Friday, May 04, 2007

Just Read: Hundred-Dollar Baby by Robert B. Parker

OK, let's get the usual stuff out of the way first: this is the most recent "Spencer" novel, latest in the mystery series that has been running for over thirty years now. (And how old is Spencer, these days? I seem to remember he's a Korean War vet, which would make him pretty creaky at this point, but he doesn't act any older than maybe fifty.) Parker has an amazingly stripped-down style; he's ripped out everything unnecessary from the PI novel and presents the nitro-burning funny-car version, entirely devoted to doing what it has to do. And this one is just as good as all of the other recent books in the series; sure, we know that nothing is going to touch Spencer (or Hawk, or Susan, or any other long-running supporting character) at this point, but that's all right.

But what I really wanted to talk about was the worldbuilding in this novel. (Yes, I know. But it's what you expect from me, isn't it?) There's one specific item in the plot that didn't convince me. The story of Hundred-Dollar Baby involves a high-end, "boutique" brothel in Boston, and the women working there are described as primarily upper-middle-class suburban wives and mothers.

Now, it's always dangerous to generalize from one's own experience, but I live in suburbia, among a large number of women who very vaguely fit the above description, and I also commute into the nearest large city to work (as these women would also have to do in secret). And I think that while the "bored wife with a sideline in sex work" template is a reasonable one, I expect that women in that situation would find a way to work closer to home. Getting in and out of a city is time-consuming (though I'll admit Boston is not New York), and I don't think these women would be able to devote large chunks of time to their sex work, particularly since it's secret. Also, I would expect that the busy time for a brothel would be the late afternoon through the evening, which would be a more difficult time for suburban wives/mothers to get away -- the kids are getting out of school and into all of their activities, the husbands are coming home for dinner, and so on. If they all came on shift about eight or nine o'clock at night -- time enough for hubby to get home, have dinner, and take over kid duty while the wife goes off on some feigned evening errand -- it would make more sense, but they seem to be at work earlier than that, and I just can't see how that would work. Even if they all have nannies, housekeepers, and cooks (and they don't seem to be that rich), hubby would get suspicious if his wife was clocking in for an eight-hour shift in the Back Bay five times a week. If these women were having sex in a suburban mansion mostly in the late morning and early afternoon, then I'd absolutely believe it.

(I would expect the women working in a high-end city brothel to be part-time college or grad students, with some women from other countries on various visas and probably some who've made a longer career out of it. Of course, I'm working this out from first principles -- I have no personal knowledge of anything in this area -- so anyone who knows better, and is willing to say so, can correct me in comments.)

So that was my one issue with Hundred-Dollar Baby, and it would have been an easy one to fix. (The brothel in question could easily have been in a suburb, for example, or the women's backgrounds could have been described differently.) And now you all see that I pick apart the background of everything I read, not just SF.

No comments:

Post a Comment