Friday, May 9, 2014

Forgotten Books: THE GODWULF MANUSCRIPT by Robert B. Parker (1974)

I’ve read The Godwulf Manuscript many more times than I can remember, certainly more times than any other book (and listened to the audio book many times too) and I never get tired of it. The reason for that repetition is that I keep reading and listening to the “complete” Spenser saga every few years. Each time I take that journey there are more books in the series, but I always start with the first, and this is it.

What struck me this time is how strongly the style of this book was influenced by The Continental Op. As it says on the dust jacket, Parker did his dissertation on the works of Chandler and Hammett. I had always seen the influence of both writers in his work, but over the past year I‘ve been studying the Op style very closely for projects of my own (the first of those, a story called “The Continental Opposite“ recently sold to AHMM) and it’s gotten into my blood. I was pleased to see it in Parker’s blood too.

Though Spenser has his Marlowe moments, his overall tone and attitude is much more Oppish, and Parker steered clear of the Chandleresque similes that other writers turned into parody.

Parker also borrowed a major plot element from the second Op novel, The Dain Curse. Like the Op, Spenser must rescue a young woman from a wacko cult bent on performing abominations on their initiates. In The Dain Curse it was The Temple of the Holy Grail. In this book it’s called The Temple of Moloch.

The most obvious hat tip to Chandler is Spenser’s first love interest, a woman named Brenda Loring. She’s clearly a literary descendant of Linda Loring, the woman Marlowe met in The Long Goodbye, and married sometime between Playback and the unfinished “Poodle Springs” story. Parker, of course, later finished Chandler's story, and it was published as the novel Poodle Springs in 1989.

At this stage, Spenser’s character is not fully formed. While he never becomes allergic to alcohol, he drinks more here than he probably does in the rest of the series all together. On one stakeout alone he consumes a dozen cold MacDonald’s hamburgers and a pint of Wild Turkey. In this book he also has a hobby - woodcarving. The carving is mentioned briefly in the second novel, and alluded to in a couple more, but after that it’s quietly dropped.

Other elements, though, are here to stay, like Spenser's joy of cooking, and the characters of Boston cops Martin Quirk and Frank Belson. (Susan Silverman makes her first appearance in book two, and Hawk in book four.)


George said...

I found a first edition of THE GODWULF MANUSCRIPT and Bruce Taylor took it off my hands with the help of Art Scott. The early Parkers were the best.

Randy Johnson said...

I came to Parker late and, using the local library, read the Spenser novels in order(about twenty when I started). Been a fan ever since.

Evan Lewis said...

I'm not surprised that Bruce glommed onto that first, George, or that he needed Art's help to pry it away from you.

A couple of years ago, our library had lost or discarded all the early Spensers, and I did a lot of whining about it. Now, at last, they have them all again, but as ebooks. 'S'okay with me. Gives me another form to read them in.

Barry Traylor said...

A friend of mine raved about this book in 1974 and after reading it I was hooked, although I must admit I like the early Spencer novels the best.

Rick Robinson said...

It bares repeating, the early Spenser books are the better ones. After about book 8 they got slimmer, had less plot, the writing wasn't as skillful, and Susan became more of an annoyance than a co-protagonist.

Evan Lewis said...

I would agree the early Spenser books are richer in character and description, and maybe technically better, but the later ones are more fun. So for me, it's a toss-up. The only time Susan annoyed me was in mid-series, when she had her identity crisis.

So far, the only post-Parker Spenser I've read was the first, by Ace Atkins. It was a good job of mimicry, but lacked heart.

David Cranmer said...

Anything written by Parker is not forgotten by this guy. But I've never seen that early pic. Great author's photo!