Sunday, December 03, 2006

Watching the Detective

The third book for the weekend turned out to be a re-read of Robert B. Parker's Small Vices, featuring his private eye hero Spenser. I hadn't read this one since it originally came out in 1997, so I figured I'd have forgotten enough of the plot details for a revisiting. Not that plot really matters in a Spenser novel. Parker, like the writer his work most resembles, Raymond Chandler, never cares much about plot. The Spenser 'mysteries' are closer to Westerns than whodunits. Usually some bad but powerful people are somehow threatening some nice but powerless people and Spenser has to step in to save the day.

No, one reads parker for the dialog and for the minimalist prose. Parker was a college professor of literature and he writes very much in the Hemingway mode. His novels are fast paced and full of action and witty banter, but there's always an undercurrent of literary style. The man can write.

I started reading Parker when I was eighteen and have bought all of his Spenser novels ever since. Part of that is my fondness for the private eye genre, but a larger part I think is that Parker seems to be obsessed with the same things that obsess me. Loyalty, friendship, and personal honor. Keeping your word and doing what has to be done no mater what the cost. See? I told you Spenser was like a cowboy. Parker has even written a couple of Westerns, Gunman's Rhapsody and Appaloosa. Appaloosa is an amazing book, one of my favorites of Parker's. I've already read it a couple of times though so I probably won't be back to it any time soon.

Now that I think of it, cowboys, private eyes, and Conan style barbarians all have something in common. All three hero types are individualists. They are the ultimate 'self-determining' men. They are going to do what they are going to do and damn the consequences.

Huh. It seems that my heroes have always been cowboys, even when they're detectives or barbarians.

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