genre while he was an academic, Parker proceeded to violate the conventions which made it great when he became an author. Now, I'm not saying that a writer has to slavishly follow the conventions of the genre, but if he's going to violate them, it should be for reasons that add something to his text. I believe that Parker, and his successors, have instead produced inferior work.
The most important convention of the genre that Parker has tampered with is, "the hero as loner". Bad enough that Spenser has his ongoing relationship with the profoundly annoying Susan Silverman (supposedly their relationship is modeled on Parker's with his own wife; God help him), he also has a virtual child in Paul and his relationships with Hawk, Belsen, Quirk, etc. are so close, that people who hire Spenser, essentially get a whole team.
One result is that Spenser ends up maintaining an emotional distance from his cases, at a couple points he has even told clients that he would protect Susan before them. Compare this with the quintessential private eye series, Ross MacDonald's Lew Archer novels. Archer was continually getting over involved with clients, their wives & children, as each case became the emotional focus of his otherwise empty life. This emotional vulnerability is a key element of the best novels of the genre.
Likewise, Parker has eliminated the physical and legal risks that the hero faces. Spenser's friends are all so powerful that there's never a sense that Spenser is vulnerable. Of course, we know that he won't ever lose a fist fight or be beaten up. But we, and his opponents, also know that even if he gets in trouble, his cronies will bail him out--Hawk will shoot them, Quirk will arrest them or, at least, not arrest Spenser & even the Mob will come after them.
The result of this genre busting is that the Spenser tales are largely devoid of dramatic tension. His emotional distance from cases and physical invulnerability have combined to make for stories that are rather flat and formulaic; an ironic result considering the attempt to escape the classic p.i. formula.
A Savage Place demonstrates all of these points by removing Spenser from his familiar background and transplanting him to Southern California. Candy Sloan is an ambitious TV reporter who has stumbled onto a story about union corruption in the movie industry. When her life is threatened, the TV station hires Spenser to guard her.
With Susan back home in Boston, Spenser is free to focus on the case and become involved with Candy. And, removed from the protection of Hawk and Quirk, he finds himself vulnerable to hoodlums and lawmen alike. These factors combine to provide us with the most satisfactory entry in the long running Spenser series and provide a bittersweet peak at what this series could have been.
-Bullets and Beer: The Spenser Home Page
-INTERVIEW: Spenser Turns 25 Robert Parker (Amazon.com)
-FIRST CHAPTER: Sudden Mischief (Robert B. Parker)
-P.I.s, Dicks, and Mystery Men (Jesse Sublett, Weekly Wire)
-Robert B. Parker and Raymond Chandler (from Shamus)
-BIBLIO: Robert B. Parker
-Robert B. Parker (Mostly Fiction)
-ROBERT B. PARKER (Stop, You're Killing Me!)
-Robert B. Parker's Complete Bookshelf With Reviews and Reader Comments (Oxford Books)
If you like the Spenser series, try:
Martin, James E.