Showing posts with label Spenser. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Spenser. Show all posts

22 April 2022

Writing a PI

The first real novel I wrote could bear the label "in the tradition of Hammett, Chandler, and McDonald." Nick Kepler did have a lot in common with the Op, Philip Marlowe, and Lew Archer. Yet, unlike those three, I actually immersed myself in Sue Grafton, Robert Parker's first ten or so Spenser novels (After that, Parker was just having fun with the characters), and dabbling a bit in Elvis Cole. Of the three, I liked Kinsey Millhone the best. She was a loner who, despite protestations of having no life, had a more interesting personal life than the other two. Really, I've had Amstel. It's not that great. Neither is Rolling Rock. Sorry, Spenser.

Being a noob, I didn't realize that all I was doing was driving this year's less impressive model of a classic. Sure, I was driving a Mustang, but was it the forgettable eighties Mustang? Or the Pinto with "Mustang II" slapped on the side? (I actually owned one of those. We shall never speak of it again!!!) Really, Nick was more like the 1990s Mustang - sleek, powerful, but lacking the soul the original and New Millennium versions had. Nick swapped out blues for the jazz of earlier PIs. He had a psycho helper a la Joe Pike, Hawk, and Bubba, but he was a minor character among several. He shared a working arrangement with Kinsey, scoring office space from his former employer in the same way. So... Different. Right?

Well, I come not to bury the PI. People are still churning them out, seeking a new spin on the knight errant. The day of the thriller has also brought story tropes that require the archetype change. And besides, I've met a few PIs over the years. The one I met in the 90s while working at the Computer Stuporstore (which we shall also not speak of again) had a vastly different approach to his job than the lady who knocked on my door looking for a woman who lived here before I bought the house.

By the time I wrote the third Kepler novel, though, I realized it would never be traditionally published. It was time to move on. I wrote Road Rules as a dare, channeling my inner Elmore Leonard. I wrote Holland Bay, partly mourning the end of The Wire, partly because I had seen and read so much about police in the late 2000s, and partly because Christopher Nolan built a new Gotham City, prompting me to build my own city. To me, the PI was dead, despite later botching a dive into the Kindle revolution to get out those last two Kepler novels.

But would I go back? I sort of did. I wanted to know what happened to Gypsy from the short story "Roofies," wrote a novella called Gypsy's Kiss (still sort of in print), and have a novel that needs expanding about Nick facing down Katrina in New Orleans. Actually, he's facing down the aftermath and a guy who thinks he's Jim Jones. Only Nick doesn't like Flavor-Ade. 

But the New Orleans novel, still in second draft, awaits a deeper rewrite. My focus in crime has been Holland Bay and its follow-ups. 

But is the PI dead? No, he's just morphed. Again. Like he always does. One need only look at Jack Irish, by the late Peter Temple. I've been watching the Australian series on Acorn. Guy Pearce's disheveled ex-lawyer isn't really a PI per se. He's a woodworker. He's a debt collector. He's kind of a lawyer. And he spends most of is time trying to piece his life back together. (And I will never forgive the antagonist of Season 2 for destroying that beautifully restored Studebaker.) But it's hard to compete. After all, James Bond continually reinvents himself, adapting to Jason Bourne and inspiring numerous spins on the character, including female agents. Marvel dominates, and DC profitably sputters on the big screen. And let's be honest, between the return of Star Trek (literally, in a couple of weeks with Captain Pike's last crew and James T. Kirk slated to appear next season) and more Leonardesque streamers like Better Call Saul and Ozark, the PI sometimes gets relegated to supporting character or even minion.

But can he be reinvented? I don't see why not. If we ignore Mark Wahlberg's Spenser (Really, a love letter to Boston with two familiar character names slapped onto the story), Spenser or even Marlowe are the perfect vehicles for the ten-episode season format. And to be honest, I prefer this. Britain, Ireland, and Australia have done this for decades instead of the long, hard-to-maintain 26-episode system used in the US and Canada. But an updated or period-set take on either character makes a very doable way to introduce to PI to a new generation. 

Hmm... The last Holland Bay novel I wrote is written like it's a ten-episode season. And the follow-up is outlined the same. Maybe there's hope to revive Nick after all.

