Monday, August 24, 2009

A Savage Place

Last year's Spenser novel, Rough Weather, was the first Robert B. Parker Spenser that I didn't buy in hardback in not quite thirty years. That's because I simply didn't enjoy the previous two Spencers. Maybe the previous three. So I decided to just wait for the paperback. I haven't given up on Bob by a long shot. I've raved about his recent westerns and I gave a glowing review of his young adult novel, Chasing the Bear, earlier this year. But it was Spenser, the long running private eye series that introduced me to Parker and I used to eagerly await each year's new release. Then, about ten years back, the books started to be kind of hit or miss, with way too many missing. I'd really enjoy one, then the next one or two would be so so. Finally there were two clunkers in a row and I began to wonder why I was paying hardback price for these things. So last year, though it was very difficult to walk by a new Spenser novel in the bookstores, I let it go.
This weekend, feeling nostalgic for the days when Parker couldn't miss with me, I pulled out the 1981 Spenser novel, A Savage Place. In this one, Spenser heads for Hollywood to protect a television reporter named Candy Sloan, who is looking into a film studio's possible mob ties. She's had some threats and she needs someone to act as a bodyguard while she continues to investigate. Things heat up quickly and soon Spenser is hip deep in murder, gunplay, and fisticuffs.
And you know something? I still love this book. It's a quick read, barely 200 pages in paperback, and it's classic Parker. Author Ross MacDonald once said that the private eye hero was less a character than a window for the reader. The world is viewed through the protagonist's eyes, and while his actions may act as a catalyst to set things in motion, he is ultimately more observer than participant. That was probably true of MacDonald' s hero, Lew Archer, but it's not the case with Spenser. Spenser becomes emotionally involved in his cases, and perhaps in this one more than most. Though Susan Silverman is the love of Spenser's life, he definitely shares something with Candy Sloan, which makes the novel's tragic end a hammer blow to the normally unflappable private eye. Spenser does indeed find himself in A Savage Place. (The title comes from Coleridge's poem Kubla Khan.)
Perhaps it's not fair to compare some of the later, pared down Spensers with A Savage Place. It's a darker, grittier book than the majority of the others and as such is atypical of the series. But it seems that other, older novels, such as Looking For Rachel Wallace and the classic Early Autumn (my very favorite) still shine brighter. Maybe that's just me. You can never discover something twice or regain the enthusiasm of an early love.
The paperback of Rough Weather hits the shelves next week, and I will pick it up and give it a read. Who knows? Maybe this will be one of the hits instead of one of the misses. If so, I can always pick up the hardback as a remainder. And if not, I can re-read some of the old Spenser novels yet again.

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