Robert B. Parker, God Save the Child (Berkeley, 1974)
[originally posted 12Feb2002]
One of the great enduring mysteries in the literary world—and it says quite a bit that a piece of genre writing has had such a pervasive cultural effect—is the first name of Robert B. Parker’s longstanding favorite good guy, Spenser. What short memories we have, for it’s revealed in God Save the Child, the second Spenser novel. (The book contains the one scene where someone says his first name and isn’t later contradicted. And no, I’m not going to tell you what it is.) Not only that, but it also pinpoints Spenser’s age, which is something that’s come up in more than one recent review. And yes, he is getting up there. (I won’t tell you that, either. But pretty soon, the A&E made-for-TV movies will have to cast Don Ameche and Garrett Morris as Spenser and Hawk.) For any Spenser fan, those two things alone should be reason enough to go back and correct any error they may have made by not reading this at their earliest opportunity. To cap off the must-read things about this book, it’s where Spenser first meets Susan. Okay, get thee to a bookstore and get to work.
In this case, Spenser is hired to find a runaway kid. After a few days of wheel-spinning by both Spenser and the cops, a ransom note turns up; the kid’s not a runaway, but a kidnap victim. Spenser enlists the help of a smart-aleck state cop and the kid’s guidance counselor (Susan Silverman), and things go about the same way they usually go in detective novels. Those used to later Spenser novels will find the prose much drier than the average Spenser novel; whether Parker hadn’t yet developed the distinctive Spenser style or whether the publisher was leaning on him to sound more like Ross MacDonald is anyone’s guess. But don’t worry, you won’t be hurting for wisecracks, culinary commentary, and other such Spenserian traits.
While the book itself is vintage Parker, it’s plain to see that the publisher was still thinking of Parker in dime-novel terms back in 1974. Hopefully reprints have corrected some of the more egregious errors of spelling and grammar, but if you happen to get your hands on the mid-seventies Berkeley paperback at your local Amazon zShop, be prepared for some painfully obvious screwups, if you happen to notice such things. I considered using the book to start a bonfire the second time Spenser “payed” a bill. (Amazing that they didn’t spell his name Spencer throughout.) Obviously, it’s not a knock on Parker, but still worth noting for those who get annoyed by proofreading errors in their pulp fiction. ****