Sidenote: I say that both the real and fictional PI have changed. Except, one morning not long after I moved to my current home, I drove through the neighboring town of Silverton, Ohio. The PIs I've met over the years occupied suites of offices in New York City or cookie-cutter offices in suburban office parks adjacent to law practices and insurance companies. I just happened to look up on my way to pick up a pizza when I saw a second story window with pebbled glass that read "Private Investigator" and had the phone number. Don't know who the person was, male or female, old or young, white or black, but there has to be a story there. It was like Archer stepped out of a battered paperback and into our world.

11 March 2022

The Town Tamer

CC 2011 Bradford Timeline

One of the most tired cliches from Westerns is the town tamer. And you can thank Wyatt Earp for it. In the 1920s, no one had heard of Tombstone, Arizona and the OK Corral. But Earp, who had been a US Marshal in places like Dodge City, Kansas and Peoria, Illinois, still considered frontier land four years after the death of the state's favorite son, Abraham Lincoln.

The OK Corral is an iconic legend of the Old West. But it really didn't enter the public imagination until Earp drifted into Hollywood as what's now called a technical consultant during silent film's heyday. Earp told a screenwriter or a director or possibly even Tom Mix of how he, his brothers, and his consumption-wracked pal Doc Holliday took on a gang of outlaws. Back before Tinsel Town lost the ability to do anything more than remakes or franchises and charge you a second mortgage to see the latest James Bond, they never met a cool story they didn't like.

Nor did a writer named Dashiell Hammett, who decided to adapt the concept for his Continental Op series. The Op, never named, rolls into Personville, Montana, dubbed by the locals as "Poisonville" for its violence and its filthy ground and air from nearby mining. Hammett moves Tombstone north, swaps out the Earp brothers and Holliday for the Op as a solo operator, and uses a recent labor dispute in Butte, Montana (the real-life inspiration for Personville) as a jumping off point.

Thus, the town tamer was born. And it shows up again in the twice-fictionalized tales of Sheriff Buford Pusser (one of Joe Don Baker's surprisingly decent acting turns and a miss for Dwayne Johnson), Jack Reacher's debut (well-adapted for television on Prime), and one of the better latter-day Spenser novels.

What is it about the town tamer that's so intriguing? Earp, after all, was a law man who hired his brothers and deputized the local dentist. Pusser, in the original based-on-a-true-story version of Walking Tall, was a local sheriff.

Source: Amazon Prime Video

The Op and Spenser are professionals brought in to solve a problem. Reacher blunders into a small Georgia town that looks like a gentrified version of The Dukes of Hazzard, minus the idiot sheriff and lovably corrupt county boss. (Ironically, Reacher's casual girlfriend is named "Roscoe." I'll let Lee Child explain that one.) Reacher isn't a professional. He's like the Op, except he doesn't even freelance. He's just there to hear some blues music from the source.

But it's one man taking on the system. And in each of these stories, the system has gotten complacent. Earp may have been taking out a local gang of thugs easily knocked over these days by the likes of The Wire's Stringer Bell or one pissed-off police district (or even a bar brawl that goes horribly awry for them.) The Op took on a mining concern that counted on fear to get its way. Reacher goes after counterfeiters who made the mistake of killing his brother. Spenser knocks over a Mexican gangster who decides he's kingpin from Daredevil (either version. It's the same guy.) Usually, where this happens, someone gets too comfortable with their reign of terror. And one thing that such people forget is that reigns of terror require actual terror. If the one coming at you isn't terrified, the whole thing collapses like a house of cards.

Sometimes that works in real life, but it's a staple of our crime fiction, even scifi and spy thrillers. Someone turns "Boo!" into a superpower, and someone else not really feeling it becomes their kryptonite.

