Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 90 (5/4) -- The Professional by Robert B. Parker

The Professional is the 38th novel by Robert B. Parker about his fictional detective Spenser, one of the most popular and enduring characters in modern detective fiction. And Parker himself recently died at his writing desk at the age of 77. So it's probably both rude and useless to say this, but...Parker had been phoning in this series, at least off and on, for the last decade or more.

Parker stripped down this series to its essence sometime in the early '90s, culling all unnecessary scenes, lines of description, and even characterizations -- the series was always Hemingwayesque, but it got doubly so at that point. Sometimes that style works for Parker -- I was pretty impressed with the last of these that I read, 2007's Hundred-Dollar Baby, for example -- and sometimes it just feels skeletal, as in this novel.

Parker's other stylistic tic lately is that his books have a tendency to wander, as a case is worked on and then back-burnered and then comes back. Generally, showing that kind of progression is good for a mystery novel, and adds verisimilitude -- cases don't necessarily run at speed for a few days and entirely come together with a bang at the end. But, added to Parker's current minimalist style, this kind of plotting can become very arbitrary and random -- as it does in The Professional.

Spenser -- as always, a Boston PI with a heart of gold and an unstoppable right cross -- is hired by a female lawyer to investigate a man calling himself Gary Eisenhower who has insinuated himself into the beds of four trophy wives and is blackmailing them all. Spenser quickly tracks down and confronts Eisenhower, but his code -- Spenser is a maniac about following his code, and he talks about it far too often -- won't allow him to rough up or kill Eisenhower, so that part of the plot fizzles. But Parker just keeps going -- perhaps because he knows he's nowhere near his word-count yet -- and events keep happening, more or less, and the same characters kept bouncing around until four of them are dead and the novel ends.

(I might note, parenthetically, that if Spenser's code allowed him to kill Eisenhower, those four other people would have still been alive. It's tough, having a code like that, particular for forty books straight.)

The Professional, like all of the Spenser books of the past two decades, reads very quickly and easily, with short bursts of dialogue and the standard scenes between Spenser and his sidekick Hawk and girlfriend Susan. It's as comforting and familiar as a warm bath, but the only thought it's likely to raise in anyone's head is a question about the title -- who, if anyone, is the professional in this book?
Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index
Listening to: Josh Ritter - Another New World (live)
via FoxyTunes

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