I'm a big fan of Robert B. Parker's early Virgil & Everett westerns (APPALOOSA,RESOLUTION, etc.) but the latest, BLUE EYED DEVIL, is Parker at his worst. For starters, it's hardly a book at all, more like a long short story fattened up with large fonts, three-page chapters, and lots of white space.
Professional gun hands Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch return to Appaloosa, the setting for the first (and best) book in the series and spend most of their time sitting on one porch or another sipping whiskey and talking about how smart, skilled, capable, and all around marvelous they are. Occasionally, they get up and shoot someone. The plotting is episodic, improvised, and often inept. For example, at one point, their old friend Pony Flores, a inscrutable and wise half-breed Indian, shows up on the run from the law with his silent brother but isn't worried about being caught because, like Virgil and Everett, he's so damn good.
"Anybody on your trail?" Virgil said.
Pony shook his head.
"Only man can track Pony Flores," he said, "is me."
"Good," Virgil said.
But a few pages later, the law shows up looking for him anyway. Virgil quizzes the trackers.
"What makes you think he's here?" Virgil said.
"Folks in Van Buren spotted them, couple weeks back, heading south. This is the next town."
So Pony's brilliant, untrackable method for eluding pursuers is to go in a straight line from one town to the next, making sure that he's seen. But Virgil and Everett continue to regard Pony as a master tracker and eluder anyway.
An editor might have caught that bit of insipidness and, perhaps, also the half-dozen repetitions of the phrase "when the balloon goes up" throughout the book, but it's been a while since anybody has bothered editing Parker…and that disinterest and laziness continues even after his death.
Parker relies on all of his tropes in this book, repeating banter that I swear I've read in all of his books and lifting situations whole from previous entries in the series (for instance, once again Everett finds a sweet, warm-hearted, still beautiful hooker willing to have sex with him for free because she gets so hot hearing him talk about how competent and marvelous he and Virgil are)
Parker has succeeded in killing this series with his own disinterest the same way he did with the Jesse Stone books. Both series started out great and then he seemingly gave up making any effort, letting them become thinly-written and loosely conceived parodies of themselves. It's a sad thing to see and even more painful to read. At least it's over fast. I doubt BLUE EYED DEVIL is even 30,000 words.
I truly hope that the two upcoming SPENSER novels that Parker finished before his death are a return to form and not, as I fear, a sad coda to a once-great writer's career.
10 thoughts on “Blue-Eyed Devil is Wide-Eyed Awful”
I so disagree with you on this, and as I recall you very much “disliked” the last Virgil Cole book (Brimstone), which you now allude to in your review as being one of the good ones.
We can certainly get into Parker’s writing style and how it changed over the years to the “appreviated” style of the last 10 years or so – but as those books go this fits in fine with them, and as a Cole novel it is no better/worse than the other 3 (in my humble opinion). Perhaps, as you have done with Brimstone…after a year you will look at this with a kinder lens!
Frankly nothing could be worse (and I will agree with you here – where he seemed to give up on a series) – than “Stranger in Paradise,” but Blue-Eyed Devil, especially taking place in the fictional town of Appaloosa, makes a nice book-ending to the series.
You’re right, I didn’t like BRIMSTONE either…and time hasn’t softened that opinion. That’s why I said I was a fan of the “early” westerns and only mentioned APPALOOSA and RESOLUTION. I didn’t mean to imply that I liked BRIMSTONE. This one was far worse than BRIMSTONE…about on par with his last couple of lousy JESSE STONE novels.
(PS – I loved his western GUNMAN’S RHAPSODY, which was, in many ways, a Virgil/Everett book, too)
How sure are we that it was parker who finished these books? Much like the Ludlum “franchise” that continues to release “unfinished” books for several years now.
I barely made it through Appaloosa, so I can only imagine how bad Blue Eyed Devil must be.
I quit reading the Spenser novels years ago when it got to the point that I couldn’t tell them apart any longer.
As for the Jesse Stone novels, I only read the first one because I didn’t want to read the rest and have them spoil the Tom Sellick/Jesse Stone movies for me…….now that is not something you hear very often in regard to novels and the movies made from them.
I’m not 100 percent sure Parker finished the last few books, but as Lee says, they are so badly edited (or unedited, period.) to lead me to believe Parker completed them. A ghostwriter would probably have been edited more carefully, not having the clout of Parker himself.
As popular as Spenser is, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a series of a original books under the umbrella “Robert B. Parker’s Spenser” like “Tom Clancy’s Net Force, Op Center, etc.” There could also be novelizations of the last couple of Selleck Jesse Stone movies, which have had original scripts.
recently i have been reading a couple of old/new westerns (valdez is coming, 3:10 to yuma & law at randado) by an author that you would not associate with westerns. like parker, elmore leonard has written several westerns early in his career. they are quite good.
i once saw on a used pile the appaloosa book on a bargain bin. it was a 1st edition with no jacket. it was selling for less than $1. this was before a movie was made from it.
Lee, your description of Blue Eyed Devil sounds a lot like the recent Spenser books too. Spenser and Hawk sitting around talking about how good they are, how nobody can get the better of them, how the only one better than either is the other. The only break in the tedium is when Vinnie Morris and Chollo show up and talk about how good they are. Yawn…..
Elmore Leonard “an author that you would not associate with Westerns”?
You’re making me feel old.
Responding to a comment above – I do not think that Parker had a collaborator on his last books (whether you like them or not). Parker’s writing was about one year ahead of the publishing, so I am not surprised that on his death there was a Stone, and a Western. What does surprise me is TWO Spensers…one though is a holiday one and he was probably experimenting with the “Christmas Mystery” genre that opened up in the last few years.
I don’t understand how Allie teleports in and out of the story. At one point, Hitch rides Allie down to Pony’s place to stay while Pony comes up and does some stuff. And then, Allie is at the house meeting to distribute some information through the Queen of New Orleans.
And then, Pony goes down to his place to bring back his wife, and also Allie.
My, she seems to get around awful quick.
Am I missing a couple of trips?