20 March 2020

Geezer, PI

We have a special treat today.  Richard Helms is a retired forensic psychologist and college professor. He has been a finalist for the Short Mystery Fiction Society's Derringer Award six times, winning it twice; and has had five nominations for the Private Eye Writers of America Shamus Award; two for the ITW Thriller Award, with one win; and one  nomination for the Mystery Readers International Macavity Award. He is also a frequent contributor to periodicals and anthologies, and he recently sold his third screenplay. His 20th novel, Brittle Karma, comes out this summer. An avid woodworker, Helms enjoys travel, gourmet cooking, playing with his grandchildren, and rooting for his beloved Carolina Tar Heels and Panthers.
— Robert Lopresti

Geezer, P.I.
by Richard Helms

Last July 4th, my wife and I were relaxing at home, reveling in the lullaby of pyrotechnic explosions echoing across the neighborhood, when our daughter called to report she’d just experienced an earthquake. Rachel moved to Los Angeles six years ago for an internship with the Conan O’Brien Show, and stayed to make a go of comedy writing. On July 4th, however, she rocked and rolled with the swarm of 6.0 and higher tremors radiating from Ridgecrest, about 125 miles away. She was safe, when all was said and done, but thinking about the potential for earthquakes reminded me that I inadvertently wrote my San Francisco PI Eamon Gold (Grass Sandal, 2003; Cordite Wine, 2005) into a Spenser-style age conundrum because of another earthquake.

When Robert B. Parker originated the Spenser PI series in 1972, he depicted Spenser as a Korean War veteran who also boxed professionally against Jersey Joe Walcott. Walcott retired from the ring in 1953. Presuming Spenser was at least 20 when the Korean War ended, he was born no later than 1933. That means today's Ace Atkins version of Spenser is 87 years old!

When I started writing Eamon Gold stories in 1999, he was in his early forties. Part of his backstory was that the house he inherited from his parents, in the Marina District of San Francisco, was destroyed in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. No problem, since it was only 10 years earlier, right?

Wrong. It's a problem. The third Eamon Gold novel, Brittle Karma, will be released by Black Arch Books this summer. It’s now twenty-one years after I first wrote Grass Sandal. By my best estimate, Gold and I are now both in our middle 60s. He was always at least a decade older than his girlfriend, Heidi Fluhr, who is in her thirties. Now he's at least thirty years older. In my head, he's still in his middle forties. History, however, says otherwise.

I dodged this problem with Pat Gallegher, my New Orleans-based marquee protagonist, by writing myself a rule that all his novels take place before Hurricane Katrina, and all his short stories take place between 1999's Joker Poker and 2001's Voodoo That You Do. So, despite the fact that the fifth Gallegher novel—Paid In Spades—came out in 2019, twenty years after Joker Poker, Gallegher is permanently between 48 and 52.

Parker and Atkins solved the problem of a geriatric Spenser by invoking magic, declaring that Spenser, Hawk, and Susan simply don't age, even though all the ancillary characters like Vinnie Morris, Martin Quirk, Lieutenant Healy, and Henry Cimoli grow decrepit and move into retirement.

I happily admit that my Eamon Gold series is a Spenser clone. George Pelecanos would refer to Gold as one of ‘Spenser’s Sons.’ I simply decided, in tribute to Robert B. Parker, to also allow my protagonist and his squeeze to defy the laws of nature and—like Peter Pan—simply never age. Details, right?

Eamon Gold might not age, but his creator certainly does. I recently attended my first Medicare physical exam. The hair that falls to the floor during my monthly visits to Great Clips gets grayer by the year. Things ache that didn’t ache before, and the aches aren’t going away. However, I am remarkably impressed—despite the inevitable pull of gravity and the countdown timer clicking away in my genes—that, at sixty-five, I’m still active and vibrant. My shock at my lack of total dilapidation at a point in life when most of my ancestors were already dead has inspired me.

In Brittle Karma, I include a character who is a porn star in his fifties. Gold is curious as to how he keeps working in a business that seemingly dotes on youth and vitality. The character says, “Easy. There’s a market for middle-aged actors. Boomers, man. They dug in and aren’t letting go. The Sixties kids are retiring, with lots of disposable income and a burning desire not to relinquish their youth and sexuality. If anything, they become even more sexually adventurous as they age. Half the swing clubs in San Francisco cater to people over fifty. It’s like a sea of gray. Granny porn is a real thing these days. People want to watch other people who look like them.”

Likewise, I believe Boomers—still the largest consumer group for genre fiction—want to read mystery protagonists who look like them and share their cultural history. Recently, I penned a screenplay for an independent filmmaker who insisted I use my New Orleans protagonist Pat Gallegher as the lead character. However, I wrote it in modern day, fifteen years after Gallegher’s novel adventures. He’s older by a great margin, and feels it, but in the end, he is still the knight errant of his youth. Our bodies may change, but our character still shines through.

