Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Man of Mystery (Part 3)

My madness about mysteries--especially the novels of Raymond Chandler--led, as I wrote yesterday, to this: some students and I wrote a musical comedy about Philip Marlowe.  But there was another consequence.  Our young son (9-ish at the time) began reading The Three Investigators series.  And he didn't just read them.  He and a couple of friends formed their own little detective agency.  He started carrying around in his pockets all sorts of "equipment" that the job would require (not a firearm, thank goodness)--a notepad, a little flashlight, a wee magnifying glass.  They even made business cards to distribute around the neighborhood.  One afternoon after school Steve came to Harmon Middle School (before he was a student there), his pants stuffed with his gear, and one of my students, seeing him, asked me what was going on.  Everything--was all I could say.

But for me--there were other consequences.  I began casting about for other mystery writers to read, and soon I was reading the complete Lew Archer novels by Ross MacDonald (1915-1983), a pen name for Canadian writer Kenneth Millar.  (Link: Lew Archer novels)  Soon, those were gone, and I leapt back in history and read the complete Sherlock Holmes stories.

Then what?

For some reason I never got hooked on Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade novels--nor on Mickey Spillane (1918-2006) and his Mike Hammer novels--though I did enjoy the old TV series (1997-98) with Stacy Keach.  Here's a YouTube link to the old opening credits from that show: Mike Hammer opening  I once saw Keach play Richard III at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D. C.--he was great, found all the humor in that dark role, too.

Robert B. Parker
But one day ... Joyce came home from some event at the library and told me that someone had recommended to her a series about a detective called "Spenser" (no first name), written by some guy named Robert B. Parker (1932-2010).  I tried one.  Hook, line, sinker.  Read them all.  Started reading each new one the first day it appeared in the bookstores.  Soon, my brothers were reading them, too, and older brother, Richard, who was the music critic for the Boston Globe, occasionally reviewed books as well--and reviewed most/all of the Parkers.  This caused some issues between the two younger brothers: Which of us would get the galley when Richard was through with it?  Dave--living in Boston (as Richard did)--usually won, though Richard occasionally sent me one in the mail, perhaps when he was annoyed with brother Dave for some reason.

That first summer of my hooking, we drove to Oregon to see my parents, who were then living in Cannon Beach.  As I would finish a Parker in the car, I would pass it back to teenager Steve, who would read it, too.  And we would pull off the road in little towns, looking for bookstores, looking for Parker novels.

I watched all the episodes of Spenser: For Hire, the TV series based on the books (1985-1988)--here's a YouTube link to the opening sequence for that series ... (Opening for Spenser).  Parker started up a couple of other series, too--one featuring Sunny Randall (a woman P. I.) and another about a small-town cop with alcohol issues named Jesse Stone.  I ate those books, too--and love the Tom Selleck TV movies based on the Jesse novels.  (Parker also wrote some YA novels--I've not read them--but I do own them!)

Since Parker's death in 2010, other writers are doing the Parker books, but I haven't read any.  Can't do it.  Oddly, though, Parker once wrote a couple of Raymond Chandler/Philip Marlowe novels.  One was Poodle Springs, which Chandler had started but never finished; another was Perchance to Dream.  I did read those.  They were all right.  But I still felt as if I were cheating in school ... not that I know what that really feels like, of course.

I met Parker at a couple of book signings in the Cleveland area ... and, yes, most of my Parkers are signed.  And one year I decided to take some young Harmon School kids interested in writing to meet him--an incident I wrote about in my memoir Turning Pages (link to book on Kindle: Turning Pages).  Below is what I wrote about that visit--a humbling experience ...

In the mid-1990s I drove a group of my eighth-graders up to a local book store for a Parker signing.  I was excited.  I’d read every new Spenser novel at the moment of publication—and even owned some of his early non-Spensers (like Three Weeks in Spring, co-written with his wife, Joan).  I’d met Parker at another signing, some years earlier, but the store had been so crowded that I’d barely been able to say “Hello.”  (In those days—the first time I met him—he was still signing Robert B. Parker; later, he scrawled just a plain RBP.)  I’d told my students about Parker’s novels and about Spenser, the private eye, and was surprised that they did not remember the mid-eighties’ TV show Spenser: For Hire.  I told my students to meet me at school early that evening so we would beat the crowd.  But a kid or two were late, so we arrived about fifteen minutes after the scheduled start.  I was dreading the equator-length line we’d face.
But no one was in the store.  No one but Robert B. Parker, who was wandering around in the stacks looking at books.  My students and I talked with him for nearly a half-hour before anyone else showed up.  On the way home, no one was so unwise as to ask me why I thought a crowd would be there.

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