Monday, February 1, 2010

Mystery Land

In Mystery Land, book sales are hot. Two hard-boiled thriller writers--Robert B. Parker, (who unfortunately died last month) and James Patterson--continue to sock it to a universe of readers, and both have been designated by different marketing experts as the successor to Raymond Chandler. If only it were true. Chandler was a smooth operator, both on and off the typewriter. He even used metaphors and similes in both arenas. Jim Patterson and Co. is the world's biggest thriller writer in terms of sales, and his publisher wishes he could clone him, but his more recent works read as if they were produced by committee, which they are. Dozens of points of view pour out from forgettable characters who speak in italics and exclamation points. It is sometimes said that Patterson's audience moves its lips while reading.
Parker's prose style and structure are more conservative; his chapters are normal length, and his private eye, the one-named Spenser, is a middle-aged ex-boxer, as good with his fists as with his .38 revolver. Spenser has a girl friend, whom he refers to as a "stunning Jewess with a PhD from Harvard", who cooks like Julia Child and looks like Scarlett Johansson. She thinks Spenser is as hot as book sellers do. Trouble is: Parker made Spenser speak almost exclusively in wise-guy one-liners. Twenty-five percent are smart and funny and 75% make your teeth ache.
As Tom Evans, author and lifetime Parker reader, said, "Parker got to be formulaic--Susan with her tiny bites of food, the darky dialogue with Hawk." Neither writer measures up to the great Chandler. Ross Macdonald had the last word. Chandler, he said, "wrote like a slumming angel."

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