Friday, November 05, 2010

Forgotten Books: THE GODWULF MANUSCRIPT -- Robert B. Parker

It's Robert B. Parker's first novel, the one that introduces Spenser. What? You haven't forgotten this one? Okay, but when's the last time you read it? I hadn't read it since it first appeared in 1973, so when I saw this recent reprint the other day, I picked it up to see what had changed.

Do you remember that Spenser's hobby was woodcarving? He's been working on his current project for six months. He's quite the horndog, too, bedding both a mother and her daughter. Susan Silverman wasn't on the scene yet, of course.

Then there's the drinking. Spenser's a bourbon and bitters guy in this book, but he drinks a lot of cheap bourbon right out of the bottle, too. A couple of gallons, at least.

Oh, and the text. This book is 204 pages of densely packed type. Almost no white space. Very unlike the Spenser novels we currently know and love.

Some things are pretty much the same. Spenser's a smartass and a quick man with a quip, and he's tougher than anybody around. He slaps people around a lot more than he does in the later books, though. Quirk, Belson, and Joe Broz are here, and they continue to show up throughout the series.

At one point, Spenser thinks he might be too old for the work he's doing. He's around 37 or 38. I guess he didn't know he'd still be doing it 37 years later.

Reading the book with a more critical eye than I did in 1973, I can see more wrong with it than I did then. The title manuscript, for example, is nothing more than a device to start the plot in motion. As far as I can see, the theft was incredibly stupid, and Parker resolves it in seconds about halfway through the book, having figured out a different plot, one that won't surprise anybody who's read a book from this era. The theme is one every Parker fan will recognize, that of the young woman whose parents don't get it and who needs someone to help out. Spenser's always going to be there for someone like that.

The best thing about the book, for me, is the descriptions of the college campus and the students. Parker was great at description, but he stripped most of it out of his later dialogue-driven books. Too bad. Reading this one was like time traveling for me. I spent most of my life on college campuses, and Parker's right on the money. I loved it.

And here's the thing. After reading this book, I'm not at all sure it's any better than some of the more recent ones. Maybe not even as good. Read it yourself and let me know what you think.

10 comments:

George said...
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George said...

In some ways, this was Parker's best book. It's full of energy.

John McFetridge said...

Thanks for the reminder about this one. I first read it in the early 80's along with 4-5 other Spenser novels over a couple of weeks, but you're right I haven't bread it since. Time to take another look.

Interesting you mention the descriptions and lack of dialogue, I don't remember that. But the kids and the parents and campus life, yeah, that's all coming back.

bish8 said...

I reared this one earlier this year. It was the first book I bought for my Kindle. I enjoyed it, but I like the way Spenser matured in the later novels. Early Autumn and Taming A Seahorse remain my favorites from Spenser's early days -- they were kind of a ying-yang pairing, dealing with the same problem but through opposite sexes.

Todd Mason said...

So, I guess my question is...what helped make this perhaps the best-selling PI series of the last decade?

Bill Crider said...

Momentum? At the time of the first book, Parker was a fresh and funny voice, and he got better as he went along. Some people don't like the books from the last decade, but I've continued to read and enjoy them as they came along. I've read every one from the first to the presence and never felt let down. But then I'm easy.

Todd Mason said...

He certainly kept his voice more consistently, I'd say, than Gregory McDonald, much less Roger Simon...two other guys who at least scraped the Lists, got a/v adaptations, and started out at about the same time...

Bill Crider said...

You're right about those two. I especially had trouble with Mcdonald's later books.

Todd Mason said...

Though I thought SON OF FLETCH was a decent return to form, I didn't read much of his other late work.

Yvette said...

I haven't read this in ages, but I do remember jotting down a bit of the first meeting between Joe Broz and Spenser. Recently on my blog I posted the scene and a bit of the fun dialogue between, mostly Broz, and Spenser as an example of the kind of writing I like. I also love the sequel to this book, (sort of) PAST TIME. EARLY AUTUMN though, is still my favorite.