PULP Peculiarities: Robert B. Parker’s “Poodle Springs”

22 Feb

With the death of Robert B. Parker this January, the last of the old-school, hard-boiled detective authors may have joined his predecessors in sleeping the big sleep.

Robert B. Parker had been a fixture

Robert B. Parker

on the noir scene since his debut novel in 1973, The Godwulf Manuscript.Clipped, swift and flatly descriptive, and yet with a Chandleresque penchant for a pun, Parker’s prose was clearly influenced by both Ray and Dashiell Hammett. And beyond Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe, Parker’s protagonist Spenser (immortalised in Spenser: For Hire in the ’80s) is probably the most popular PI in detective fiction.

But Parker’s most peculiar novel was destined to feature Marlowe. In 1958, Raymond Chandler was working on a tale he had named “The Poodle Springs Story”. Though his previous novel, Playback, had not been a great hit, Chandler decided that Marlowe was to pair off with Playback‘s femme fatale and marry.

The first of just two editions of "Poodle Springs"

Left unfinished at his death in 1959, Chandler’s estate approached Robert B. Parker in the 1980s to complete the book.

Poodle Springs is a strange beast. With only four chapters completed by Chandler, the remainder of the novel becomes, gradually and understandably, Parker’s. Marlowe in the 50s comes close to merging with 1970s-80s Spenser, the wisecracking Boston private eye who is dedicated, unlike most PIs, to one woman.

Yet it is not Marlowe’s uncharacteristic marriage that grates as much as it is the locale: you can take the man out of LA,

Raymond Chandler and Taki, his Persian cat

but you can’t take LA out of the man. Chandler wrote as much about Los Angeles as he did about Philip Marlowe, just as Parker’s descriptions of metro Boston are as important to the Spenser novels as his protagonist.

In the end, it is not Poodle Springs that places Parker beside Chandler in the line of noir succession, but his lean, wisecracking prose and his breathing literary life into this city. Though Ray, clearly, did not agree, saying “I guess God made Boston on a wet Sunday.”

DLR 2.22.10

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