One-Minute Book Reviews

June 24, 2009

Why Do We Keep Reading Mystery Series That Are Running Out of Gas? Maureen Corrigan on Robert B. Parker’s ‘Spenser’ Novels

Filed under: Mysteries and Thrillers — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:46 am
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Why do we keep reading novels in mystery or other series long after their plots have become formulaic and their characters have begun to repeat themselves? Sometimes the answer is simple: We hope their authors will regain their form.

But I’ve stayed with series after I knew that wouldn’t happen and continued to enjoy them. And Maureen Corrigan offers a possible explanation for why in a discussion of Robert B. Parker’s Spenser novels in Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading: Finding and Losing Myself in Books (Vintage, 240 pp., $14.95, paperback). Corrigan says she started reading the Spenser series in part because it “helped to transform the macho politics of the private eye and also the profession’s monkish lifestyle” with by having a male hero who has a mostly monogamous relationship with a female therapist.

“When I began reading them the Spenser novels were pretty much out there in terms of their depiction of utopian alternatives to the traditional nuclear family,” she writes.

The series has changed a lot since its launch, with The Godwulf Manuscript, in 1973, but she’s stayed with it. Corrigan writes:

”Whenever a new Spenser novel appears, usually every spring, I still read it in one or two sittings. By now, the plot is almost beside the point. Instead, I read the latest greatly diminished Spenser novels to check in with his extended alternative family: I’m curious about what Hawk is up to these days and about Paul’s ongoing search for love and Susan’s latest home purchase. Reading the Spenser novels now is a little like reading one of those chatty holiday letters that come tucked in Christmas cards. The story lines are predictable, but still, it’s nice to keep up with who’s lost weight, gotten married, or had a set of brass knuckles smashed into his face.”

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May 12, 2009

Why Do People Read Detective Novels? Quote of the Day From Maureen Corrigan’s ‘Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading’

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:53 am
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Why do people read detective novels? Critics often say that mysteries are modern morality tales — we like to see bad guys punished. Maureen Corrigan suggests another part of their appeal in her memoir Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading: Finding and Losing Myself in Books (Vintage, 247 pp., $14.95, paperback).

A book critic for NPR’s Fresh Air, Corrigan writes of hard-boiled detectives like Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade and Robert B. Parker’s Spenser:

“Like other novels by and about the working class, the hard-boiled detective novel offers an unadorned picture of class tensions – the antagonism between those who sweat to make a living and those who can afford to hire them. … With ‘contemptuous tolerance’ in his heart and a snappy put-down ever ready on his lips, Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer is always venturing into some moneyed enclave in the California suburbs where he’s hired to tidy up some dysfunctional family’s dirty laundry. The message of the grand tradition of American hard-boiled detective fiction – from Hammett to Chandler to Macdonald to Chester Himes to Robert B. Parker to their many contemporary inheritors – is clear: too much money corrupts the soul. It makes men soft, even emasculates them, and the leisure lifestyle it buys is un-American.”

Read an excerpt from Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading.

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