Tag Archives: Robert B Parker

The Detective’s Gambit

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I’m a chess addict and my Sam Smith mystery, Mind Games, is about a chess player. Chess and mysteries have a common thread, the solving of a puzzle. With that in mind, I decided to research the connection between private detectives and chess. 

August 1957 saw the television premiere of The Chess Player, series one, episode eight of the Richard Diamond Private Detective series. In this episode, the wife of a wealthy industrialist hires Richard Diamond to discover who is trying to murder her husband. The plot is standard for the genre. However, David Janssen’s portrayal of Richard Diamond is engaging and it foreshadows his starring role as Richard Kimble in the television series The Fugitive. In The Chess Player, Julian Tyler, the industrialist husband, mentions that he played Capablanca and that he introduced a new variation to the Ruy Lopez.

When not tangling with femme fatales or dodging bullets, Raymond Chandler’s private detective, Philip Marlowe, could often be found brooding over chess puzzles. Marlowe preferred puzzles to over the board games with real opponents, which served to highlight his mistrust of his opponents, and humanity as a whole. 

Chess served as a literary motif in Chandler’s novel, The High Window, while Marlowe himself confessed, “I like liquor and women and chess and a few other things.” Maybe Chandler, and Marlowe, had a love-hate relationship with chess because, in The Long Goodbye, Marlowe stated, “Chess is the most elaborate waste of human intelligence outside of an advertising agency.” Yet Marlowe constantly returned to chess, including in the novel and television movie, Poodle Springs, a story written by Robert B Parker, another great of private detective literature.

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There are other examples of chess and the private detective, although in truth they are not numerous. In my Sam Smith Mystery Series, Sam (Samantha) is a budding chess player, keen to learn about the game. Chess is the ideal game to use as a metaphor in detective fiction. Furthermore, knowledge of the game suggests a certain level of intelligence. To win through, both the chess player and the private detective know that they have to make the right moves, and that one slip could be fatal.

 

Sam’s Easter Supplement

Welcome to Sam’s Easter Supplement, a weekly digest of news from Sam’s world.

This week, I have been researching material for Digging in the Dirt, book twelve in the Sam Smith Mystery Series. This story is centred on an archaeological dig, which takes place in Kenfig, a vast expanse of sand dunes along the South Wales coast. The photographs show a small section of the sand dunes, a real-life dig conducted there in 2011 and an army camp. The army camp was created by American soldiers who arrived in the dunes to prepare for D-Day in 1945. My fictional dig will feature this army camp.
I’m delighted to say that Sam’s Song is still in the top five of the Amazon private detective chart. I’m also delighted to see that Amazon have linked my books with Robert B Parker, one of the greats of the private detective genre. If you haven’t already done so, I recommend that you read Promised Land, a modern classic.

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And while we are on the subject of great writers here is Kurt Vonnegut offering sage advice on the craft if storytelling. In this five minute film Kurt Vonnegut explains the essence of storytelling. Within the humour of the film is a basic truth, which Vonnegut used to great effect in his novels. Also, here is one of many quotable quotes from the great author.
“If you want to really hurt your parents, go into the arts. I’m not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”
 
If you have read any of my books, especially Sam’s Song, you will know that the subject of ‘gaslighting’ is featured. Here is some sound advice on this sensitive subject Psychology Today
As ever, thank you for your interest and support. More news next week.
Happy Easter!

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Spenser

Spenser is the creation of Robert B. Parker, 1932 –2010. He is a tough, wise-cracking detective from the ‘hard-boiled’school of crime fiction who prides himself in his self-belief and his autonomy. The series is largely set in Boston, USA, and Robert B. Parker’s skilful pen brings the city vividly to life. The Boston backdrop is one of the highlights of the series, which runs to thirty-nine books, along with Spenser’s laconic narration, an easy voice that offers pleasure to the reader.

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Boston, the setting for the majority of the Spenser books

Spenser is an ex-boxer and a Korean veteran. He is also ageless and his physical attributes remain undiminished by the passing of time. The reader can see this as a flaw in that it requires too much suspension of disbelief, or you can accept the premise if you subscribe to the notion that ‘heroes never get old’. What is more troublesome, however, are Spenser’s references to his mother: in some of the books, Spenser’s mother died in childbirth, while in others he refers to her homilies and cooking. Given that an international publisher of some repute published the Spenser series, you feel that someone somewhere should have addressed this anomaly.

