Sunday, January 24, 2010

Another Giant Gone

by Mike Knowles

Every name on the top two shelves of my bookcase now belongs to a dead man. Stark, Spillane, McBain, and now Parker. I should add that my books are arranged by coolness, not alphabetical order.

Hearing about Robert Parker’s death was a blow. When I began reading crime fiction, Parker’s Spenser was one of the first heroes I encountered. I remember being in awe after I read The Promised land. I also remember the excitement of finding out there were a ton more of the books. That feeling is still one of the best feelings I can think of. The moment you put down an awesome book and find out there are a bunch more just waiting to be read. I keep chasing that high, but as I get older it happens less and less.

When I look at the bookshelf, I wonder who will pick up the mantle of my heroes. But really no one has picked up the torch from these writers. Who, right now, is on track to write twenty or thirty best sellers? The names on the top shelves of my book case were a rare breed. They wrote book after book about the same characters and nothing ever really got stale. Even though Parker kept pulling jobs that went wrong, Mike Hammer kept killing people and avoiding committing to Velda, and Spenser kept solving cases without making a lot of money and putting up with more violence than any one man should be able to the stories never got old.

Some people just expect writers to be able to do that. To just sit back in an office chair with a laptop and fire off a best seller. I wonder if these people think that baseball players can just hit one out of the park whenever they want to. Because make no mistake about it, writing good fiction for twenty years straight is not an everyday skill. That kind of skill is what separates someone like me playing hockey from the way Gretzky played hockey. Sure we both played the same sport, but there were vastly different results. Gretzky’s skills made him a phenom while the way I applied those skills made me a public embarrassment.

Plenty of people like to say they like to think they have a novel in them. They say a novel, not twenty. Twenty is crazy. Twenty is impossible. The guys on my bookshelf did it. Stark and McBain wrote over 100.

I had been waiting to read the last Spenser book for a little while now, and it will have to wait a little longer. I’m going to read Robert B. Parker all the way through again. I’m going to try and recapture that feeling I get too little. And I’m going to remember that a giant has passed leaving huge deep footprints to follow.


John McFetridge said...

Yeah, somebody said once, "You write one book, you wrote a book. You write two books, you're an author."

There also seems to be something about these guys really plugging into the feeling of their times, capturing the moment.

And then, capturing the moment twenty times, wow.

Dave White said...

I'm reading THE PROFESSIONAL now (quite possibly the last Spenser)... It's not top shelf Spenser, but I can't put it down.

Steve Weddle said...

Reading GRINDER now and was counting on someone writing 20 or 30 Wilson books.


I'm glad to see someone else loves McBain. Although he was a bestselling, prolific author, I haven't met (until today on your blog) another author who thought he was terrific.

He is my all-time favorite author. Period.

I also have a lot of books by Rex Stout and John D. MacDonald, but none of the other authors you mentioned.

But I agree that it takes a special kind of writer to rattle off 20, 40, or 100 terrific books.

Gives us something to shoot for, doesn't it?