Bad Weather

Let me start by saying, once again, that I consider myself a Robert B. Parker fan. When he's on his game, there's nobody better.

But ROUGH WEATHER is, by far, the worst Spenser novel yet. It's not the worst book Parker has ever written, but it's pretty close to it.  

The story kicks off with Spenser and Susan attending a wedding on a private island that turns into a violent kidnapping. Not a bad teaser into the story, except that neither Spenser, Susan, nor anyone else seems to react much to the extreme violence that they witness. From that point on, the story becomes almost entirely expositional, falling into a pattern that goes something like this:

1) Something happens, though the "something" is usually just a dull, expositional conversation between Spenser and someone else (and if it's a woman, she'd desperately like to sleep with him but he declines).
2) Spenser tells someone else about what happened.
3) Spenser tells someone else about what happened.
4) Spenser discusses what happened again with someone else, or with a group of people.
5) Spenser has another conversation with someone.
6) repeat scenes 2, 3 and 4.
7) Someone tries to beat up Spenser, but the someone is woefully ill-suited for the task and Spenser casually kicks his ass.
7) Repeat scenes 2, 3 and 4.
8) Someone tries to kill Spenser, but Spenser easily kills them first and/or takes prisoners.
9) repeat scenes 2, 3 and 4, and then repeat them again for good measure, since someone got killed or captured.

There are two set pieces — the kidnapping and an attempt on Spenser's life — and the rest is flat exposition. There's more sitting around and talking in this book than in a Nero Wolfe. The plot is obvious, there isn't a single surprise or twist.  The book ended abruptly with the bad guy coming in and simply telling Spenser what we, the readers, have already guessed a dozen chapters earlier. It's like Parker just got tired of writing and arbitrarily decided to stop.

Spenser doesn't actually have to get out from behind his desk in the finale, which is yet another scene of people sitting around and telling us what we already know. Spenser doesn't do anything, or really solve anything. The one benefit is that the book is short, maybe only 35,000 words, if that, so just when you're thinking about giving up, it's already over.

I think this is going to be my last Spenser novel. Parker is a very frustrating author. At times he's great (check out APPALOOSA, DOUBLE PLAY, the early Spensers and the early Jesse Stones) but lately, with the exception of his westerns, he just seems to type. 

I honestly believe if anybody besides an author of Parker's stature and success had turned in a book to an editor as sloppy, dull, and thin as ROUGH WEATHER, it never would have been published.

17 thoughts on “Bad Weather”

  1. I have not yet read ROUGH WEATHER, but I did find your comment concerning Parker’s westerns to be interesting. After I’d finished writing WYATT EARP: THE JUSTICE RIDERS, my new graphic novel, I decided to give Parker’s GUNMAN’S RHAPSODY a try, just to see how he handled the Earp legend. Boy, was that a mistake. I’ve been a Parker fan for a very, very long time, and when the man is operating at his peak, there are few writers who are better at creating snappy, intelligent dialogue. However, my first impression of RHAPSODY was that he’d farmed it out to a semi-literate ghostwriter with minimal writing skills and absolutely no grasp of Wyatt Earp as either a man or as a figure of historical significance. The dialogue is frequently trite and the prose all too often purple–and that’s being kind. I was perplexed by the many positive reviews the novel received and I could only conclude that the critics had either not read Parker’s better works, or that they knew nothing about Wyatt Earp–or both. By the time I finished reading the novel, I was left wondering if Parker had taken the time to do any substantive research on Wyatt, Doc Holliday, Bat Masterson, John Clum, Josie Marcus, or any of the other major players in Wyatt’s life. It seems to me that with each successive novel, Parker is becoming less involved and increasingly complacent. I hope he snaps out of it soon and returns to form. Despite his misfires, he remains one of my favorite authors.

  2. Actually, the thing that bugged me most about Rough Weather was this:
    Ostensibly, he’s hired to provide some sort of security at this big frou-frou wedding on an island. About five minutes after arriving on the island, he realizes that one of the world’s toughest hired assassins is on the island.
    So what does our guy who provides security do?
    Zip. Zero. Nada.
    What would I have done? Alerted every security person on the island. Called in whoever the hell had jurisdiction–Massachusetts State Police, county sheriff, FBI, Homeland Security, Coast Guard … hell, Boyscouts of America.
    But he doesn’t. He lets it happen. He doesn’t talk to the woman who hired him. He doesn’t do anything. He doesn’t even call Hawk and say, “Uh, dude, the Gray Man’s on the island, come give me backup and call all the other guys, we’re crashing this wedding.”

