Monday, September 27, 2004

Robert B. Parker's DOUBLE PLAY

I've admitted it before, and I'll admit it again: I'm Robert B. Parker's target audience. Whatever it is that he does, I like it. So naturally I read his nonseries novel Double Play. I have a feeling that this book fits into my previous comments about the generation gap in the mystery-reading public. It seems to me that this is definitely an Old Guy's book.


Number one, it's about baseball. How many young baseball fans do you know? Don't young people all like some cooler, faster-moving sport?

Number two, it was written by Robert B. Parker, who's even older than I am. (Maybe that's why I like his work.)

Number three, it's set in the 1940's. I don't remember much about the time Jackie Robinson came up to the major leagues, but soon after that I became an avid baseball fan and baseball card collector (check out some of my cards here if you'd like to see them). Parker really nails the time period, especially in the autobiographical chapters interspersed throughout the narrative. In fact, the short chapter on Life magazine is worth the price of admission all by itself. The autobiographical chapters are, for me, the most interesting part of the book, since they make the setting personal for Parker and in a way for me.

Number four, it has plenty of that male bonding stuff that's in all the other Parker books you ever read. And all that stuff about a code, too. This time, the main character is a guy named Burke. I didn't catch the first name; maybe it's Edmund. I mean, that would fit, right? Edmund Burke, Edmund Spenser. That Parker is a real cutie, slipping in those English major jokes the way he does.

So what? you're saying. What about the plot? Well, that's about Burke, who gets a job as Jackie Robinson's bodyguard for Robinson's first year in the major leagues. Burke is what we Old Guys used to call a burned-out case, thanks to WWII (The Big One) and his ex-wife. He's going to find a kind of redemption, though, thanks to Robinson and a woman named Lauren. You know that from the start, probably, so I'm not spoiling anything. How it happens is what you'll have to read the book to find out.


Gerald So said...

Parker is the writer who got me writing. Spenser showed me fiction could be deep and entertaining at the same time. For a period in the mid-90s, I thought Parker was mailing it in (maybe I was burned out on him): repetitive dialogue, old jokes, same themes harped on ad nauseam...

Each new Spenser is hailed as "a return to form," but the book that delivered for me was last year's BACK STORY. I've liked his Sunny Randall book SHRINK RAP since then. Currently reading his Jesse Stone book, STONE COLD, wherein a major recurring character is killed, something Parker hasn't shown willingness to do in the Spenser series.

DOUBLE PLAY sounds promising. The protag's name is Joseph Burke. The book is an expansion of Parker's short story, "Harlem Nocturne," in the baseball mystery anthology MURDERER'S ROW. In the short, I believe the character was just called "Burke."

Bill said...

Rats. I was hoping the name was Edmund. I was too lazy to check. I have STONE COLD here now, and I'll read it soon. Didn't want to read two Parkers right in a row, though. I like the way characters cross over to the Stone novels from the Spenser books and vice versa.

Vince said...

How many young baseball fans do I know? I suppose it depends on how you define young. Does mid-30s count? If so, then I'm one. This despite the fact that my beloved New York Mets will finish in the cellar again, as will my adopted Mariners. Nice to see Ichiro with a shot at the record books, though.

I haven't read Double Play yet. I'm runninng behind on my Spensers. But I'll get to it.

Bill said...

To me, Vince, mid-thirties is young. Glad to hear there are still some baseball fans out there under the age of 40.

Lee Goldberg said...

DOUBLE PLAY was the best SPENSER novel in a long time.

That's what it felt like to me.

The true SPENSER novels have been pretty lackluster lately (particularly the last one, which was truly awful). Parker is doing his best work on the Jesse Stone novels (DEATH IN PARADISE, etc.)