Gunmanís Rhapsody & Shrink Rap
Reviewed: October 23, 2006
By: Robert B. Parker
Publisher: Berkley Books & Jove Books
316 pages / 340 pages, $10.99
Itís been about 23 years now since
I discovered the works of Robert B. Parker in a used book store in Nova Scotia
one summer. It was a Spenser mystery, of course. One thing led to another
and Iíve read most of the 30 books in that series at this point. They appeared
at a rate of about one a year and once I had read the ones I had missed it
was easy to keep up.
Writers are supposed to slow down as
they get older, which was why it was a surprise when Parker shifted gears
and wrote a couple of Philip Marlowe novels, one from an outline left by Raymond
Chandler and the other a sequel which made sense out of the ending of another
of Chandlerís books.
Apparently using another voice triggered
something in Parkerís creative mind. Suddenly he developed two new series,
books which basically took another look at some of Spenserís issues, but from
another point of view. And then he started writing westerns.
The first one was Gunmanís Rhapsody,
a lean retelling of the legend of Wyatt Earp, particularly of the events leading
up to and immediately following the OK Corral shootout.
Parkerís third person portrayal of
Earp and the people around him is tense with action, but also shows how much
of the tension in their lives was generated by plots and counterplots rather
than by actual physical violence.
Itís typical of a Parker novel, however,
that the real story is a romance, the relationship between Wyatt and Josie
Marcus, which drives a wedge between the Earps and their natural competition,
the Clanton boys, who are friends with Josieís former beau, Johnny Behan.
This is the root cause from which all the branches of violence grow. Like
Spenser, this is the sacred thing which Wyatt will risk everything to protect.
Sunny Randall is a woman trying to
prosper in what many would call a manís world. Divorced from her husband,
whom she still loves, and from her first choice of career, because being a
police officer was too restricting for her, Sunny is trying to carve out a
place for herself in Spenserís world.
Shrink Rap is all about relationships, and the double pun in the title is delightful
once you figure out where the story is going. Sunny is hired to be bodyguard
and travelling companion to a bestselling romance novelist whose love live
has gotten a little messy. She is being stalked by her ex, a charming and
domineering psychiatrist who knows just exactly how to push her buttons and
pull her strings.
In order to find out how to handle
him Sunny has first to consult an analyst on her own and then go undercover
as a patient to her clientís stalker in order to get the goods on him.
The problem with that is that both
shrinks diagnose Sunny as a person with relationship issues, vastly complicated
in this novel by the fact that her ex may be about to move on in his life
with a woman who Sunny canít help but dislike even though she canít find anything
objectively wrong with her.
We have known that one of Sunnyís problems
in her marriage is that she, the policemanís daughter, was married to Richie,
who is the straight shooting son of a mob boss. That was a contradiction she
could never resolve, but now it seems that there are others.
It appears that in Parkerís universe
only Spenser is allowed to have a contented love life with a minimum of complications.
All his other protagonists have had troubled personal lives. Earp and Josie
work it out and see each other into their senior years, but both Sunny Randall
and Jesse Stone (his other series, this one about a small town chief of police)
have difficult personal lives. Sunny has more close friends and associates
than Jesse, who is a loner struggling with a tendency to alcoholism, but both
lack intimate companions.
Itís interesting to see how Parker
works with all these variations. The style is still his, but it has a different
flavour in each case.