38 of 41 people found the following review helpful
Robert B. Parker, God Save the Child (Berkeley, 1974)
One of the great enduring mysteries in the literary world-and it says quite a bit that a piece of genre writing has had such a pervasive cultural effect-is the first name of Robert B. Parker's longstanding favorite good guy, Spenser. What short memories we have, for it's revealed in God Save the Child, the second Spenser novel. (The book contains the one scene where someone says his first name and isn't later contradicted. And no, I'm not going to tell you what it is.) Not only that, but it also pinpoints Spenser's age, which is something that's come up in more than one recent review. And yes, he is getting up there. (I won't tell you that, either. But pretty soon, the A&E made-for-TV movies will have to case Don Ameche and Garrett Morris as Spenser and Hawk.) For any Spenser fan, those two things alone should be reason enough to go back and correct any error they may have made by not reading this at their earliest opportunity. To cap off the must-read things about this book, it's where Spenser first meets Susan. Okay, get thee to a bookstore and get to work.
In this case, Spenser is hired to find a runaway kid. After a few days of wheel-spinning by both Spenser and the cops, a ransom note turns up; the kid's not a runaway, but a kidnap victim. Spenser enlists the help of a smart-aleck state cop and the kid's guidance counselor (Susan Silverman), and things go about the same way they usually go in detective novels. Those used to later Spenser novels will find the prose much drier than the average Spenser novel; whether Parker hadn't yet developed the distinctive Spenser style or whether the publisher was leaning on him to sound more like Ross MacDonald is anyone's guess. But don't worry, you won't be hurting for wisecracks, culinary commentary, and other such Spenserian traits.
While the book itself is vintage Parker, it's plain to see that the publisher was still thinking of Parker in dime- novel terms back in 1974. Hopefully reprints have corrected some of the more egregious errors of spelling and grammar, but if you happen to get your hands on the mid-seventies Berkeley paperback (...), be prepared for some painfully obvious screwups, if you happen to notice such things. I considered using the book to start a bonfire the second time Spenser "payed" a bill. (Amazing that they didn't spell his name Spencer throughout.) Obviously, it's not a knock on Parker, but still worth noting for those who get annoyed by proofreading errors in their pulp fiction. ****
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
In this second Spenser "novel of suspense," our hero is trying to find Kevin Bartlett, a fifteen-year old who has disappeared from his parent's affluent home out in the Boston suburbs. The parents and the local cop think Kevin is just another runaway, but the fact that the kid left with just his guinea pig makes Spenser suspicious. However, when the ransom note shows up in the form of a cartoon strip and the kidnappers make a phone call with a jingle, things are only beginning to become confusing. Add to this the fact that the Bartletts are not the world's happiest couple and the suspicions just keep piling up for Spenser.
"God Save the Child" is a vast improvement over Parker's first Spenser novel, simply because he has reigned in the character a bit by doing a relatively simple thing: providing a couple of characters who can appreciate Spenser's skewed sense of humor and more importantly understand his skills and devotion. The first character is Lieutenant Healy, a State Cop willing to use Spenser instead of doing the stereotypical real cop distaste for private detectives. The second, of course, is Susan Silverman, making her first appearance in the series. The two character click and know pretty much from the first moment they have found someone special in the other, which is a welcome relief after Spenser's sexual escapades in the first novel.
Add to this the fact that Spenser succeeds as much by persistence as he does by virtue of being smarter than everybody else on the scene. The final scenes are not only exciting for the action they contain, but I also appreciate what the climax reveals about the collection of unhappy people this story is about. Although it has been a quarter of a century since "God Save the Child" was written, the period references are relatively inconsequential. As always, Parker's novels are a quick and easy read, perfect for those who live the commuter life.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Follow any mention of the guinea pig in GOD SAVE THE CHILD. It's like a clue-magnet for unraveling character, plot, and purpose (or motives, however you want to call it).
Parker opens ths second Spenser novel with the P.I. droning in liquid narration, turning fool's gold into the functional lead of realism. Spenser artfully exposes his disgust for the husband/wife clients in his office. His descriptions of the outfits and arguments adorning these two seersucker, suburban bozos become a classic caricature setting for the husband/father's comment that his son took his guinea pig with him when he left home and disappeared.
