Forgotten Books: THE GODWULF MANUSCRIPT by Robert B. Parker (1974)
I’ve read The Godwulf Manuscript many more times than I can remember, certainly more times than any other book (and listened to the audio book many times too) and I never get tired of it. The reason for that repetition is that I keep reading and listening to the “complete” Spenser saga every few years. Each time I take that journey there are more books in the series, but I always start with the first, and this is it.
What struck me this time is how strongly the style of this book was influenced by The Continental Op. As it says on the dust jacket, Parker did his dissertation on the works of Chandler and Hammett. I had always seen the influence of both writers in his work, but over the past year I‘ve been studying the Op style very closely for projects of my own (the first of those, a story called “The Continental Opposite“ recently sold to AHMM) and it’s gotten into my blood. I was pleased to see it in Parker’s blood too.
Though Spenser has his Marlowe moments, his overall tone and attitude is much more Oppish, and Parker steered clear of the Chandleresque similes that other writers turned into parody.
Parker also borrowed a major plot element from the second Op novel, The Dain Curse. Like the Op, Spenser must rescue a young woman from a wacko cult bent on performing abominations on their initiates. In The Dain Curse it was The Temple of the Holy Grail. In this book it’s called The Temple of Moloch.
The most obvious hat tip to Chandler is Spenser’s first love interest, a woman named Brenda Loring. She’s clearly a literary descendant of Linda Loring, the woman Marlowe met in The Long Goodbye, and married sometime between Playback and the unfinished “Poodle Springs” story. Parker, of course, later finished Chandler's story, and it was published as the novel Poodle Springs in 1989.
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Parker's first six or eight novels really knocked me out. His voice was one I hadn't heard before. And although he overdid it later, I liked the idea of a steady girlfriend, and the cooking. And the cool friend.
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