Robert B. Parker wrote lean, mean prose and personally I think his books are at their strongest when they are lean and mean as well. As Robert B. Parker’s career progressed he changed publishers and his new publishers seemed to insist on longer books, which meant a lot of ‘middle’and chapters that did little for the overall story. Therefore I would recommend the early books, God Save the Child through to Crimson Joy as the strongest in the series.

To many readers the strongest character in the series is Hawk, Spenser’s sidekick. Hawk is a mercenary, an assassin, a man without apparent emotion. In less skilful hands, Hawk would come across as hard and cold, but the genius of Robert B. Parker makes Hawk the centre of attention whenever he appears; the character consistently enlists the sympathy and support of the reader. Without doubt, Hawk is one of the finest creations in crime fiction.

The other leading character in Spenser’s world is Susan Silverman. Susan Silverman first appears as a guidance counsellor in book two, God Save the Child. In many respects, this is the highlight of her involvement in the series. In the fourth book, Promised Land, Spenser and Susan discuss marriage; she is keen, he is reluctant. By the end of the book, Spenser comes around to Susan’s way of thinking and proposes marriage only for Susan to say that she has changed her mind. As a relationship study this book is excellent and I regard it as my favourite Spenser novel.

In A Catskill Eagle, Susan runs off with a lover. She decides that she cannot escape from him, even though she is not being held against her will, and asks Spenser to ‘rescue’ her. This he does, leaving a trail of devastation and murder in his wake – one of the accepted premises of the Spenser series is that he can commit murder with the tacit approval of the authorities – and when he does finally ‘rescue’ Susan, she offers little gratitude. Maybe none of this matters, except that Spenser’s love for Susan is a central part of the series. In A Catskill Eagle, and the middle series novels, Susan comes across as a self-centred, selfish character and it is difficult to understand why all the other regular characters in the series love her as much as Spenser does. Robert B. Parker wrote from life and he based Susan on his wife, Joan. Maybe it says something about Susan when even Joan Parker stated that she did not like the character! The tiresome nature of Susan’s character is a frustration; with a more sympathetic female in her stead, you feel that the series would qualify as the best in private detective literature. As it stands, it is still essential reading for all fans of the genre.

In defence of Susan she is very much her own woman and in the later books there is a mellow glow to Spenser’s relationship with her that displays the familiarity of a long-standing couple. Susan comes across as a more appealing character in these books, especially when compared to the woman who ran off in A Catskill Eagle. This Susan is likeable, and for this reader certainly more likeable than the character portrayed through the middle books of the series.

The Spenser characters were adapted for television as Spenser: For Hire. The show ran for three seasons and sixty-five episodes with Robert Ulrich in the title role, supported by Avery Brooks as Hawk and Barbara Stock as Susan Silverman. Four movies were also made. Unlike the majority of the TV series, the movies were based on Robert B. Parker’s books. These movies were followed in 1999 by three more movies, made with a new, non-TV series, cast.

Sam’s ‘Grandfathers’

I’m honoured that the following five star review, placed on Amazon for Sam’s Song, should draw comparisons with Phillip Marlowe and Sam Spade because, in essence, they are my Sam’s ‘grandfathers’.

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The Review

I really enjoyed this mystery starring Sam as an emotionally damaged, female private detective. Early on I had to remind myself more than once that this story was set in the UK and not the USA because it felt like I was reading an atmospheric Raymond Chandler story! Sam wouldn’t have been out of place as a friend to Sam Spade or Phillip Marlowe. But enough of comparisons because this is an excellent read, which stands on its own merits.

We have a great mix of characters. Sam is an interesting and very believable character. There is an abusive ex husband and the scenes with him were very well written. There is the friend in the police service every private eye needs and again Sweets was well described. The clients are in the music industry and I thought the author did a great job of giving each character their own identity. The various shades of bad guys are an interesting mix and finally, there is Alan who offers the possibility of romance.

There is a proper murder mystery to be solved but it is the characters which raise the book above the average and had me turning the pages. I look forward to reading further adventures with Sam.

Sam on Amazon