Thursday, April 19, 2018

Who likes a good mystery?

If I were asked to confine my reading to only one genre, I’d be forced to choose mystery. I read other genres but return again and again to mysteries. Possibly my all-time favorite mystery writer is Robert B. Parker.

His first mystery, written in 1973, was “The Godwulf Manuscript.” Thus began the Spenser series, which stretched to 41.5 books before Parker’s death in 2010.  Why 41.5?  Because his long-time editor finished “Silent Night,” the book Parker was working on when he died at his typewriter. Since then, Ace Atkins has continued the series.

Spenser is a Boston PI, who introduces himself as “Spenser, with an S, like the poet.” It’s not many hard-boiled PIs who are familiar with a sixteenth-century poet.  As an English major, I smiled each time I read his intro.  I think of Spenser as a renaissance man: a well-read gourmet cook who’s tough enough to handily wrestle bad guys. As the series progresses, the regular characters include Hawk, Susan Silverman—the girlfriend--and Pearl, the wonder dog.
Parker’s pithy writing style and Spenser’s way with words hooked me. I envied Spenser’s ability to come up with a fast, witty retort to anything thrown his way, and wished I could be as quick with a response to a snarky insult or question. I don’t know about you, but my responses always come to mind much later as “I should have said …”

In the 80s, I enjoyed the television series, “Spenser: for Hire” starring Robert Urich and years later the TV movies starring Joe Mantegna. My recommendation? Check out the books and then hit the films.

Parker didn’t stop with Spenser.  He went on to develop several other memorable characters, though they didn’t star in quite as many books.  First up was Jesse Stone in “Night Passage,” set in Paradise, Massachusetts, a small coastal town not far from Boston. Jesse is a flawed Los Angeles transplant who loses his job on the LA police force and is hired to be Police Chief in Paradise. I not only fell in love with the books but also the TV movies starring Tom Selleck.  What’s not to love about Tom Selleck? Parker wrote nine Jesse Stone novels, and upon his death, others continued the series.

Then, there’s Sunny Randall, who first appeared in 2000 in “Family Honor.” For me, the fact that Parker wrote only six of these books was a huge disappointment. Sunny quits the police force to become a PI, possibly because her ex-husband comes from a mob family. She has the same way with words that Spenser has plus a dog she shares with her ex. Parker wrote the first book for Helen Hunt, who was a fan of his other books, and there was a movie deal in the works. I’m sad to say the deal never came to fruition.

If you’re not a mystery fan, you may be interested in Parker’s Western series about Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch, lawmen in a mining/ranching town. My husband got hooked on those, and the first book, “Appaloosa,” was made into a 2008 movie starring Ed Harris with Viggo Mortensen, RenĂ©e Zellweger, and Jeremy Irons.  Once again, another author picked up the series.

The fact that the Spenser, Jesse Stone, and Virgil Cole/Everett Hitch series were all continued by other authors and also wound up as TV shows or movies makes a statement about Parker’s popularity. All this reminiscing makes me want to run right out and pick up another Parker book.  What about you?

Kathy Manos Penn is a Georgia resident. Her latest book, “Lord Banjo the Royal Pooch,” and her collection of columns, “The Ink Penn: Celebrating the Magic in the Everyday,” are available on Amazon. Contact Kathy at inkpenn119@gmail.com.