Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang
I happily admit it. I'm a junkie for good crime/thriller/detective fiction. The good guys usually win, the bad guys lose, lots of action, excitement, occasional philosophy and suspense. How life should be, how you sometimes wish yours was. If you're a little picky you also get a bonus: some of the best writing ever published. There's a few that are standouts, and win my heart every time:
James Lee Burke is a just plain fantastic writer. His heroes are iconic, from the tortured New Orleans detective Dave Robicheaux and his alcoholic pal Clete Purcell, to Billy Bob Holland, ex-Texas Ranger turned lawyer. They are filled with rage, hungry for justice and afraid of nothing. Burke is simply one of the most lyrical writers out there and sees into the hidden chambers of the human heart, both good and evil, with a clairvoyant mirror.
Carl Hiaason is a columnist for the Miami Herald, and his imagination gets a boost from the fertile breeding ground of Florida's idiosyncratic characters and politics. Some of the funniest and scariest people on the planet show up in his books. My favorite is Skink, a runaway former Florida governor turned philosophical swamp rat, who tends to show up for a major or minor part in many of his books. Skink survives on his considerable wits and road kill, dispensing dinner, advice and occasionally, justice.
Charlie Huston, with a taste for chaos, is my new favorite. His trilogy which begins with "Caught Stealing" is the saga of Hank Thompson, a bartender whose life gets turned upside down when he agrees to watch his vacationing neighbor's cat. Never has a hero metamorphasized like Hank. Blood-soaked and killer funny.
There's more: James W. Hall, Robert Crais, Elmore Leonard, Tana French, Lee Child, Elizabeth George, I could go on for a while. There was one writer, though, that got me started on this journey: Robert B. Parker.
Sadly, Parker died last week. I'm sure he was in the middle of writing a new book at the time. His detective Spenser (like "The Faerie Queene" Spenser" as he was fond of telling people) was an amazing creation. He had it all: he was fearless, rugged, brilliant, dangerous, charming, a gourmet cook and had the coolest friends in the world, especially Hawk and Susan. My first foray into Parker's world was "Early Autumn" and that one hooked me forever. Spenser always gave a damn, and had heart and compassion. It wasn't just Spenser, either – there was Sunny Randall, Jesse Stone, and the Westerns. Great plots, great characters. But for me, Parker was the undisputed king of dialogue. Nobody wrote dialogue like Robert B. Parker. Whenever anybody asks me how to learn to write good dialogue, my answer is “Read Robert B. Parker. Then you’ll know.”
Thanks for the memories, thanks for the words, Parker. You were one of a kind and the best at what you did. I'll miss you a lot.
I've always thought that writers who created such wonderful hero archetype characters as Robicheaux and Spenser were channeling the very best of who they were and who they wanted to be into the characters whose exploits they wrote about. Probably just idealistic imaginings... but somehow I think it may be true. At least I want to think so.