Saturday, July 13, 2013

Robert B. Parker's Ironhorse

Photo: Book's cover, from Amazon

I've gone into how I don't like it when publishers sell a book with the (more popular) deceased author's name in huge letters on the top of the title, then the actual author's name in smaller letters below it.  Just a pet peeve, but the practice clearly says that the money made from the book is more important than is the name of the guy who actually wrote it, or the memory of the guy who created the series, who is no longer with us...But that's not much of a surprise, is it?  The copyrights are owned by The Estate of Robert B. Parker, so maybe it has to be titled like this, legally.  Whatever...

Anyway, nobody would get confused about the authorship once they've read it, because, although it's very good, nobody would believe that Parker wrote it.  Just not his thing.  There's no message here, no statement of any kind about honor, or the code of being a real man, etc.  Nothing even about the knight-in-shining-armor thing, though there are women saved by the strong, silent types of Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch.  They save the day without saying much, and they're both great shots and they're great at what they do, so what else can you ask for?

I read this very quickly--371 pages over a day and a half or so--and the writing flows as quickly as a river with rapids, so it's worth your time.  Even Ed Harris says so, in a blurb on the back.  If you liked the series with Parker writing it, you'll like it with Knott writing it.  He is his own writer, and he may or may not have been trying to emulate Parker--I'm guessing half yes, half no--but it will go off now in Knott territory, I'll bet.  This was a mostly-smooth transition.

Except for a few spots.  One that glared at me is on page 212:

"What do you allow, Virgil?"

"Hard to speculate."

I didn't say anything else as we continued walking.

"You?" Virgil said.

"Don't know," I said.  "Been sort of expectant about it."

"Sort of?"

"More than sort of."

And so on.  You get the idea.  So what was glaring here to me?  The clipped responses and the distant first-person were always done well by Parker, even when it was all perhaps too spare. 

But it isn't Knott's thing, exactly.  He writes better when he writes medium-length sentences and paragraphs.  When he writes short, clipped stuff like this, it's a low word count that doesn't say much.  Which is fine, but when Parker used few words, he did so to say a lot.  When Knott uses few words, he just says fewer things.  With Parker, less was often more.  With Knott, less is just...less.

Again, there's nothing wrong with that.  But look at the excerpt above.  See the sentence where Everett Hitch, the first-person narrator, says that he walked and didn't say anything?  And then see where he almost immediately responds to Cole's question?  With Parker, they both wouldn't have said anything, and that would have said something.  Here, Hitch says he didn't say anything, and then he says something, and there's nothing said or meant by that odd interchange.

That's Knott trying to be Parker there, and not succeeding at it.

Which is fine.  But now it's time to move on, as much as I hate to say so.  I liked Parker as a writer, and I really liked him as a person.  I'd spoken with him three times: once when I worked at a Borders he was signing at, and twice at a Barnes & Noble, once extensively, during a Q&A.  I'd asked him about his apparent bias against the high school and college education system.  He admitted to the bias, and blamed it on an experience at a college where he used to teach.  And I had to chase after him when he left his prescription glasses behind at that Borders.  And he was even gracious enough to give me his agent's name, and permission to speak with her.  (I've yet to do so.)

Knott goes into many things that Parker never would have, including everything you'd ever want (and not want) to know about how to operate a coal-powered train, and about how to operate, and trace the operation of, a telegraph.  It was mostly good stuff, though I'm biased because I like accurately-told, well-researched, historical fiction.  You won't have to like westerns to like this, either.

Anyway, it's time now for Knott to ONLY write like Knott.  From what I saw here, that should be more than good enough.

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