“If you look at the early hard boiled detective genre novels, works by any of the greats, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Ross MacDonald, Mickey Spillane and including early Parker, you’re going to find chain smoking heroes who are hard drinking loners in trench coats with fedoras pulled down tightly over their eyes to whom all women are nothing more than broads and dames.
There’s a line from an old Woody Allen movie, Play it Again Sam, where Woody seeks advice from the ghost of Humphrey Bogart on how to deal with women. Although Bogie never uttered the line, it sums the old school up perfectly.
‘The only thing a dame understands is a slap in the face or a slug from a .45.’
There’s another line from an old Raymond Chandler novel, where his hero, Philip Marlowe, underlines how the old school heroes dealt with substance abuse:
“I’m the kind of guy who goes out for a beer and wakes up two weeks later in Singapore with a full beard.”
In the early Parker novels, most notably his very first 1973 release, The Godwulf Manuscript, we see Parker’s long running hero, Spencer, fitting beautifully into this old school mold. He’s drunk most of the time, is antagonistic and is sleeping with both his very attractive client and unbeknown to her, her daughter as well. He’s a real charmer.
But I give all the credit in the world to Parker for starting the feminist evolution of the genre. Parker recognized the changing role of women in our society and reflected the changing mores in his novels. By 1978, we see a completely different Spencer. He becomes involved in an exclusive relationship with a beautiful, independent and highly accomplished woman. Though they never marry, he clearly respects her for far more than just her body. He doesn’t smoke and keeps himself in top shape. We see him backing off the booze too. Dean Martin is long since dead. It’s no longer hip or cool to be drunk. In fact it’s boorish. Spencer drinks but only in moderation. He knows what wine to order with what dish. He dresses fashionably. He’s courtly to women, opening doors, pulling out their chairs. He is well read, dines in fancy restaurants, cooks gourmet, and is a sparkling conversationalist who from time to time will even quote Robert Frost and William Shakespeare. The new Spencer is a gentleman. It’s a remarkable transformation.
The one thing that hasn’t changed is Spencer’s use of violence. He’s perfectly willing to punch some thug’s lights out. He’ll kill him if he has to. As far as all that goes he’s still a man who makes his own rules. He operates within the law, but is not at all above pushing the envelope when it suits his purpose. That aspect of the character hasn’t changed at all since the grand-daddy of all the hard boiled detective novels, Dashiell Hammett, introduced us to his hero, Sam Spade, with his premier 1930 novel, The Maltase Falcon.
I’ve taken the feminist evolution of the genre to the next logical level. My hero, Fenway Burke, who is based out of Marblehead, is not only married to a ravishing and highly accomplished woman who is both his equal and a true partner, but they have a beautiful baby girl they dote on…Sam Spade is doubtless turning over in his grave, but as Bob Dylan told us in the 60’s, ‘The times are a changing.’ ” In my work, women are people too.” But not to worry Parker fans, Fenway’s a gentleman but any thug trying to push our hero around buys himself a first class ticket to Intensive Care…At best.”