Spenser

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(Host) It turns out that commentator Jules Older is a Spenserian. But he may not be the kind of Spenserian you expect.

(Older) Let’s talk about Spenser. No, not the nineteenth century English philosopher, Herbert Spencer. He was Spencer with a "c"; ours spells it with an "s." And, no, not the sixteenth century poet, Edmund Spenser, who wrote The Faerie Queene. C’mon. When have you ever heard me talking about a long-dead poet who "celebrates the moral values of Christian chivalry"?

No, the Spenser I want to talk about is just plain Spenser, the Boston private eye. He’s the hero of more than two dozen books by Robert Parker, a writer I only just discovered and fell deeply in love with from the very first sentence. Some of those first sentences I can’t repeat on the radio, but let me assure you, they grab you like a headlock from Jesse Ventura. And the beauty of the Spenser books is that those first sentences just lead to more of the same. Once you’ve picked one up, you can’t put the darned thing down.

I picked my first one up when visiting my friends Tom and Hilary in Maine. In my bedroom bookcase sat their Spenser collection. I grabbed one, read a page or two, then casually brought it downstairs where I went to catch up with my friends. After only a few minutes of catching up, there was a long silence, a major break in the conversation of which I was but dimly aware. From somewhere across the room, I heard a voice call, "Juuuulesssss!"

"Uh, yeah?"

Hilary laughed. "He’s caught up in Spenser." And so I was. I devoured three books that weekend, another two on a plane trip west, another three at home when I should have been working. Spenser is the crack cocaine of fictional heroes.

He’s a tough but tender seeker of justice who loves to cook, loves foreign beer, loves action, loves settling scores, and, most of all, loves Susan Silverman, a smart, divorced guidance counselor studying for her Ph.D. Spenser works with Hawk, who’s just the kind of guy you want by your side if you’re, say, rescuing Susan Silverman from a gang of murderous thugs. