Friday, June 20, 2014

Forgotten Books: GOD SAVE THE CHILD by Robert B. Parker (1974)

Some notes on my umpteenth reading of the second novel in the Spenser series, published forty years ago:

In a recent post on the series premiere, The Godwulf Manuscript (HERE), I noted that Spenser sounded more like The Continental Op than like Philip Marlowe. In this novel, at least in the beginning, he seems to have softened a little, sounding more like Lew Archer than the Op.

There are, however, some great Marlowe-like lines. In describing his client, whose clothes were obviously picked out by his wife, Spenser notes he "looked as happy as a hound in a doggie sweater."

And there are hat tips to several of Spenser's literary predecessors. In accepting the client's check, he tries to act nonchalant, as if "maybe I'd buy some orchids with it." When asked his name, he answers, "Nick Charles." Another character sarcastically calls him Sherlock Holmes, and  a few pages later he annoys a snooty Assistant Principal named Moriarty. Arriving at his client's house, he makes an allusion to the opening of The Big Sleep, saying "I was neat, clean, alert and going to the back door."

Two important series regulars make their first appearances here, along with one frequently recurring character. The most important is Susan. At first sight, Spenser describes her thusly: Susan Silverman wasn't beautiful, but there was a tangibility about her, a physical reality that made the secretary with the lime green bosom seem insubstantial. She had shoulder length black hair and a thin dark Jewish face with prominent cheekbones. Tall, maybe 5'7", with black eyes. It was heard to tell her age but there was a sense about her of intelligent maturity which put her on my side of thirty.

Spenser's Indian?
Next is Henry Cimoli, ex-fighter and proprietor of the Harbor Health Club. In the first book, Spenser worked out at the Boston YMCA. Henry appears in or is at least mentioned in almost every book for the rest of the series.

The recurring character is Lieutenant Healy of the State Police, who will pop up many times in the years to come, and prove a staunch ally. Here we learn that he once had a try-out with the Phillies, and may have signed with them if he hadn't joined the army and gone to war.

At one point Healy asks Spenser if he knows anything about horses. "Only what I read in the green sheet," Spenser replies. Seems to me that somewhere later in the series he tells Susan that he was raised around horses.

Spenser is still into woodcarving. On her first visit to his apartment, Susan compliments his carving of an Indian, like the statue "in front of the museum." One of these days I'll get to Boston and be on the lookout for that guy.

A lot of  names are dropped here. Some belong to such immortals as Groucho, Bogart, John Wayne and Kit Carson, and others to such lesser lights as Jackie Susann, Rod McKuen and Bobby Riggs.

The book title pops up at 2:35 in the morning, during the last dregs of a party, when Billie Holiday sings "God save the child that's got his own."


George said...

Evan, I reviewed your RACE WILLIAMS' DOUBLE DATE dandy on my blog today. I loved your biographical piece! I hope Black Dog Books publishes more of Race Williams.

Ray Garraty said...

It's been said that God Save The Child is the scarcest of all Spenser novels. I bought myself a first edition copy earlier this year.