My Mom fled the long winters, seasonal affective disorder, and blue collar parochialism of her neck of New England for warmer climes as soon as she graduated from college. But, some of the family still lives there and so do many friends and I have been going back more often for work lately. My travel has been all in the summer and spring, when a fella thinks, "Yeah, I could live in Boston. What a pretty place." (Note: I also regularly think this about Chicago; I have been advised to visit during the winter months before making any foolhardy decisions.)
Now, the Cradle of Liberty has many things going for it, Puritanical weather aside. One of them is Janet Echelman's aerial sculpture over the new Rose Kennedy Greenway. Another less ephemeral thing is the legacy of Robert B. Parker's Spenser mysteries. The books center on a laconic Beantown private investigator, known only as Spenser, with a sweetheart named Susan and A Man Called Hawk as a best friend.
I am a sucker for anything driven by a code of honor character--gimme an N, gimme an O, gimme an I, gimme an R, whaddya got? Heartache! Spenser indeed has an internal code. And Hawk has a code, too. Spenser's code makes room for a girlfriend--he is not actually a true Philip Marlowe clone--even if the relationship is sometimes rocky. Hawk's makes room for the occasional fine, foxy lady but his code is too close to the street to really let anyone all the way in. The bad guys don't stand a chance.
Spenser and Hawk are kindred spirits, but they cover their brotherly affection, book after book, with a steady flow of snappy, erudite banter as they track down the baddies. They are either the first post-racial detectives in history or they just don't give a crap what anyone thinks; they play the race card on each other like it was a long night at the card table in Vegas. In A Catskill Eagle, Spenser has just broken Hawk out of a false imprisonment and they are tracking down one Jerry Costigan, who has been horning in on Spenser's Lady Friend and may be involved in much more:
"Remember where Mill River Boulevard is?" I said.
"Jerry Costigan lives off it on something called Costigan Drive in something called The Keep."
"The Keep?" Hawk said.
"The more money you honkies get," Hawk said, "the sillier you get."
"Wait a minute," I said. "Didn't you grow up in a place called The Ghetto?"
"Shit." Hawk said. "You got me."
"See, you intolerant bastard."
Hawk drove quietly for a moment and then he began to laugh. "Maybe I move to Beverly Farms," Hawk said, "buy a big house call it The Ghetto." He made ghetto a two-word phrase.
"The Wasps would turn lime green," I said.
"Match their pants," Hawk said.
-- Parker, Robert B. A Catskill Eagle. New York, NY: Dell, 1985. P. 65.
There are a jillion Spenser novels. I think I have read every one. If you haven't read them, try out one of the forty on offer. If you haven't read one in a while--Parker died while writing a new novel in 2010--I suggest picking up a paperback for a long flight and getting reacquainted.
PS - Why the television series starring Hawk was set in DC, I will never understand. But understand this: "Time to Pretend" by MGMT is good stuff; now playing on iTunes.
One Hundred Thousand Flashbacks
8 years ago