One of my short stories, “See Humble and Die” (The Eyes of Texas, edited by Michael Bracken, Down and Out Books, 2019) was recently selected for inclusion in Houghton-Mifflin’s The Best American Mystery Stories 2020, edited by Otto Penzler and C.J. Box.  This story features a retired Texas Ranger in his early seventies who fends off the boredom of retirement by hanging out a P.I. shingle and serving legal papers. As I wrote it, I saw seventy-five year old Sam Elliott as my protagonist, Huck Spence. And, you know what? It worked. I can still imagine Elliott kicking ass and taking names, and I bet you can too. When it comes to heroics and good old-fashioned knuckles-and-know-how detective action, there’s a market for tough old birds like Huck Spence.

As my character in Brittle Karma noted, the Boomers are dug in and not letting go.  We’re the generation who said, “We’re never growing old!”, and we’re keeping that promise. We deserve literary characters who look and think the way we do, even if we might need to suspend our disbelief, just a tad, to make them plausible.

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.

04 February 2017

For Dialogue Lovers Only

All writers have things that we enjoy most (and least) about the process of creating fiction. Some of these preferences, I think, are related to our backgrounds--former journalists/nonfiction-writers seem to be especially good at descriptions and exposition, psychology folks seem to focus on emotions and relationships, teachers like style and editing, engineers seem more comfortable with plotting and structure, etc. Then again, some say our prior and non-writing experiences don't matter a whit; we just like what we like.

I can speak only for myself. My two favorite tasks in writing a story are, for whatever reasons, (1) outlining the plot and (2) writing dialogue. Since we've had a great many columns at this blog about the pros and cons of outlining, I thought I'd focus on my second preference.

Talking points

I love to write dialogue. Probably because I love to read dialogue. When I pick up a magazine or anthology or collection of short stories, I almost always find myself flipping through it and looking for "white space." When I find stories that have a lot of that--which of course means short sentences, which means dialogue--I usually read those stories first. Why? Because dialogue means something's happening. I'm cruising along through the tale listening to people talk (and sometimes scream and shout and argue), and not plodding through all that thick, margin-to-margin writing.

Does that searching-for-white-space approach always work? No. Stories with a lot of dialogue, if they're not done well, can be more tiring and tedious than pure narrative, and, since there's no magic formula for all this, stories written either way can be either wonderful or terrible. I've always said dialogue is like playing the guitar: it's hard to do well and easy to do badly.

But I should point out that the amount of dialogue in a piece of fiction depends on the piece. Three of my recent published stories had almost no dialogue, and one of them had none at all. In fact, of the five widely accepted "elements" of fiction (plot, characterization, POV, dialogue, and setting), dialogue is the only one that's not absolutely necessary. Well, okay, I realize that some stories don't have to have plots either, but most good stories do. Another point: I'm convinced that dialogue is a marketing advantage. If you write two stories of equal quality and one has a lot of dialogue and one has very little, I think the one with more dialogue is easier to sell.

Masters of the craft

My fondness for dialogue is probably one of the reasons I've so enjoyed the books of the late Robert B. Parker. His series novels, whether they're about Spenser or Jesse Stone or Sunny Randall or Virgil Cole, contain a LOT of conversations between characters. And it's snappy, believable dialogue that either moves the plot forward or tells us something about the people in the story. Sometimes it does both. Other writers well-known for the quality of their dialogue are George V. Higgins, Dick Francis, Elmore Leonard, James M. Cain, Carl Hiaasen, Toni Morrison, Harlan Coben, John Steinbeck, Janet Evanovich, Joe Lansdale, James Scott Bell, etc. Advice to fellow writers: Read these authors, then go ye and do likewise.

Contrast that kind of fiction with the work of, say, James Michener or Tom Clancy, whose novels usually contain very little dialogue. Don't get me wrong--I liked their books, and I have all of them right here on the packed and groaning shelves of my home office. But I also maintain that those novels were not as much fun to read as (and certainly took longer to read than) those of Parker, Leonard, Coben, and company.

