June 30, 2007


Hundred-Dollar Baby
Robert B. Parker, 2006

So as a pause in the middle of the Pynchon, I buzzed through this recent installation of the Spenser mystery series. I was hooked on these books for a little while when living in Japan - the writing style is so breezy you can finish a 250-page book in a couple hours standing up in the English-language section of the bookstore, and thereby avoid paying the price they'd charge for foreign books.

These novels follow in the pulp tradition in that the prose snaps, the structures are formulaic, there's a cast of recurring characters, there are just enough twists to keep each novel fresh, and you pretty much always know what you're getting into when you plunk down your $6.99. Spenser is a relatively likeable character, and you can always count on some witty dialogue (as well as some precious dialogue and some forced dialogue).

Parker seems interested in infusing the hardboiled detective novel form with a social conscience, and he seems to have found a formula that manages to get his points across with a minimum of clunkiness. In the earliest books, the prose style was dense, the plotting often intricate, and the big social/psychological ideas sometimes tackled obliquely. But he hit a stride at some point - the writing is loose and bright, the plots zip through their required turns, and the "issues" are spoken about bluntly when they need to be, and folded into the drama when they can be.

I'd say that Hundred-Dollar Baby is a middling entry in the series of books. A fun easy read that engages your higher faculties just enough so you don't feel like you wasted your time. It's a puff pastry, but with some tasty summer fruits on top. Definitely worth some of your attention.

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