09 April 2018

Parker – Under the Influence

Jan Grape
I’ve been binge re-reading books by Robert B. Parker, the Spenser books. I’ve enjoyed them a lot this time around. It had been so many years, I had forgotten the plots. But Hawk and Susan and Spenser remain quite vivid. Of course, the television show did add to those three.

Parker was excellent at character description. Even a minor character, we learned how they were dressed in detail.
“He had on a light gray overcoat with black velvet lapels and he was wearing a homburg. The hair that showed around the hat was gray. The shirt that showed above the lapels of the overcoat was white, with a pin collar and a rep tie tied in a big Windsor knot.”
The Spenser early books were excellent. The last few… not as good.

THE WIDENING GYRE wasn’t the first Parker book I read but, it was the one I bought in Houston at Murder By The Book and got him to sign. He was one of the first Best Selling authors I met. I vaguely remember saying something about how I was writing and he mumbled something like “Good luck, kid,” or maybe “Forget it, lady.”

By 1983, I had finished my first novel and was shopping it around. It came close to being published three times but either the editor pushing it left or the publisher folded. I’m glad it was never published because it wasn’t ready and never would be. However in the hands of a good editor, maybe…

From that first novel though, came Jenny Gordon and C.J. Gunn, my female private eyes. I eventually wrote maybe a dozen short stories about their adventures. Jenny was white and Cinnamon Jemimah Gunn was African American, but back then everyone said ‘black’. Jenny usually described C.J. as looking a lot like Nichelle Nichols who played Uhuru on STAR TREK. She also could look like Nefritti when she took on a haughty look.

My dearest friend during those days was Choicie Green who was black. She and I had worked together in a small hospital in Ft. Worth. Choicie was my x-ray student and co-worker and I was the chief technician. We showed how two females of different cultures and backgrounds could be close friends. She and I remained close for many years. Choicie was the one who gave C.J. her full name of Cinnamon Jemimah.

Spenser and Hawk were a big influence. I didn't want C.J. to be as tough as Hawk, but I made her an ex-policewoman. Six feet tall, slender and beautiful, she’d modeled in her teens and early 20s.

These were some of my thoughts last night as I read THREE WEEKS IN SPRING by Parker and his wife Joan about her finding a lump in her breast and having a mastectomy. I could relate. He seemed to lose his way for a while. Heard he and wife had problems but still lived together. That could have been merely a rumor.

One thing I’ve remembered that I sometimes quote but give him credit. Once on a radio call in show the caller asked “Why don't you write your books faster?” And Robert said, “You’re  supposed to read them the way I write them… Five pages a day.”

I love that.


  1. Nice, and nice to know not everyone churns out a dozen pages a day!

  2. Jan, I loved the old Parker novels, too, although (to be honest) I always felt he wrote Susan as a bit TOO naive about how bromances work (I mean, she is supposed to be this kick-ass psychologist and all), always questioning his and Hawk's partnership. I also loved his dialog, especially the bits when Parker and Hawk bat it back and forth. And I, too, am tremendously relieved that he was not churning them out and superspeed...

  3. I think I've read all the Parker novels, even his westerns, and yes, I think the early Spensers were the best. (Eve, I did grow a little tired of Susan at times.) In some of the later Parkers, it seemed the story became almost ALL dialogue--but boy was he good at it. Great column, Jan.

    By the way, Ace Atkins seems to have done a good job at keeping the Spenser series alive.

  4. JANICE, I was usually lucky to manage 3 or 4 a day. Some days 5 is easy and 3 is like pulling teeth.
    EVE, I think Susa had to fit the mode of the day. Even smart, educated kick-ass women can never really show their smarts. He was great with Hawk and Spenser. He had fun with it.
    JOHN, I think I had read them all except the last 4 or 5. He got tiresome. Once he added the dog and the way Susan acted with it got silly. Pearl putting her snout into the pickle jar and getting a pickle while up on the picnuc table and all Susan says is "She likes pickles."
    I love my animals and treat them like children but I try to teach my pets as well as my kids and grandkids a few manners.
    Just got a lot too cutsie when he added that dog. Spent too much time there and the story got lost. But maybe only me.

  5. Jan, as you know, I've enjoyed Parker's stories and yours. I hadn't guessed the influence of his works on yours. And who knows? Maybe yours influenced his!

    1. No, Leigh. Hawk and Spenser were in at least 3 books before I wrote Jenny and CJ. But thanks.


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