Title: Looking for Rachel Wallace
Author: Robert B. Parker
Publisher: Dell (1980)
I mentioned the inevitability before so now it's time to share my post-reading thoughts. The cover tells me this is a Spenser novel but it's the first one I've read, first Parker I've read, actually. A little visit to the author's website gave me the impression that he had (and probably still has even after his death) quite the fan base. Any Parker fans out there want to tell me which title I should go for next? Start with Spenser from the beginning? Anyway, on to this title...
Rachel Wallace is many things I am not. This is completely irrelevant but it amuses me to say it. Rachel Wallace (and yes, she is referred to by her full name quite often) is an outspoken feminist and lesbian with a new book about to be published. The book makes certain accusations and names names. She's not very popular with certain crowds to begin with and the content of her upcoming release has resulted in death threats. Her publisher hires Spenser to protect her. Her code of behavior is distinctly different from his resulting in several very interesting conversations and a falling out that sets the scene in Looking for Rachel Wallace.
The book is not long with very nice pacing so I got through it really quickly. The writing is good, the dialogue a lot of fun, and the story satisfying. I liked it well enough that I'll seek out some other Spenser novels but it didn't necessarily blow me away or anything. Just a nice, solid read. Two things really stuck with me: the dynamic between Spenser and Rachel Wallace and that I wish I was more familiar with this genre of books. I'll start with the first.
I can't know this for sure since it's the only Spenser novel I've read but Rachel Wallace felt very much like a foil for Spenser. Maybe Spenser gets one of these in every book but she was practically everything he was not so the reader is presented with the perfect set-up for getting to know a lot about Spenser (and his lovely girlfriend actually). Do we get this in every book or was it time for some character advancement? Normally I wouldn't think about this very much but since Looking for Rachel Wallace is about the 7th book in the series and the differences were almost comically large the deliberate foil idea stuck with me. Of course, Spenser's got a pretty good sense of humor and Rachel Wallace absolutely none so a lot of the time I think Spenser's just fucking with her. What makes their differences most interesting is what they do have in common. They are both intelligent, caring, fair-minded, and very sure of how they have chosen to live their lives. It's the intersection of their life choices that makes for the cool conversations between them.
On to the second. This is the third private eye/mystery author I've read lately (and I think the last time I attempted the genre was in the 90s) and they all feel a lot alike. That's not to say I'm not enjoying them I just didn't expect that they would all be so alike. I checked the copyrights and most of what I have read was published in the 80s so it might be that there was a particular style that was super successful in the 80s and it happens to be what I've picked up. The next author in my getting-know-the-genre project is Walter Mosley. The book I'm starting with was published in 2001 but it's set in the 50s. Like the others I've read it's in the first person POV. I rather like to think the ones I've read are in the "first person glib" (this Rachel Wallace has a sense of humor:) because the narrators have all had the same attitude even. They all seem slightly more progressive than those around them, tough but prone to sadness, cynical because of what they see but still pretty keen on humanity, never lacking for chances to score but very sensitive with their partners (this goes for both male and female protags so don't go thinking this is one of those male-only tropes), pretty set in their code of ethics but philosophical enough to entertain other ideas... So help me out here, mystery readers, is this the way it goes? Are they all in first person POV? Have I described the archetype or simply a style-type? Will I be running into some other types or shall I learn to love and embrace this one because any other type is rare? Also, I think I like a good shoot-out as much as the next American but is justice only ever meted out with death in these books? There are some antagonists who I think would have been much more miserable in jail and yet they all die. No hassle or expense with court in these books; much easier to just kill the baddies and complain a bit about the paperwork.
Getting back to Spenser, he very much aligned with the archetype I described above. Course, not being familiar with his series or the genre in general maybe he was the beginning of this. Maybe he was a step forward in the evolution of the archetype. I really don't know. I liked him just fine and won't mind reading some more books with him but I wonder how deeply I'll be able to get into the genre if I always run into the same protags.
rating: 3 of 5 stars
I still have a list of suggestions I'm working through for the genre but if any mystery readers want to add to that list I would really appreciate it. I'd especially love some books that turn all my first impressions/stereotypes right on their heads!