Reading “God Save the Child”
My only complaint when I started reading Robert Parker’s ‘Spenser’ series came in the first book, “The Godwulf Manuscript” when Spenser, crossing a college quad, described in great detail the clothing of several students he passed. For nearly two pages Parker shared the early seventies fashion to be found on a college campus, displayed by characters without names or purpose or bearing in any way on the story at all, and when I started the second book in the series, “God Save the Child”, it seemed I was in for more of the same.
Maybe it was that this was the second book and with that came a growing appreciation or familiarity with Parker’s writing style, but I started to understand why this was the case and why it had to be. Spenser narrates these stories and he’s as clever and sharp-witted as any private detective from the days of Chandler and Hammett, and big enough to get away with having a smart mouth if the guys he’s mouthing off to can keep up and realize he’s insulting them.
But where Parker goes into exhaustingly more detail then the classics of detective fiction is less about sloppy or tedious writing. In order to put us in his detective’s shoes, he has to also put us in his detective’s head.
It took Spenser just about explaining this to his love interest in “God Save the Child” for me to understand as well, so I clearly don’t make a very good detective. Spenser, on the other hand, is good at what he does specifically because he notices and remembers everything. He sees a person’s shoes and remembers their pants, the color of socks and shirt and jacket, the cut and color of hair and whether the glasses were prescription or just for show, and whether they matched the rest of the outfit as well; and he does this for every person he passes, everyone he comes across from the moment he meets a client because any one of these people may be a part of his case, and he may need that information later.
Spenser isn’t a hero or a supercop or some action star. He’s just the guy working a small-time case trying to figure out where someone or something went and whether it needed to be returned once he found it. In the course of this he’ll tell you what he made for breakfast and describe his workout routine, and you might even be able to cook a pork tenderloin en croûte if you pay attention.
Robert Parker understands that this is tedious work, undertaken by the kind of man willing to notice details and keep each and every one of them tucked away for the moment he will need to put those pieces together the right way. From an author’s perspective, to realistically write such a tedious undertaking itself needs to become tedious.
This writing and narrative style that at first turned me off of Robert Parker is precisely what takes the reader more completely into the world and mind of a private detective than any author has before. He does this not by hinting at the details the reader should remember or teasing the threads that will be important later, but by immersing the audience in the overwhelming detail of the world and letting them sift through to identify the important parts alongside the narrator. It’s this style that makes the Spenser series so intriguing, and interesting to continue reading.