    The bad guy comes into Spenser’s office and simply tells him what he needs to know — which just happens to be information we already knew (and have been told repeatedly) and a “revelation” that 99% of the readers have already guessed.
    It’s totally passive. Spenser doesn’t have to go after the bad guy. The Gray Man just comes to him and tells-all. Spenser doesn’t have to actually *do* anything.
    On top of that, Spenser let’s him go. The guy killed six innocent people, but that doesn’t matter.
    Not only does Spenser let the killer go, but he also lets the person responsible for the whole kidnapping and murder plot go free. Or maybe he goes after her. I don’t know, because apparently Parker got bored and decided not to finish the book (at least, that’s how it reads).
    Parker sets up this big bad guy, this major opponent for Spenser, and then pisses it all away by making it easy. And making his hero totally passive and ineffectual.
    To say the ending was anti-climactic is an understatement.

  4. I am a fan and actually liked this book, especially the tender ending; albiet with the same reservations above. My reason for liking this book may have been that the last one I read (his latest Jesse Stone) was awful awful awful. I decided then never to purchase another Parker without reading it first…thankfully we have a good library and new books are readily available.
    I believe Parker needs to take a year off. What with a few series’ novels and his foray into Young Adult…I would rather he put out one decent story every couple of years then 5 mediocre ones.
    Referring also to a comment of Lee’s – over the past few years I have noticed a marked decline in editing of many books…lots of redundancy, unresolved plot lines, etc. I believe this is only getting worse. Too bad for us readers who have to slog through this stuff.

  5. Parker’s decline over the years has been one of the most depressing things I’ve ever seen. I’m not sure when it is was that he just stopped caring, but he’s managed to ruin his legacy as a novelist with at least a decade of truly crap novels. I think “Potshot” was the last one I read, basically breezing through in the course of a Sunday afternoon, and while there was some charm in it, it did feel incredibly lazy. “Crimson Joy” might have been the last one I read where it felt like he wasn trying, and even that one felt like the most laid-back serial killer novel ever.

  6. Huge Parker fan. Just read it. Completely agree with your assessment.
    It’s too bad … thinking about his early books VALEDICTION, WHERE EAGLES DARE, etc, which were small masterpieces … this was an extreme letdown.

  7. I liked the Spenser novel prior to this one, NOW AND THEN, but Parker is very scattershot in recent years. He’s not able to foreshadow or weave very intricate plots. Frustrating indeed.

  8. I love your Monk books, and so do my wife and daughter! I’ve not read any of Parker’s books. You said that when he’s on his game there’s nobody better. Can you recommend a book or two when this was the case?

  9. The first eleven SPENSER books were among the best PI novels ever written …though they may seem cliched now, since so many people have stolen from him. Things went bad with A CATSKILL EAGLE, then rebounded to some degree years later with SMALL VICES and POTSHOT. His first four Jesse Stone books (NIGHT PASSAGE, TROUBLE IN PARADISE, DEATH IN PARADISE, STONE COLD, etc.) are terrific, but the last three have been horrible. His Sunny Randall books, two of which were Stone cross-overs, are Parker at his worst. His period novel DOUBLE PLAY and his westerns APPALOOSA and RESOLUTION are very good, though basically rifts on the Spenser/Hawk relationship cast in different settings.

    Didn’t the Gray Man kill seven innocent people – six security guards and the groom?
    As you can tell I read the book. Recently, each time I time I finish one of his novels I say this is the last one, and then buy the next one. I have a problem.
    I do remember the real pleasures of his early novels, now they are nothing – very sad.

  11. The ending of this book was just more of Parker’s It-Was-A-Woman-And-Somebody-Loved-Her-Even-If-She’s-A-Murderer-So-I’ll-Let-Her-Go-Unpunished, which was the same in Potshot and a bunch of other books. It’s just lazy. He doesn’t even challenge his own moral code any more.

  12. As others have said, A Catskill Eagle marked the moment the Spenser books got wobbly, and Crimson Joy was when I decided I had better things to do. I can hardly believe he’s still cranking them out.

  13. Hmmm. I’m a Parker fan (though I don’t have much time for westerns; I did quite like Double Play, though), though not a fanboi, I don’t think.
    I wasn’t quite as unimpressed with the latest book as you are… but I’ll admit that you can at least say with a straight face that he’s writing for people who’ll put up with that; ie: his fans.
    Your review, Lee, reads as if you didn’t actually *get* the Grey Man backreferences, which seems odd to me; this wouldn’t be the first time he’d let murderers walk…
    His client basically screwed him, and he’s been known to have little affection for such clients — much as he did here.
    I think it comes down mostly to the grounds on which you evaluate his novels, and you’re a hard audience: you’re a professional writer.
    Was it his best? No. But he’s had other lulls. When you write 4 novels a year, that’ll happen.
    As for Not Being Edited… you obviously haven’t read Tom Clancy’s half-a-last-novel, The Teeth of the Tiger. Not to mention several of his earlier later works. Wikipedia even thinks he’s done; they list his Years Active as -2003, not -present.
    Finally regarding your top 9 list; I think we were reading different books…


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