According to Sol

I think all this goes beyond the "easy-read" aspect. I like dialogue because of the rhythm and sound and feel of the sentences, and the way it can immediately create a reversal or plot twist when needed. In his book Stein on Writing, Sol Stein called this "oblique" dialogue, which allows the writer to introduce the unexpected. Here are some examples, from that book:

SHE: How are you?
HE: I suppose I'm okay.
SHE: Why, what's the matter?
HE: I guess you haven't heard.

SHE: How are you? I said how are you?
HE: I heard you the first time.
SHE: I only wanted to know how you were.
HE: How the hell do you think I am?

HE: It's beginning to rain.
SHE: What do you suggest?

In all of these, the responses aren't direct, as they often are in real life. They're indirect and surprising, and serve to turn the story in a different direction. It's a great way to advance the plot and keep the reader interested.

The voices in my own head

Something else dialogue can do, as was mentioned earlier, is help with characterization. In a Western mystery story I just finished writing, a man named Wade Carson is knocked unconscious while trying to rob a bank and wakes up lying with his wrists tied in a room that turns out to be a temporary jail cell. Sitting in a chair beside one of the windows is a young woman in men's clothing and boots, with a five-pointed star pinned to her shirt and a Winchester rifle across her lap.

"Where am I?" he asked her.
"In an extra room, behind the sheriff's house. He was planning to rent it out."
"I don't see any bars. What's keeping me in?"
"I am." She lifted the rifle off her lap, then lowered it again.
"And who might you be?"
"I might be Deputy Morton."
"You a real deputy?"
"This month I am." She tapped her star. "This is my uncle's badge--he's home with a broken leg."
He sighed. "An interim jail and an interim deputy."

Later, still under guard, he tells her he'd been on his way to San Francisco, to see a friend.

"Girlfriend?" she asked.
He broke out a grin. "I think you sound jealous."
"That's probably because of your head injury. What kind of friend?"
"An old partner. Wants me to go into business with him."
"What kind of business?"
Carson hesitated. "You'll think it's funny."
"No I won't."
"Banking. My friend owns a bank. And I'm good with figures."
"You're right," she said. "That is funny."
"You won't think so, when I do it. California's a booming place, these days."
"I've never been there."
He smiled again. "Want to go?"

And so on. I'm not saying these exchanges are great writing, but I am saying they're great fun to write. And I'm always pleased at how they allow a reader to be told, in very few words, a lot about the characters who are speaking.

Real vs. realistic

The main thing about dialogue is, you have to make it sound right. Here's another quote, from Stein on Writing. "If you need proof that dialogue and spoken words are not the same, go to a supermarket. Eavesdrop. Much of what you hear in the aisles sounds like idiot talk. People won't buy your novel to hear idiot talk. They get that free from relatives, friends, and the supermarket." Stein adds, on that same subject, "Elmore Leonard's dialogue is invented. It is a semblance of speech that has the effect of actual speech, which is what his readers prize." To sum all this up, dialogue doesn't have to sound like what we really say or hear. It has to sound better.

Do any of you writers share my obsession with dialogue? Do you find it harder, or easier, to create than other things in the writing process? Are your stories/novels usually heavy on dialogue, or not?

A final note. Having finished the eighth installment in Robert Parker's Appaloosa series (since his death those books have been written by Robert Knott, who does a good job of imitating Parker's "style" and frequent use of dialogue), I've just pre-ordered the ninth novel, Revelation. It's due out next week, and will continue the adventures of Old West lawmen Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch.

I can't wait to hear them talking to each other.

16 February 2013

And the Beat Goes On

As most of you know, author Robert B. Parker passed away in 2010. Parker was a prolific writer, turning out some 68 novels in two different genres--three, I suppose, if you count Young Adult (Edenville Owls). But the crime novel was his forte, and three of his four "series" were in the mystery genre. The protagonists of two of those three series--Spenser and Jesse Stone--successfully made the transition to TV, and the first installation of his Virgil Cole/Everett Hitch Western series was adapted into the critically-acclaimed feature film Appaloosa.  (Parker's third mystery series featured female P.I. Sunny Randall and included half a dozen novels, none of which has yet been adapted to either the big or small screen.)

The purpose of this column, though, is not to discuss Parker's work. At least not specifically. What I'd like to talk about today are three recent efforts to extend his work, and to keep alive most of the beloved-by-millions Parker characters.

