It has been some time since I read any of Robert B. Parker's Spenser novels, which I used to devour eagerly as soon as they appeared. I don't really know why I stopped reading them. But perhaps it's significant that, although I know I read PROMISED LAND soon after it appeared, I had no memory of its plot at all. This is especially surprising since one of the major plot elements -- the radical feminist bankrobbers -- had many points in common with a real-life case involving two women I knew slightly in college, which had occurred in 1971, so one would think that would have stuck in my mind.
PROMISED LAND is neither a mystery nor a thriller. The only mystery -- where is the runaway wife Spenser's been hired to locate? -- is solved quite early in the book. Since it's a series book, we can be sure that Spenser will find a way to deal with all the bad guys. Parker was recently featured on the NPR series of interviews "Crime in the City" as the exemplar of a Boston setting. This book's setting, in Boston and Cape Cod, while well enough done, is nothing special in my opinion. One is led to the conclusion that it's the main characters -- Spenser, Susan Silverman, and Hawk -- who are the main attraction in Parker's books.
Perhaps Spenser made such a splash because he was, in some ways, a classic private eye -- full of wisecracks, but with an internal code of honor that he never breached -- a Philip Marlowe for the 70s? Yet, he was also an accomplished cook, took good care of himself, and was able to maintain a relationship with the equally complicated Susan Silverman -- not quite the loner with the empty refrigerator who had become a bit of a cliche by the early 70s.
Also, the books move fast. Parker does write in a way that keeps the pages turning.
I just have to say a word about Parker's descriptions of the clothing the characters are wearing. The reader really is aware that it's 1976 when men's leisure suits and overblown hairdos are described in such loving (and as far as I could tell, unironic) detail. If you remember wearing such things it will make you cringe! Even Spenser himself has a shirt with a long, pointed collar that he carefully arranges over the lapels of his sport coat. Just thinking of the polyesters who died to make the clothing is enough to make one weep! Oddly, the women's clothing is described as being relatively timeless, at least in this book.
When we were constant readers of the Spenser books, both my husband and I were very, very busy. We had small children, jobs, night classes, and bus commutes. Parker's novels were good ones to read on the bus, and his life of freedom combined with good food and drink (and sex with no kids) was a good escape. Now, we have more time to read a little more carefully and think about what we're reading, and Spenser no longer satisfies. Perhaps that's what was happening societally when this book won the Edgar -- we were all at a bit of a loss after Vietnam and Watergate, inflation and women's liberation were changing the ways our home lives played out -- Spenser's life looked pretty good. Men wanted to be Spenser, women wanted to be Susan Silverman, and hey -- there are still times I wish I had a buddy like Hawk!
Continuing my project of reading all the Edgar Best Novel winners, or in some cases re-reading them, I'm up to 1977. It's taken about a year to cover 23 years of books, but of course I've read other things as well.