This could happen to any reviewer, any time.....
Stranger In Paradise
Robert B Parker
Quercus 16.99 ISBN 9781847242471
I was sitting in my office, thinking about whether Irish whiskey or Yuengling beer would slake my thirst better, when Robert B Parker walked in. He was wearing a leather jacket and a Boston Red Sox baseball cap, which he kept on while he talked. He was carrying a bag of doughnuts, and two cups of coffee. He put one cup down in front of me.
‘Milk, no sugar?’ he said.
‘Got it in one,’ I said.
‘You’re a reviewer,’ he said.
‘Two for two,’ I said.
‘You review my books,’ he said. ‘Give them good reviews. I like that. Have a jelly doughnut.’
‘Don’t like them very much. Too sweet,‘ I said. ‘Jelly doughnuts, not your books. I like your books, though. No thanks necessary.’
‘But not the new one,' he said, putting the doughnut down on my desk in front of me anyway.
‘Well,‘ I said. ‘Lately they’ve been getting a bit light. Which I can’t say about those doughnuts. Soft center, soggy outside, powdered sugar. You’re carrying a bag of metaphors.‘
‘Dunkin Donuts could use you to write copy,‘ he said.
‘Want another one?’ I said. ’Metaphor, not doughnut. It’s all style, no nutritional value. No substance. Or the same old substance.’
‘You have a problem with that?’
‘Only as a reviewer,’ I said. ‘An hour and half of fun reading is nothing to be sneezed at.’
Then I sneezed. Powdered sugar must’ve gotten up my nose. ‘Lots of snappy dialogue. Large margins. Time just flies. But I don’t save them anymore.’
‘The books. You know, the way kids save baseball cards. Used to have them all on the shelf, lined up in order. Shelf got too small.’
‘These things happen,” he said. ‘I’m a writer. I write. I write fast sometimes.’
I nodded. We understood each other.
‘So why don’t you like my new Jesse Stone book?’
‘It goes nowhere new. You’ve already got Jesse. He‘s a conflicted Spenser. Spenser’s got a together-in-spades shrink girlfriend, and everything’s copacetic. Jesse’s got a problematic amibitious bimbo girlfriend PLUS a shrink. Spenser cooks and drinks. Jesse eats out and usually doesn’t drink, except sometimes, but he does get to indulge the women who seem to find him as irresistible as they find Spenser, who never indulges because he‘s true to his Sue.
‘Then you bring back this character, Crow, who’s the American Indian version of Hawk. Crow goes around Paradise killing people, with Jesse’s blessing, because they deserve to be killed, mostly. That makes Jesse God, which I guess fits in Paradise, where someone's got to be Him. Then Crow starts bedding women, displaying even less talk and more macho fantasy than Jesse does. Sort of ‘no harm, no foul’ sex. If Jesse’s like Spenser if Spenser had been a drunk, Crow’s like Jesse if his baseball career hadn’t ended and he’d started doing steroids.’
‘That’s a low blow.’
‘Maybe, but Crow being even more irresistible than the now seventy something Spenser and Hawk or Jesse himself is like a 1950s high school kid’s fantasy. “Me wantum girl, tell girl, girl say yes. Need to know if red man really good.“ It’s doing the Spenser and Hawk as Deerslayer and Chingnachook thing all over again, except with sex.’
‘Sex is good,’ he said.
‘Agreed,’ I said. ‘Like my grandfather said, “all good, some better.“ But what’s good sex for Crow is not automatically good sex for the reader. Crow’s a one dimensional character, two if you include sex, but since all the sex takes place offstage, he’s back to one dimension: a literary construct who’s geometrically impossible.’
“Geometrically impossible, I like that.’
‘Thought you might,’ I said, ‘but you know, I could almost accept all that except the story really doesn’t GO anywhere—most of it’s concluded offstage too, which I’ll concede happens in real life, but it doesn’t make for riveting fiction. You’ve got the Latino version of the Gang Who Couldn’t Shoot Straight, and the Miami gangsters, one of whom’s a pro like Crow or Jesse, and you get Jesse and Crow having heap macho pow-wows, where nothing much is said, and then there’s a bizarre shootout on a causeway and the Indian disappears back into nature. I think Leslie Fiedler called it the Vanishing of the Returned Native American.‘
‘Very cute,‘ he said. ‘A Fiedler pun. Most of you crime guys wouldn’t know Leslie Fiedler from Arthur Fiedler.‘
‘Who?‘ I said, and he actually laughed. I was on a roll. ‘And then it ends with Jesse having a youngster on his hands, a kid who needs to be taught life’s lessons, which I believe you’ve already done with both Spenser and Sunny Randall, whom I actually preferred paired up with Jesse, by the way. But how much of that Hemingway stuff needs re-repeating? Is this “Up In Massachusetts’? We’ve been there before and it’s stretching the limits of my suspension of disbelief.’
‘Suspension of disbelief, I like that,” he said.
‘Only not as much as “geometrically impossible.“’
He nodded. Like I said, we understood each other. ‘It’s like Walter Gibson, writing 283 Shadow novels. You write to a formula, you repeat yourself. You’re smart, you write great dialogue, use different characters, but they start to conform to the template.’
‘Template?’ he said. He wasn’t smiling any more. ‘Is this geometry again?’
‘Don’t put me on,” I said. ‘You taught literature. You know Leslie Fiedler. You know what I’m saying. You’re as much a prof as a pro‘.
‘Not quite as much,’ he said. He reached in his coat pocket, and pulled out a snub-nosed Smith & Wesson.
‘Don’t see those much anymore,’ I said. ‘Especially reviewing.’
‘No,’ he said, ‘but the old formulae still work sometimes.’
He pulled the trigger. The force pushed me backwards, like a massive fist to the chest, then the chair bounced me forward, face down in the doughnuts. I was on a roll again, a jelly roll. I could smell the jelly; powdered sugar flew up my nostrils as I sucked for air. It really was up my nose. ‘I would’ve liked a plain cruller better,’ I said.
He smiled. ‘I’ll remember that next time,’ he said to my corpse.