To this date, three authors have been given permission to continue writing novels based on Parker's characters and settings: Ace Atkins for the Spenser series, Michael Brandman for Jesse Stone, and Robert Knott for Cole/Hitch. It would appear they are all well qualified for such a task. Atkins is a journalist and bestselling mystery/suspense author, Brandman co-wrote and co-produced (with Tom
Selleck) the Jesse Stone TV episodes, and Knott co-wrote and co-produced (with Ed Harris) Appaloosa. Since Parker's death, there have so far been four Parker-inspired novels published by the new authors, the first three of which were Lullaby (Atkins), Killing the Blues (Brandman), and Ironhorse (Knott).

I, for one, was thrilled to learn that these wonderful characters had been granted a new lease on life. The question, of course, is Are the new novels any good? Well, I just finished Ironhorse last night, so I've now read all of those first three--and here are my humble opinions on each.


In this novel Spenser winds up helping a kid, which has worked well in the past--and it works here too. I won't dwell further on the plot; let me just say that Ace Atkins did what I thought was a great job with Parker's writing style. The almost-entirely-dialogue scenes, the spare and simple language, the action sequences, the fast-paced narration--all of this was well done. Spenser's strange relationship with Hawk rang true, his personal code of honor came into play on several occasions, and even though Susan Silverman was featured, she was--thank God--less nauseating than usual. This was a darn good book. I remember reading someplace that Atkins doesn't sound like someone copying Parker; he sounds like Parker.

Killing the Blues

While this one didn't impress me quite as much as Lullaby did, I enjoyed it nonetheless. The only things I found a bit jarring were that (1) it was a little more violent than most of the Stone novels, (2) it involved a lot less "thinking" on Jesse's part (which is one of the things he's really good at), and (3) Jesse didn't seem to carry around quite as much emotional baggage as he usually does. Jesse's faults--his brooding over his now-distant ex-wife, his drinking problem, etc.--aren't something I particularly like, but they do help make him what he is. Even so--as I said--I found the novel interesting and entertaining, and Brandman writes a smooth story. I will happily buy the next one in the series when it comes along.


I really liked this novel. I'm a sucker for Westerns anyway--I'd probably write more Western stories than mysteries if there were a market for them--and I thought this one was intelligent, authentic, and great fun to read. The terse conversations between Marshal Cole and Deputy Hitch were done extremely well, and the settings were so real I felt I was riding beside them, both on the trail and along the railroad tracks that run throughout this tale. The action scenes were understated but effective, and the keynote of the novel was--as in the others--the rock-solid friendship between the two leads. A good effort, I thought.

Question for you mystery (and Western) fans: are any of you Parker fans as well? Have you read any or all of these "additional" books? If so, did you enjoy them?

NOTE: While researching this column, I learned that the second of Michael Brandman's Jesse Stone novels, Fool Me Twice, is now available--and I understand the second of Ace Atkins's Spenser novels, Wonderland, will be out in May. I look forward to reading both. 

I still remember how sad I felt when I first heard about Parker's death, almost exactly three years ago. Part of that was purely selfish, since I figured his creations had died with him. Nobody's happier than I am that his characters are still around. 

I cannot, however, say that I envy any of the three authors who've agreed to carry on. Bob Parker left some big shoes to fill.

BY THE WAY . . . Here are the answers to my Mystery Trivia quiz, posted two weeks ago:

1. What was the full name of Sherlock Holmes's landlady?
Mrs. Martha Hudson

2. In what magazine did Dashiell Hammett's first Continental Op story appear?
Black Mask

3. What was Evan Hunter's best-known pseudonym?
Ed McBain

4. Who killed Richard Kimble's wife in TV's The Fugitive?
The one-armed man

5. What's the name of Bill Pronzini's famous detective?
The Nameless Detective (Okay, it was a trick question.)

6. Who played the gangster who carved up Jack Nicholson's nose in Chinatown?
Roman Polanski (a cameo by the director)

7. What fictional series character hitchhikes across America carrying only a toothbrush, an ATM card, and the clothes on his back?
Jack Reacher

