“Spen-suh!”

December 15, 2006

I finished Robert B. Parker’s latest Spenser novel last night, Hundred-Dollar Baby. I’ve enjoyed the Spenser books since I began reading them after the television show “Spenser: For Hire” aired. I will interrupt whatever I am reading at the the time to dive into the latest Spenser, and I can’t say that about any other author or character. The books are a light, easy, quick and fun read, narrated by Spenser himself. A few punches are thrown, maybe some gunplay but not always, lots of Spenser insults and humor, and there is also the sometimes laugh out loud verbal jousting between Spenser and Hawk, his friendly enforcer buddy who frequently covers his back. And we always have Spenser waxing poetic about the beauty and brains of his longtime love Susan Silverman, a Harvard trained psychologist.

Short chapters make you believe that Parker writes a chapter a day and then he’s done for the day. This makes for a pleasurable reading experience. You can read a chapter, put it down, read a chapter, put it down. But normally you don’t. Usually it’s the “just one more chapter” mentality until you’re done. Sometimes I think the poetic waxing is a bit over the top and should wane a bit, but it’s all part of the dichotomy of Spenser, a former boxer and cop who quotes poetry, fixes gourmet meals, loves his woman, is a loyal friend, and rescues people who sometimes don’t want rescued. When reading the books you also get the sense that the waxing about Susan is really just author Parker’s talking about his wife, to whom he has dedicated every one of his books — several dozen at this point.

When I read the books I can sometimes hear Robert Urich’s voice over. Urich played Spenser in the old TV show, and I see a mixture of both him and my imagined literary Spenser as I read. And no one who ever saw Avery Brooks’ portrayal of Hawk — with his shaved head, sunglasses, glistening white teeth, holding a shining .44 magnum cannon — can ever imagine another Hawk. Brooks *is* Hawk and always will be, with his looks, attitude, and occasional “Spen-suh!”

Parker, who along with his wife, produced the A&E TV movies years after the show was cancelled, may say that the movies starring Joe Mantegna are more in line with his vision of Spenser, but Robert Urich will always be Spenser for me, and certainly Avery Brooks will always be Hawk. And though my literary imagination of Susan Silverman differs a bit, who can replace the series’ Barbara Stock as the hottest Susan Silverman? All the post-Stock Susans pale in comparison, with a special “boo-hiss” to some, not all, of those who have played the character in the TV movies. Yikers.

When kayleigh and I went to Boston for the World Science Fiction Awards, yes we were there for the awards, a very special occasion. But it was experiencing Spenser’s Boston that really got me. I could see Spenser and Hawk jogging by as we walked through Boston Common. And walking down Tremont and Boylston, as we did many times while there, I knew that somewhere around a corner and a few flights up was Spenser’s office, and that he might be looking out.

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