MYSTERY LITERARY IMMORTALITY METAPHOR
I was very sad when I read that Robert Parker, author of the Spenser novels, had died. He was an engaging writer and I was always mad about Spenser with an S like the poet. I especially enjoyed the snappy dialog that Spenser and his friend Hawk carried on. Several months after his death, the New Book shelf at my local library came up with a new Parker novel. So I assumed that he’d left this novel behind just not quite finished. Perhaps it was mostly finished and Ace Atkins whose name was in the subauthor position had finished it up, edited it, whatever.
No. This was not the case. Someone was assuming the authorship. And I was of mixed feelings about it. Talk about intellectual property – I guess the Parker estate got this guy to
continue cranking out new Spenser novels and so assure his immortality. (He doesn’t quite get the dialog right – he’s missing Parker’s lightness). Ace Atkins took over the Spenser novels, another (from Hollywood, I think) is doing the Jesse Stone films and a third is working on the westerns.
He’s more prolific dead than he was alive. His wife, Joan, aka Susan Silverman, noted he had a picture of his dog Pearl on his desk.
She points to the pictures of the dog, noting that they actually show three different dogs, all named Pearl. “One would die and then he’d get another German shorthaired pointer,” she says. “In his mind, he had one Pearl for thirty years.” She used to give him a hard time about it. “If I predecease you,” she’d say, “you’ll find someone my height, my hair color, you’ll rename her Joan, and it will be as though I never left.”
I loved Spenser and Hawk and Pearl and when I heard about his death, I wrote a little tribute to him: As I read it now I am remembering my ability to pick winners: bottled water, a dollar a bottle – that’ll never catch on. Two video stores in town? Who will rent them all? So my Parker poem was another ace on.
READING THE LAST SPENSER NOVEL
Robert B. Parker, the creator of Spenser
died last year so this will be the last
novel about his tough detective
– Spenser with an S, he’d say, like the poet.
who only English majors remember
for his 16th century epic, The Faerie Queen,
but we’ve studied him for 400 years
and I hope Parker’s Spenser will
last 400 years but I’m inclined to think
Spenser with an S and Parker with a B
will pass into the dusty used book bins
at Barnes and Nobel and disappear
into that place where used books go.
When I noticed the new Parker on the New Book shelves I was torn two ways: I loved having a favorite author to read and I was horrified that someone thought they could replace him.
However, after Parker, I noticed that Dick Francis, another of my favorite mystery writers, had died and his son Felix was taking over. They shared authorship on teveral novels before Dick’s death and I thought Dick had taught him all he needed to know. I just got Felix’s book – Front Runner and under the title “A Dick Francis Novel.” We’ll see how it goes.
Browsing is one of my favorite activities. I came across Mickey Spillane, also dead, but being written now by Max Allan Collins. Well, Spillane never had any literary pretensions, A review of I, the Jury, in the Saturday Review of Literature characterized the novel as “lurid action, lurid characters; lurid writing; lurid plot; lurid finish; verdict: lurid.”
I’m wondering if the reincarnated author is more politically correct.
Tony Hillerman’s daughter Anne is taking up her father’s series of novels about the Navajo reservation in the Southwest. Two tribal policemen – Chee and Leaphorn share the series.
I love the way they think and how Tony Hillerman portrays it – Chee, the intuitive, and Leaphorn, the logician, both end up at the end in the same place. Anne was pretty good in the first piece, but then she was finishing a draft her father had begun before his death.
So what’s my point? Do I have one? Maybe. The movie makers do it all the time – think of the new Moby Dick without Gregory Peck or The Scarlet Letter without Demi Moore (please!).
A whole set of new opportunities for writers opens up – redoing the classics or doing sequels(like Gone with the Wind).
Would it work for poetry? Here we are with our group of immortals. I’m imagining a new Pablo Neruda, another Auden, anyone you imagine. There’s someone out there who’ll copy the style if not the soul. The beat goes on. Your chance for literary immortality, actually.