8. Where did Nick and Nora Charles stay when they were in New York?
The Normandie Hotel

9. What mystery (and former Western) author wrote the novel Hombre and the short story "3:10 to Yuma"?
Elmore Leonard

10. What Poe story is considered to be the first "locked-room mystery"?
The Murders in the Rue Morgue

11. What was taken in John Godey's novel The Taking of Pelham One Two Three?
A New York subway train

12.  Who played a judge in the final episode of Perry Mason, telecast in 1966?
Erle Stanley Gardner

13. In what city was Spenser based?

14. How do you pronounce Ngaio Marsh's first name?
Ny-O (rhymes with Ohio)

15. In North by Northwest, what is Cary Grant's reply when Eva Marie Saint says, "Roger O. Thornhill. What does the O stand for?"

16. Who shot J.R., on TV's Dallas?
Kristin Shepard (Sue Ellen Ewing's sister, played by Mary Crosby)

17. What was the basis of many of the titles of Martha Grimes's detective novels?
They were names of English pubs

18. What was Mike Hammer's secretary's name?

19. What did BullittVertigoThe Maltese Falcon, and Dirty Harry have in common?
San Francisco

20. Who lived on a houseboat called The Busted Flush?
Travis McGee

21. Edgar Box is the pseudonym of what writer?
Gore Vidal

22. Who always includes a number in the titles of her mystery novels?
Janet Evanovich

23. Who played the murderer in Rear Window?
Raymond Burr

24. In Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd--how did he die?
He was stabbed in the back

25. How did Nero Wolfe finish the following line: The only safe secrets are . . .
. . . those you have yourself forgotten

26. What TV character's name was taken from the British film industry expression "man-appeal" or "M-appeal" (which is what the series producers were looking for)?
Emma Peel

27. What was Robert B. Parker's middle name?

28. What was Dick Francis's only collection of short stories?
Field of Thirteen

29. Who was the voice of Charlie in TV's Charlie's Angels?
John Forsythe

30. How did Hitchcock manage to do his trademark cameo in the cramped setting of the movie Lifeboat?
He appeared in an ad for a fictional weight-loss drug, shown in a newspaper aboard the lifeboat

31. What's the name of the bog that borders the Baskerville estate?
Grimpen Mire

32. In Richard Diamond, Private Detective, who played Sam (RD's answering service)?
Mary Tyler Moore

33. What mystery writer is actually Dr. Robert William Arthur?
Robin Cook
(This was my mistake. The real name is Dr. Robert William Arthur Cook. Nice way to keep you from guessing the correct answer, right?)

34. In which of the Thin Man movies did James Stewart play a suspect?
After the Thin Man

35. Who had to turn down the role of Indiana Jones because he was tied up filming a P.I. series?
Tom Selleck

36. What's unique about the settings of Nevada Barr's mystery novels?
They're all set in National Parks

37. In The Maltese Falcon, what was Sam Spade's partner's name?
Miles Archer

38. Who were the two cousins who used the pen name Ellery Queen?
Frederick Dannay and Manfred B. Lee

39. What Ben Gazzara/Chuck Connors TV series had the following format: the first half was spent catching the crook and the last half was spent convicting him?
Arrest and Trial

40. What do P.D. James's first two initials stand for?
Phyllis Dorothy

41. Who writes mystery novels starring sports agent Myron Bolitar?
Harlan Coben

42. Who was the producer's first choice to play Lt. Columbo?
Bing Crosby

43. The movie Heavenly Creatures was based on a crime actually committed by what popular mystery writer, when she was in her teens?
Anne Perry

44. What musical instrument did Sherlock Holmes play?
The violin

45. What TV private detective frequented a bar called Mother's?
Peter Gunn

46. What was used to simulate blood in the Psycho shower scene?
Hershey's chocolate syrup

47. What do Robert B. Parker's Jesse Stone series and Steve Hamilton's Alex McKnight series have in common?
The Stone series is set in Paradise, Massachusetts; the McKnight series is set in Paradise, Michigan

48. What did the dying man tell James Stewart in The Man Who Knew Too Much?
That someone would be assassinated 

49. What is romance author Nora Roberts's mystery-writer pseudonym?
J.D. Robb

50. Which Agatha Christie novel featured Alice Ascher, Betty Barnard, and Carmichael Clarke?
The ABC Murders