That single observation, made by Roger Bartlett, that his son came home to get his pet before taking off, lifted him from the miasma his self-absorbed wife had immersed him into, beginning under his skin, continuing outward through the awkward, classless, tasteless clothing she had him don for the interview with Spenser. The only comment which cleared through the putrid artifice of that interview was Bartlett's mention of the guinea pig, which, of course, the wife, "mother" hated.
So, okay, Spenser, you were telling me that the only thing in that home which may have given warmth to this kid was that pet. And, the fact that the father noticed his child's attachment to it without rancor, began to paint the man out of the seersucker and into the quiet, subtle honesty of a man who cared about his son, but had probably not been able to demonstrate it.
The first two chapters were so impregnated with 70's ambiance (hey, yeah, this classic mystery was written then, and is still around to be bought and sold!), so packed with clues and character enrichment, I'm surprised this book didn't birth a horde of ...
Well ... actually, in a sense, it did ...
Decades later Parker's readers have a total of 33 Spenser novels to trudge through with high entertainment diligently dogging their heels.
This novel, along with the pilot, THE GODWULF MANUSCRIPT, felt to have been composed in a more sensual, molasses-type rhythm, gathering more dense, lush detail around settings, character enrichment, and classic mystery dynamics, than Parker's later Spenser offerings. I enjoy the early narrative labyrinth meandering as well as the later smooth, speedy jazz. Mostly I enjoy that Parker's writing style has rhythm. Not all novels do. All novels (by definition) have some sort of plotting, setting, narrative means, and characters. But, actually, not many writers have a discernable syntax rhythm, which draws a reader along on its natural, symphonic momentum, through dialogue and plot machinations. Most novels draw readers through a book more by baiting curiosity than by rhythm-ing their brain waves into a dance through literary prose cast so smoothly the reader might not notice the constantly effective undulations of literary lace. More likely, the reader notices he's collecting an increasing repertoire of questions about what (among a plethora of outrageous or cunning actions or commentaries) Spence is gonna do or say next.
I found myself looking forward to the next time I could pick up this novel, and I noticed that welcome surge of pleasure each time I reached for the book. Some mysteries require me to push through the plot at times, and I don't always feel that spark of anticipation as my hand reaches for a novel I've been into for a few sessions, when I know I'm going to have to force a focus, and reread a few paragraphs or pages prior to being caught up on the book's momentum, when I'm no longer required to apply effort.
Loved the way the local police chief responded to his lack of comprehension of Spenser's use of the
word, "candor." The extended means of coverup of lack of vocabulary easily and expertly exposed the breadth and width of Chief Trask's personality and pumped-up pomp. I'm not sure if I want to say Spenser is good or Parker is good. Sometimes I wonder where to draw the lines between them.
Oh my. Spenser meets Silverman, sets up their date, and moves into a relationship. What could I say but what Spenser did when he met her. Perfect. How cool that Spenser cooked dinner for Susan on their first date. And what a dinner. Maybe Nero Wolfe would have been impressed with Spenser's balsamic gourmet routines. Of course I wouldn't know. But, I know that I wallowed in the cooking prep scenes, and loved when Spenser noted that he hates when someone asks him for a recipe. Maybe he was a precursor to the Discovery Chef shows debuting in the 90's (if I remember the timing correctly) in which the flowing art of cooking took precedence over the craft and, possibly for the first time in cooking class history, no recipes were given, no lists of measured ingredients flashed on the TV screen (though they were made available on a web site for those who wanted that detail).
Just now (in 2006) reading the first Spenser novels, written in the 70's, is a treat of living, breathing cultural history. In fact, from this "now" perspective its easier to see how the Spenser series might be the best type of analog of the phenomenal cultural progression from then to now. It's easier to see why Parker was "set up" and compelled to include multiple tidbits, not only about what Spenser cooked for himself (lots of gourmet tomatoes, including pre-fame fried green ones), but what and how other characters ate, all of which surge into solidity in this second Spenser novel. Each character's eating choices and habits were telling, not only of 70's ambiance, but gave amazingly accurate insight into each plot walker. Not only that, the contrast (and sometimes lack of it) from the 70's to now, in eating habits and attitudes toward food and nurturing is mind blowing.
