DO YOU like to read good mystery novels? I do.
Yeah, I know. Reading sort of became old hat with many of us once TV took hold. That trend of less reading has been reversed somewhat, thanks to inventions like eBook and the iPad and other modern marvels.
While I’m still stubbornly inclined toward the printed word — having that book or newspaper in my hands — the world of electronics and computers has made reading easier. You can download a 500-page novel onto your computer — desktop, laptop, iPad or iPhone — and read it almost anywhere you go.
As the first sentence in this column, a question, was answered I tipped my hand as to one of my choices for reading. My favorites are mysteries, of course, and history. If authors and book publishers can roll both of those into one, then they have a steady and reliable customer in me.
ODDLY ENOUGH, it was a TV series, “Spenser for Hire,” that got me hooked on one particular author — Robert B. Parker. He created the private detective Spenser. And, that’s the only name he’s ever used in the 37 Spenser books the late Parker crafted so well. Apparently just a last name. Nothing else.
The same is true for Spenser’s sidekick, Hawk, a head-shaven African American who’s as tough as a pit full of rattlesnakes. While both characters are able to handle themselves well in fights, the two of them are well-educated, sophisticated and sometime downright ornery. The late Robert Urich portrayed the gifted Spenser in the TV series while Avery Brooks made a fascinating Hawk.
Parker makes all characters in his books interesting. Witness this description of a hoodlum: “Fortunately, Ty Bop weighed maybe one hundred thirty pounds, so there was room to get by. I smiled at them cordially. Junior nodded. Ty Bop paid me no attention. He had eyes like a coral snake. Neither meanness nor interest nor affection nor recognition showed in them. Nor humanity. Even standing still, he seemed jittery and bouncy. Nobody on the floor or at the nursing station ventured near either of them.”
PARKER’S writing obviously appeals to TV and movie producers. There was the aforementioned TV series featuring Spenser. A woman private eye, Sunny Randall, is another Parker creation. Then, there’s Jesse Stone, police chief in a small Massachusetts town. Stone was the played by Tom Selleck, another of my favorites, in the TV series. I’ve read a couple of the Randall books and Parker’s Jesse Stone novels as well. Parker penned one Western-inclined story, Appaloosa, which made all of the writer’s books extremely interesting to me.
But, it’s obviously Spenser that was Parker’s mainstay. With 37 books featuring the hard-nosed yet sensitive private eye, success seemed to be assured for any Spenser novel emanating from Parker’s typewriter. Especially with quotes from the hero such as: “I’m finding out more and more about less and less. Eventually, I’ll know everything about nothing.”
If anyone needed a love interest to assure their reading enjoyment, Parker came up with Susan, a beautiful psychologist as the detective’s long-term love interest.
WHILE SPENSER is a tough ex-boxer and former city police officer, he displays a literary tendency and is a gourmet cook as well.
Parker proves that both Spenser and Hawk are human (well, close enough for heroes in a book). In one novel, the author “allows” Spenser to be shot and near death. When he recovers with Susan’s TLC, of course, and the able-bodied assistance of Hawk, then the tough duo exacts justice and revenge all in one campaign.
Then, in yet another novel, it’s Hawk’s turn to defy doom and survive gunshot wounds. Oh, I should mention that Hawk has a beautiful woman friend, as well, and she’s a medical doctor. Naturally, Spenser returns a favor and helps Hawk bring the gunnies that plugged him to justice.
Parker, while he looked the part of the tough guys he wrote about, he achieved a doctorate in English and taught in college until his books sold well enough for him to be a full-time novelist.
Of course, wannabe novelists see themselves in Parker and, if they’re adventuresome, they can double up and be Spenser or Hawk, too.
I can dream, can’t I?
Willis Webb is a retired community newspaper editor—publisher of more than 50 years experience. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.