Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Dead Man Writing

Seen at the bookstore: Something called Robert B. Parker's Ironhorse, a continuation of the late author's Western series featuring lawmen and gunslingers Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch. Parker published four novels with the pair, of which the first two were the best, the third serviceable and the fourth forgettable.

Parker's estate has so far commissioned three writers to continue some of his different series. Television writer and Jesse Stone movie scripter Michael Brandman has been continuing the work of the police chief of Paradise, Mass., in a truly lame manner. Brandman has very little of Parker's ear for dialogue and no sense of his storytelling and narrative rhythm. His books will be one of the reasons the trees wipe us out when the Ents come back and wake them up.

Mystery writer and journalist Ace Atkins has continued Parker's mainstay, the work of private detective Spenser. Atkins' first outing was immensely better than either of Brandman's and not a bad piece of work in its own right. A first-class novelist, Atkins seems to have found a way to write Spenser without trying to write a Parker pastiche, and make it work well.

So what's the expectation for actor/producer Robert Knott, who has taken up the reins on Cole and Hitch? I'll confess to very low optimism levels, to be honest. For one, Knott's never written a book before. Like Brandman, he helped adapt an earlier Parker work (Knott co-wrote and co-produced the movie version of Appaloosa) but hasn't ever put anything of his own between covers. For another, the extremely un-Parkerian number 371 stands out -- that's the page count for Ironhorse, and it's easily 80 higher than any collection of Parker's spare, unadorned prose.

Eventually, some copies of Ironhorse will make it to the used book store and we'll see if I'm being unduly pessimistic. If I'm not, and Knott follows Brandman's lead, at least that might mean that if the estate chooses to continue the Sunny Randall novels the odd-even pattern might put them in the hands of a decent author.

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