Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Soft-Boiled Detective: Robert Parker's The Professional

Sometimes there is nothing better than a serendipitous trip to the bookstore. With some additional reading time here in India, and with Iowa Guru away for a couple of days, I went back to the local chain bookstore to check it out in a leisurely fashion. I came across a couple of detective novels that caught my eye, one author whom I'd enjoyed before and one new one. This genre usually provides entertaining and quick reads with enough literary talent to keep you engaged if you pick carefully. On this occasion  I picked up one by Robert B. Park, the author I'd heard of but had never read before. I tried Parker's The Professional (a Spenser mystery). After reading only a couple of pages, I was hooked. 

The setup is a common one in classic American detective fiction. The opening scene as an ex-cop turned private eye, Spenser, sitting in his office waiting for someone to come in and lay a case on his desk. It happens right away, and the action moves quickly from there. Parker's  prose is concise, with most of the pages consisting of dialogue. The dialogue is snappy and literate in the best tradition of American detective fiction, similar to that found in one my favorites, the John Marshall Tanner series by Stephen H. Greenleaf.

But what really sets this Spenser book apart is that for all of his ability with his fists, his quick wit, and his knowledge of the underworld, Spenser is an awfully nice guy. More specifically, in contrast to his promiscuous and jaded clients in The Professional, Spenser is a man  who enjoys his mate  (although they're not so conventional as to have tied the knot). In fact, the dialogue and interaction between Spenser and his consort Susan, who is a Ph.D. psychologist, provides some of the most enjoyable  and distinctive scenes in the book. Spenser is a guy with dealing with all kinds of problems in a seedy world, but he's really a romantic softy around his honey (although the dialogue never turns from snappy to sappy).

So would I read another Spenser? Sure. You can imagine this guy you like to be around to enjoy the pleasure of his company as well as his adventures with the darker side.

P.S. Based on this character, A television series, Spenser: For Hire, ran in the mid-80's. I never saw it, so I don't know how well it translated onto the big screen.

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