"Each man has a song and this is my song." (Leonard Cohen)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

We deal in lead, friend



The link between tough detective stories and Western novels is too strong to be a coincidence. And as Spenser always says, coincidences don’t get us very far, so let’s discount them.
Think of Elmore Leonard. One of the best crime writers ever also wrote some of the finest Western novels, several of which have been turned into great Western movies. The Tall T, 3:10 to Yuma, Hombre, Valdez is Coming, and Last Stand at Saber River are excellent stories and fine films.

On Leonard’s website, Christopher Walton tries to answer the question Why are his books so attractive to Hollywood filmmakers?

And I mentioned Spenser in the first para. I’m reading Robert B Parker’s novels about that first-nameless Boston private eye, Spenser, with an s like the English poet. You get drawn into them. There are forty odd and they read like a roman fleuve. Spenser is a tough, literate, sensitive, witty and violent investigator and after twenty or so stories have been read you get to know Susan Silverman, Pearl the Wonder Dog, Hawk, Vinnie Morris and the others so well that they are practically family.
Parker, of course, wrote four outstanding Western novels, starring the wise-cracking pardners Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch. Appaloosa (2008), from the book of the same name, made an excellent Western movie and we must only hope that Ed Harris & Co will see fit to make Resolution, Brimstone and Blue-Eyed Devil. Tragically, Robert Parker died suddenly in January this year and we shall not be reading more of Virgil and Everett, or indeed Spenser - at least from his hand.
http://us.penguingroup.com/static/pages/aboutus/pressrelease/robert_b_parker.html will tell you more about his life and work.
I recently read Potshot, in which Spenser rounds up some fellow-thugs from previous encounters and rides down to Arizona to rid a small town of a gang of biker trash that have been terrorising it. Ring any bells? Of course it does. Is it a coincidence that with himself Spenser’s magnificent tough guys number seven? Coincidences are possible but they don’t get us very far, so let’s discount them. And as a clincher that Parker knew exactly what he was doing, one of the band tells the Preacher (who could have been played by Eli Wallach), “We deal in lead, friend.”
So if you want crossover, read Potshot. The tough private eye novel meets the famous Western. Read any of them, in fact. You won’t regret it.
Certainly Parker would have agreed with Elmore Leonard’s rules of writing: “My most important rule,” he says, “is: If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”


  1. Hi Jeff
    Elmore Leonard is one of my favorite writers: I have quite some books from him and by chance also from Robert B. Parker. Spenser is a great private eye.
    The only books in fact that I read are American crime novels, especially when they are situated in the South: California, Texas, Louisiana....
    Yes I truly am an america-lover
    Best wishes

    1. Totally agree that Leonard and Parker are superb writers, in both crime and Western modes.
      Best wishes from a fellow lover of American culture.