On the Spenser series

Parker Saddles Up

The Westerns of Robert B. Parker

By Ed Gorman

As the real West was being settled, numerous writers back East were penning adventures about a mythic West that fascinated readers of every age. It was good versus evil, it was slap leather and draw, it was saving the schoolmarm’s virtue and then marryin’ her to produce a whole passel of young ’uns.

These cowboys, lawmen, and quick-draws were not much different from the knights of old. They were virtuous, clever, brave, and fearless. They were perfect for inspiring the day-dreams of boys not only in America but around the world. Real Western figures were used to sell novels, too. Books supposedly written by Buffalo Bill became bestsellers of their day. That the derring-do the books described was fictional didn’t matter. If Buffalo Bill said it was true, then, damn it, it was true.

At the end of the nineteenth century, the dime novels dealing with the West faced competition from a new kind of hero. With the industrialization of America that followed the Civil War, detective Nick Carter and other urban heroes came to the fore. Carter and his imitators were forerunners of the James Bondian protagonist. They used a variety of gizmos to help them solve their crimes and triumph in the name of all that was good and holy. Carter also introduced American boys and girls to the wider world. Carter villains represented some of the real-life forces that troubled our country. Urban crime was much more complex and in many ways more vicious than the crimes of the  …

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