DON’T THINK THINGS THAT DON’T HELP
This second entry in Robert B. Parker’s Spenser series is quite different from the first. The novel is still written in the early 1970’s about a group of people living in that same time frame. However, this time the story centers on a crime involving a child.
The 15-year-old son of an affluent building contractor has disappeared and Spenser is hired by the parents to locate him. The father is a hard-working soul that is saddled with an angry, promiscuous and narcissistic wife and Spenser’s early findings lead to a run-away situation. Then a ransom note, in the form of a comic strip, arrives and the situation takes on an entirely different urgency
Spenser is one of the most hilarious – and honest – protagonists that I have encountered in the mysteries and thrillers genre. His command of quick repartee, innuendo, sarcasm and snark is absolutely marvelous. Add in the fact that the story is from his first person POV and you can quickly forget that this is not a spoof or a cozy, but a card-carrying entry in the hard-boiled genre.
And his encounters with women, whether from a point of observation only, in person, or on a date don’t help with the genre image either. In today’s vernacular, Spenser would be described by the phrase, “He is such a guy!”
For example, when Spenser’s first date with Susan Silverman slips into the “hot and heavy” stage, Susan slows things down, promising a different ending on their next date. Now remembering that Spenser is 37 years old in this novel, the reader is treated with the following exchange as Spenser closes the door behind Susan: “I breathed as much air as I could into my lungs and let it out very slowly. Next time, I thought. Tuesday night. Dinner at her house. Hot dog!”
And if you think that, by the time Spenser is saying, “Hot diggity-dog!” that Parker is going to write a sweep-her-off-her-feet, hot, steamy, sophisticated seduction scene, just think again. By the time Spenser and Susan hit the sheets, you will be rolling your eyes, shaking your head and remembering every embarrassing moment of like kind you have ever had. And the scene is that way, not because Parker can’t write a romantic interlude, but because that just wouldn’t be Spenser.
Now, Parker may write Spenser with a quick wit and a healthy libido, but he also writes Spenser with a quick gun hand, a strong left hook and a sense of responsibility. And before the story ends, the bad guys will go down but in a manner very unlike that of current mystery and thriller novels. Don’t forget, he’s no longer a cop and no longer has to play by those rules.
For those readers who were born during or after the 1970’s, this novel may seem dated or silly, and those readers may not be able to accept that crime scene procedures were as lax as portrayed. I mean, could you believe that a couple would be able to give a party for 65 people in their home less than 6 hours after a person was killed in their dining room? With today’s laws, that couldn’t happen. But this isn’t now, it’s then, and the laws back then were still in the stage of “make sure the body falls inside your threshold before you call the cops.”
Well, I was in my 20’s when this novel was written, and I remember those days, both legally and morally. Now, I was never upper middle class like the people in this novel, but I taught their children. I remember that they dressed just like Parker dressed them, and I remember the level of self-absorption many displayed, just like Parker detailed. I remember the same open attitudes toward sex and booze that Parker described. And just like the character of Kevin that Parker used in this novel, I remember their hurt and angry and lonely teenagers.
Robert B. Parker may not have written this novel as a social commentary at the time, but 40 years later, it most certainly is.
Cover Art from Goodreads