12. Painted Ladies by Robert B. Parker

13 Apr

I am not proud.

I was home in Boston and my mother had Painted Ladies in her pile of trash detective procedurals and I picked it up, despite knowing how hokey, annoying, unbearable and ludicrous it was going to be.

I loved Parker’s detective hero Spenser as a pre-teen. I still remember the low shelf in the long defunct independent bookstore in Wellesley Centre, where the row of tiny, intriguing paperbacks with titles like The Godwulf Manuscript and The Widening Gyre and Looking for Rachael Wallace were kept. I read them all dozens of times as a kid. Spenser’s interest in food and what people were wearing seemed exotic to me, as did his consumption of Rolling Rock Extra Pale Ale and his close friendship with a ghetto-talking black thug named Hawk–who was the only other dude in Boston as tough and honorable as Spenser.

The flaws of these books have been well documented, especially the later works once Parker got sloppy and totally rote, and Painted Ladies, the second to last the author wrote before he died was, I think, better than some others. Flaws: The plots are ridiculous, the racial and ethnic content is cringey and Spenser’s absurd uxory for Susan Silverman is painful. In this one, it was interesting to see the weird dodge in time apparent in the later books. Spenser was in his mid-thirties when the series started in 1973 but here he’s still a man young enough to win fist fights and engage in enthusiastic bouts of lovemaking with Susan. And just what year, this all is taking place is quite vague. There’s no e-mail or cell phones, and Spenser walks in to university libraries and insurance companies without any of the trouble you’d have doing something like that today. It’s, like, creepily hazy to find the character frozen in time with the same issues and identity crises he had forty years ago.

Anyway. That was a waste of time.

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