Robert B. Parker, School Days

Works for me every time! There is a certain sameness about the Spenser novels, to be sure, but their consistency is usually a virtue. And in this case, there’s a good dose of social relevance (school shootings) along with the usual psychological and social commentary–admittedly, elliptical to the extreme, but one aspect of these novels that I appreciate is how much work gets done in the silences and spaces, not in any postmodern sense of the important elements being absences or anything, but simply that when Parker’s on his game, the situations and characters are conveyed strongly enough that we can fill in the blanks, come to the conclusions, ourselves. The influence of Raymond Chandler is strong, of course, with the whole “down these mean streets a man must go…” model, but Spenser’s readiness to get mean himself when his code of honour requires it is usually the most interesting aspect of the plot. I have long admired the relationship Parker establishes for Spenser and Susan (who should surely be played by Terri Hatcher, if she can control her more gawky mannerisms?) and found the sexual and the racial politics of these novels a refreshing break from PC pieties (while insistently alert to inequities and injustices, both systemic and personal). (While I’m thinking about it, I’ll just add that I’ve always admired Dick Francis for a similar ability to imagine equal, mature , independent women for putting into relationships with his male protagonists.) I do wonder, though, about Parker’s fascination with assertively sexual women, such as Rita Fiore. Her intelligence and skill are never in doubt, and in some ways it seems a positive thing to create a character who is both a powerful professional woman and a sex kitten: women have struggled long enough with stereotypes that insist intellectual prowess is incompatible with femininity or allure. And yet I also feel that Rita plays into other cliches (fantasies?) about the qualities that make women attractive to men (OK, she’s a smart lawyer, but look at those great legs!). Because I find the ethos of the Spenser novels overall so advanced, it feels carping to fret this detail, and I don’t think Parker has any obligation to match his characters up to any specific standard in this respect. I guess I’m just surprised. Maybe this is a way to put a positive spin on the sexpot characters from the hard-boiled novels–kind of an updated, she’s on our side now, verson of Brigid O’Shaunessy? Gorgeous dames aren’t necessarily dangerous?

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