December 26, 2006

Hundred Dollar Baby

Hundred-Dollar Baby
Robert B. Parker


(December 26, 2006)

Though this delightful volume is nicely printed between hard covers, it's not a book. Spenser no longer appears in books.

Almost everything here is dialog. When Parker needs to describe a place, he chooses a brand-name landmark that will be familiar to his readers -- the bar at the Ritz-Carlton in Boston, Viand in New York. When Parker needs a minor character, he reaches for one of the characters he developed in earlier volumes. We've got quite a crew of them this time: April Kyle, Patricia Utley, Hawk, Tony Marcus, Susan. The other characters are cyphers and placeholders, strictly off the rack.

When other writers need some psychological depth, they let their characters interact and reveal their neuroses and quirks. Parker, instead, trots out Susan to pronounce a diagnosis, which the characters can then validate at their convenience, now that the audience knows what to watch for.

And yet, this is a lot of fun. Hawk is Hawk, Spenser is adorable, and April Kyle is always interesting. The epigrams are plentiful and terrific, the winter equivalent of beach reading.

We have a name for literary work that's almost entirely dialogue, that relies on stock characters and a fixed plot arc, and that rewards us with epigrammatic wit. We call this theater. We call it, specifically, comedy. Parker set out to be a minor Chandler, but nowadays he's a minor Wilde.