Eating/nurturing habits and attitudes might expose more about human culture and its historic development than any other significant factor, except possibly policies and proclivities toward sensitivity Vs cruelty.
And, Vic Harroway. His first appearance shows him not as a villain, but as a monster of the first (swamp) water. The way he jumped from his porch and landed, posed in baiting hostility, a few inches in front of Spenser, was so demonic in spirit, horns and tail were only a short nightmare away.
This book captivated me totally. I found myself rereading passages, not merely to seat them into memory, but to savor the flavor. When I arrived at the scene of Spenser beginning his supper prep of a pork tenderloin en croute, pausing to phone Silverman on impulse, and continuing the culinary coups up to and through her arrival at his apartment the first time, I was home. In a detective novel? Yeah.
Some readers have complained that the yummy, homey, cultured parts of Spenser take away from the expected P.I. mystique of the no life, a quarter-inch-away-from low life, lonely, solitary, macho man.
Okay. That's a valid addiction, and the availability of classic P.I. novels is readily enormous. Why should Parker create another one of those when he was obviously born to carry human culture through the transition from reefer madness to a prescription madness in which health is perverted beyond natural boundaries, and the joy of cooking and eating have been condemned into a phobia of the first water when 90% of the human population is suffering from chronic dehydration and related illnesses aggravated by 90% of the medical prescriptions which have become addictive. Many warnings for heart pills indicate that a heart attack will be induced if the pills are discontinued (not because the pill was successful at holding off heart failure, but because it is frighteningly addictive).
The redemptive generosity and rightness of the way Spenser brought antithetical elements and ugly character traits to catharsis in the denouement was to stand up, stomp feet, and cheer for.
Then, when Spenser and Susan had their concluding chat, I felt a "right on" slug come out of my psyche as Spenser offered his explanation for Harroway's appeal to Kevin, and for knocking that anti-hero off his pedestal, for the child's benefit.
Though I love Susan's character, her psychologist's hedging didn't have the brilliance of reality's uncompromising weight that Spenser's natural insights had.
From my canned predictions, if Susan's lucky, she'll be gleaning psychological truth not as much through her continued training and careful analysis, but through Spenser's struggles to understand his guilt and lack of it as he "boxes" his way through his P.I. cases. He'll be the one to grasp The Brass Ring of Wisdom. She'll be smart enough to share it, after nudging his elbow the quarter inch he wouldn't have had to reach it. What her training will be worth is its foundation to allow her to know he couldn't have done it without her contributions, and to see that he's right when he snaps the last puzzle piece into his Code of Ethics. Will that happen in # 38 or 39 in the series? In this prediction I'm not diminishing the woman; elevating the man. I'm just honoring the fact that Parker's the boxer/poet who's out there on the front line daily, regularly getting his ego bashed and nose in jeopardy.
The last line was a literary killer. I'm meaning "killer" there in the colloquial sense of being an awesomely appropriate "final sentence" to wrap the second novel in a detective series which would evolve to solidly span 3 decades. Or, would a more accurate description be that the Spenser series constructed a "bridge over (the) troubled waters" of 3 decades?
I'm very much anticipating MORTAL STAKES, Parker's third Spenser statement in the ongoing cultural conversation. I gotta see how his relationship with Susan progresses. Gotta see how his views of life's rights and wrongs continue to purge and clarify. And, it doesn't hurt that his plotting is riveting and his style is smooth jazz. Usually I don't seek books which are toooo riveting. But, how nice to have this one magnetize itself to my fingertips just enough that it flew into my hand each time I reached for it, and the pages began thumbing themselves just as my eyes passed the last word at bottom right. Now, if I can get the book to hold itself up, I'll have it made. Maybe I'll even be on the gravy train (choose your triteness).
Robert B. Parker, you're one heck of a phenomenon.
Linda G. Shelnutt