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

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


by Jan Grape

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.