All Our Yesterdays, Robert. B. Parker

Dell, 1994, 466 pages, C$8.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-440-22146-3

It’s become something of a cliché to represent every best-selling author as someone with deep literary aspirations who resort to simple, exciting, shallow novels to support himself while s/he’s writing the Great American Novel. (Even Olivia Goldsmith’s The Bestseller does this…)

For instance, everyone knows that Stephen King can write shlocko horror novels at the rate of two or three a year, but his fans also know that meanwhile, King is also writing deeply serious, profound works of literature with his Dark Tower series (among other things, including his short stories.)

In this case, Robert B. Parker is best known as the best-selling author of the detective series “Spencer”. In these novels, a witty Boston private investigator fends off the Mob and other assorted thugs while solving crimes and engaging in witty banter with his psychologist girlfriend and a gallery of sharply-drawn characters.

I more or less became hooked to Robert B. Parker in early 1997, when one friend gave me a box of crime novels which contained two “Spencer” thrillers. I don’t usually read much crime fiction (perhaps ten-fifteen books a year in good years) but somehow became a “Spencer” fan.

And now this, a non-Spencer Parker novel.

All our Yesterdays traces the affairs between two families over three generations, beginning in 1912 and ending in 1994. The legacy of an affair between an Irish revolutionary and an American nurse will ultimately end up in Boston (considering Parker—where else?) being played-out in a city-wide gang war. Three generations of cops, trying to deal with crime and love.

This book is a much more ambitious novel than any of the “Spencer” novels. It’s also nastier, as if Parker realized he was writing for a more jaded audience than his usual crowd. His characters are darker; his prose style is harsher. People swear, have sex and beat up others even more. (They don’t seem to kill off each other in greater quantities, though.) Even given the not-always-fluffy tone of the Spencer novels, this is something. Unfortunately, a lot of the humor is also left behind. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since Parker retains his grip on how to write crackling dialogue.

The characters of the novel are deliciously complex, and often end up acting in ways you’re not supposed to expect. The relationships between the characters is more dynamic than in the average novel, and it’s one of the pleasures of the novel to see everything being played out. It may be argued that the small scale of the novel is unsatisfying, but Parker makes simple dialogue more exciting than explosions, so everything evens out. The style is unusually readable, this 450+ pages novel being easily readable over a single day.

All our Yesterdays, despite its bigger aspirations, isn’t that much of a step over the Spencer series. (A testament of the overall quality of Spencer novels more than anything else) As such, fans of Spencer will certainly enjoy this novel as much as the other ones. Others might see this as a good one-time introduction to Parker’s fiction.

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