Friday, July 22, 2011

Forgotten Books: SEVEN SAMURAI (aka Potshot) by Robert B. Parker

This book is only ten years old, which doesn’t really qualify it to be Forgotten. But it’s what I’m reading at the moment, and my excuse is that I’d forgotten its obvious homage to The Seven Samurai.

Having seen this story played out in so many films and TV shows (the silliest I can remember was Message From Space), it’s become an archetype or a fable. Still, when I read this ten years ago - and again now - I was surprised to see Parker having fun with it. And he did have a hell of a lot of fun.

The set-up is this: Spenser visits the small desert resort town of Potshot to investigate a murder, and the most likely suspects are a gang of forty outlaws who live out in the hills and prey on the town. It ain’t long before the town fathers ask him to hire a gang of mercenaries and do away with the bad guys.

The homage is most obvious when someone mentions there are seven members in Spenser’s crew, as in the following exchange:

     “We’ll protect you,” I said.
     “Seven of you.”
     “Not all of us at once,” I said. “We try to be fair.”

But the real clincher is the way Parker manipulates the plot to include the obligatory “journey.”  Instead of making phone calls to his friends and asking them to come on down, Spenser, as sensei, travels the country to personally assemble the gang. For no other reason, he returns to Boston to recruit Hawk and Vinnie Morris. Then, with Susan in tow, flies to Georgia to invite Tedy Sapp, to Las Vegas for Bernard J. Fortunato, and to L.A. for Chollo and Bobby Horse. While in L.A. he does do some investigating that later proves necessary to solving the case, but it seems more a byproduct than a reason for the trip.

In the end of most versions of the story, at least one of the heroes has to die - just to show us (wink, wink) that this is serious business and not heroic fantasy. In this case, the short straw falls to Bobby Horse. While he doesn’t die, he takes a crippling shot to the knee, which for a professional tough guy seems even worse.

For more Forgotten Books, round up your six best friends and bop on over to pattinase.


Richard R. said...

I must have already stopped reading Spenser novels by the time this one came out. As they got thinner in both page count and plot I became dissatisfied with the books and moved on to greener pastures (Pronzini, I think, of which I had a backlog). But in spite of your spoiler this does sound like fun and I may pick it up when I go to Borders today for the beginning of their everything-must-go sale.

Richard Prosch said...

I was the second person to check this out of the library when it was released and wasn't at all displeased. In fact, I recall liking it quite a bit.

Brian Drake said...

Do you think there have been more interpretations of The Seven Samuri or Yojimbo? Both seem to be copied often with varying degrees of freshness. Even Brett Halliday got into the "Yojimbo" (or, really, "Red Harvest") act with "A Taste for Violence". And there is your next forgotten book!

Yvette said...

I've read almost all the Spenser books, but somehow I think I missed this one. It doesn't sound familiar (well, except for the Seven Samurai plot) at all. I'll hvae to back track.

As for his later books, I highly recommend ROUGH WEATHER which was a pretty recent Spenser and was a mighty fine one. Hint: The Gray Man is back.

Tor Hershman said...

The 7S is most cool but moi digs "The Hidden Fortress" more.
Moreover, ain't the dudes stompin' on tigers' tails a gas, too?

David Cranmer said...

I thought this was a very good Spenser novel.

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