Robert B(rown) Parker 1932–
Parker's crime fiction places him as a prominent contemporary author within the hard-boiled tradition of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Ross Macdonald. His best known works form a series consisting of nine novels, beginning with The Godwulf Manuscript (1973), and featuring Spenser, a tough but compassionate private-eye trained not only in espionage but also in gourmet cooking, physical fitness, and literature. One of Spenser's most endearing qualities is his sometimes self-depreciating but always witty sense of humor.
Parker wrote his dissertation on Hammett, Chandler, and Macdonald and although he knows the private eye tradition well, his success is largely based on the contemporary tone he maintains while remaining true to the conventions of the genre. Along with the standard element of suspense, Parker's emphasis lies in character development, through dialogue as much as through action, and the incorporation of social themes, most notably the distortion of the American dream.
Promised Land (1977), the fourth Spenser novel, was awarded the Edgar Allan Poe Award. Ironically, some critics feel this is one of his weaker works. For example, David Geherin, who acknowledges Parker's usual strength in characterization and dialogue, finds "an overemphasis on character analysis and an excessive talkiness that upsets the novelistic balance in Promised Land…."
(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 49-52 and Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 1.)
In the tradition of Hammett, Chandler and the other private-eye creators of the 1930's comes "The Godwulf Manuscript" by Robert B. Parker…. Parker's locale is Boston, and his private-eye—a tough, wise-cracking, unafraid, lonely, unexpectedly literate type—is in many respects the very exemplar of the species. He is called in to investigate the theft of a 14th-century illuminated manuscript from a college library. Along the way he runs into student activists, the mob, drugs, sex and the usual package. "The Godwulf Manuscript" is not notable for originality or ideas, but it is at least well written and does have a point of view about life. Its trouble is that it is simply too derivative to be anything more than lightweight.
Newgate Callendar, in a review of "The Godwulf Manuscript," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1974 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), January 13, 1974, p. 12.
Parker must have learned a good deal from "Godwulf"; his new book is more deft, smoother and sharper in characterization. Where "Godwulf" read like a compilation of every private eye from Chandler on, "God Save the Child" has a great deal more personality and character.
Spenser still remains a smart aleck who shows his dislike for stupidity. He also is intelligent, educated, a gourmet cook and a mean man with his fists. In "God Save the Child" he is hired to find a missing 15-year-old boy; then the ransom notes start arriving. Spenser solves the case, of course, but along the way there are shrewd thrusts that animate the writing. The portrait of the mother is especially well done.
Newgate Callendar, in a review of "God Save the Child," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1974 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), December 15, 1974, p. 10.
Robert Parker is perhaps the best of [the writers attempting to replace Chandler]…. [Promised Land] shows him gaining mastery over his material all of the time. The dialogue is good, without that cutesy-tough overtone one finds in so many imitators of Chandler, and while Spenser remains a bit self-romanticized, he is no more so than Marlowe and Archer. Anyone who complains about the lack of Chandlers ought to try [either Mortal Stakes or Promised Land]….
Robin Winks, in a review of "Mortal Stakes," in The New Republic (reprinted by permission of The New Republic; © 1977 The New Republic, Inc.), Vol. 176, No. 12, March 19, 1977, p. 36.
AGATE NESAULE KROUSE and MARGOT PETERS
Robert B. Parker has created Spenser, a Marlowe-like...
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