Sunday, March 28, 1999

Will Spenser grow old with the rest of us?




BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Will we still love our tough guys when they begin getting mail from AARP? Will we think our detectives can still detect when they have to trim their nose hair and put their proctologist on speed dial?

        I hope Robert B. Parker thinks so.

        He is the author of the novels about the private eye from Boston. His Spenser-with-an-s-just-like-the-poet is a roughneck who knows how to use his fists. And an omelet skillet. Spenser always gets the girl. She is the same girl every time, a shrink named Susan Silverman.

        Spenser's muscular sidekick, Hawk, is sometimes lethal but always sartorially splendid. Their dialogue is laugh-out-loud funny.

        I have 25 years invested in my relationship with these characters, and I was afraid they might disappear, bumped off by Jesse Stone, the hero of a couple of new Robert B. Parker thrillers. Jesse was probably hiding Playboy magazines under his mattress when Spenser started fooling around with Susan Silverman.

        And the heroine of his latest novel (optioned as a movie starring Helen Hunt) is a woman named Sunny Randall. Sunny has relationship problems but no hot flashes or crow's feet.

Geriatric thrillers?
        Robert B. Parker was at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Norwood last week. So I asked him: Are Spenser and Hawk and Susan about to be sent off to a retirement village? Or, worse, killed off?

        Not to worry, Mr. Parker told me. “I will publish a Spenser novel every spring. Spenser is what I do. I know that.”

        Is he you? “He's not me. But he's not not me, either.” Oh.

        Well, they seem to have an awful lot in common. Mr. Parker also lives in Boston with a short-haired pointer named Pearl. He also carries on a monogamous relationship, one that has lasted for 43 years. He and his wife, Joan, live in the same house. On different floors.

        “Separate but equal. It started after we separated in 1982. We came back together August 2, 1984, at 2 in the afternoon, more or less.” Now, “I live on the first floor. She has her own kitchen, her own bedroom. But we cohabitate,” he volunteered.

        Just like Spenser and Susan.

        “We've known each other for 63 years, since we were 3,” he says. “She is quite good-looking. Looks 45. She has big, slightly oval eyes. She's 5-foot-6 and a size 4.”

        He says I would like her anyway. “She's very smart. Funny as hell.”

        Mr. Parker, too, looks younger than his 66 years. A little battered, maybe, nursing a couple of recently repaired knees. His eyes are a nice blue, his hair is cropped very short and there's not much gray in it. Or in his clipped moustache. He has a dimple. He, also, is funny as hell. He has a doctorate in English literature and isn't afraid to use it.

        The Parkers have two sons. Dave is a choreographer, and the other, Dan, plays John Cleese's assistant in the new Steve Martin-Goldie Hawn movie, The Out-of-Towners. Dan will play a detective in the new Spenser series on A&E. Robert B. Parker himself will play a CIA agent.

        “A towering performance. Think a young Olivier.”

        Michael Barson of publisher G.P. Putnam says early sales of Hush Money, the latest in the Spencer series, are brisk. The first Jesse Stone novel sold “almost exactly as well as Spenser — in the 125,000 range.”

        The next Jesse was “just a hair under the Spenser level,” Mr. Barson says.

        I think it's our way of saying we don't mind if Spenser's knees are creaky and he doesn't beat up as many bad guys as he did 25 years ago.

        We'll be there for you, Big Guy, when you purchase your first Miracle Ear and Susan starts wearing an estrogen patch.

        E-mail Laura Pulfer at lpulfer@enquirer.com or call 768-8393. She can be heard Mondays on WVXU radio and on NPR's Morning Edition and InterMedia's Northern Kentucky Magazine. Her book, I Beg to Differ, is available at (800) 852-9332.

        Laura Pulfer's column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. E-mail her at laurapulfer@enquirer.com

PULFER ARCHIVE