Spenser, For 37 Years

Book CandyRobert B. Parker’s death last January prompted me to look into his series of crime novels featuring Spenser, a private investigator working the Boston area. In the interest of continuity I went back to the very beginning, The Godwulf Manuscript from 1973. From there I started marching forward: God Save the Child (1974), Mortal Stakes (1975), Promised Land (1976). That’s where I am now.

Good detective stuff. If you like that, you’ll like them.

But what really gets me is the seventiesishness of these early books. You ask, what should a book from the 70s and set in the 70s be other than seventiesish? I reply (shrugging) well, after all, a bad writer can flub the setting, no? Parker is not a bad writer; when away from the Selectric™ typrewriter, you can bet he was peering narrowly at the world about him. His 70s are very 70s, from the long pointy collars to the liberated attitudes and all the cultural detritus in between.

So many time-sensitive bits of 70s arcana pop up in the novels (as well as earlier stuff still lodged in the collective consciousness of the 70s) that I wondered if anyone born after 1980 could understand these early Spensers without footnotes. For example:

  • Bobby Riggs in the Astrodome (tennis player who played a celebrated “Battle of the Sexes” match with Billie Jean King)
  • A yellow Bic Banana pen (domesticated psychodelia)
  • Phillips 66 (now ConocoPhillips)
  • Jackie Susann (i.e. Jacqueine Susann, author Valley of the Dolls)
  • “It’s an old George Gobel line.” (TV comic of the 50s; later a Hollywood Square and late night talk show staple)
  • “Duffy Tavern, Archie the manager speaking…” (50s TV show)
  • A Phil Brito album (Crooner of the 40s)
  • “…a small color TV flickered silently…” (No need to mention “color” anymore)
  • “I expected Marlin Perkins to jump out…” (Host of Wild Kingdom, TV nature program)
  • “I heard a fragment of Roberta Flack…”(Pop singer)
  • “…lots of children, lots of Kodak Instamatics.” (Popular cheap camera)
  • “I did my David Frye impression [of Richard Nixon]…” (Comedian)
  • “I read Dondi and hated it.” (Comic strip,1955–1986)
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