Boston-based hunk Spenser is your gift to wise-asses and, as a certified wise-ass myself, I’m grateful. He’s the only noir private eye who can on some
occasions be mistaken for the proverbial teddy bear
while at other times come off like a tough Hemingway hero channeling Jon Stewart.
In Hugger Mugger, Spenser leaves Boston and Cambridge for horse country in Georgia and tracks down a killer there with the help of the local cops. Upon meeting a room full of perfectly tanned southerners, our tourist from New England confides to the reader, “If I were a skin cancer specialist, I’d move right down here.” But like Stewart, Spenser is more than a smart-ass. He’s a top notch PI and a loyal and loving partner to Susan Silverman, his shrink girlfriend. He’s an intellectual who loves sports, a trusted friend, and a good cook too. In other words, you’ve given mystery lovers, feminists, and foodies of both genders a male protagonist we can root for and admire.
That’s all well and good but, as I mentioned, what I’ve always enjoyed most about Spenser is how snide and ironic he is. Since I was a teenager, I’ve used sarcasm as a shield,
a sword, and a feather to tickle the ribs of students and friends. But sarcasm has definite limits, especially in the classroom where I spent about forty years teaching English. Although I could use irony to illustrate certain literary works ─How do you suppose Lear/Huck/Holden/Magwich felt on Father’s Day?─ skewering my students on the sharp rapier of my wit was not an option. Besides, many of them hailed from other countries, and my snarky comments didn’t often translate into foreign languages or apply to different cultures. My censored inner wise-ass yearned for an outlet until I gave my menopausal sleuth Bel Barrett an acid-tipped tongue. I thought of her as like Spenser with hot flashes, and I had a lot of fun writing in her sarcastic voice, one very close to my own.
In most of your books, Spenser does his detecting on his familiar home turf along the banks of Boston’s Charles River. There he knows the streets
and alleys, the political players and the police, the cafés, the colleges, and the criminals. There he makes his home near his beloved Susan’s. (A man eager to learn how to behave in an egalitarian relationship with a well-educated and attractive professional woman would do well to use Spenser as a model. ) In Boston Spenser has his trusty sidekick Hawk to watch his back as in Double Deuce, a terrific tale of gangs and guns and friendship. You are a master at creating credible settings and intriguing supporting characters.
Another thing I admire about your books is that they are mostly dialogue. You let Spenser tell his story in the first person and he recounts his conversations with colleagues, clients, and friends. Remember this chat he had in the coffee shop with Becker, the local lawman who is his ally in Hugger Mugger?
“Fella outside sitting in his car with the motor running,” Becker said. “Know about him?”
“Yeah. He’s been assigned by Security South to follow me.”
“And by luck you happened to spot him?” Becker said.
“They could have tailed me with a walrus, “I said, “and been better off.”
Spenser’s wit enlivens what without it would be a quick but colorless exchange in the noir tradition.
Yet another thing I find appealing about Spenser as narrator is that he tells us exactly what every character, no matter how insignificant, is wearing and eating!
These details, often amusingly rendered, make Spenser’s account visible to the reader and help us to judge your fictional characters as we often do real ones, by what they wear and what they eat. Whoever designed the costumes for the long-running TV show based on your Spenser novels had only to turn your explicit descriptions into clothes, shoes, and accessories. And, of course, Spenser’s attention to such details, often enables him to figure out who done it.
Thank you for your many highly entertaining novels that have also served this smart-ass as models of story-telling.