Sunday, December 02, 2007

Now & Then by Robert B. Parker

The 35th Spenser novel, Now & Then, includes all the usual banter. Spenser irritates strangers by cracking wise, while at the same time entertaining this long time reader. I’ll admit it; I am still amused by Spenser’s sarcastic wit, even though the jokes have been the same ones for decades. However, this time round, the plot was about the thinnest it’s ever been. So was Spenser’s motive for working another no-pay case.

Over and over Susan and Hawk theorize that Spenser is still working through the trauma of Susan leaving him back in A Catskill Eagle in 1985. 1985!!! They seem to think that Spenser identifies with the client/victim whose wife was cheating on him. Oddly, no one ever mentions Spenser’s affair with Candy Sloan in A Savage Place, 1981. Somehow Spenser’s one night stand didn’t count! My biggest beef though is that the motive for solving the case is hardly that important in Spenser anymore. He solves things! It’s his nature. That’s it. Why did Parker see the need to dredge up Spenser and Susan’s past over and over again? It wasn’t believable after all this time, and the repeated mention of it seemed so forced.

But what do you expect from Robert B. Parker these days? It has been literarily decades since Spenser novels were written at near literary level. To be an ongoing Spenser fan, one must accept Spenser as a cartoon or caricature of his earlier self. To my mind, A Catskill Eagle was the cut-off point for the real, authentic Spenser. Since then Parker has been writing light-weight novels that are heavy on wit, with rare, extremely rare moments of depth.

Having recently re-read Walking Shadow, I can tell you that Now & Then is even fluffier than that one. Walking Shadow included one passage that I thought was so eloquent I got chills reading it aloud. There’s nothing that good here.

Yet, I can honestly say I enjoyed Now & Then. Spenser’s dialogue still makes me laugh. I enjoyed the heck out of reading this one aloud to Christi, doing the deep bass voice for Hawk, the Speedy Gonzales voice of Chollo, and my best Joe Pesci for Vinnie. Yes, Spenser yet again has surrounded himself with the "Thug Brigade".

That relates to the one last thing I want to mention. The moral complexity of the early Spenser novels is long, long gone. Spenser has become so accustomed to using Hawk and the other thugs for muscle that the dividing line between criminal violence and heroism barely exists anymore. Sure the overall quantity of violence has dropped as the series has gone on, but there are six killings under Spenser’s watch in this one. Four of the killings occur during a set-up that Spenser has orchestrated. Long gone are the days of remorse over the taking of life, even the life of a criminal or a killer. Spenser has developed a thick skin about such killing. I’m sad to see his remorse go.

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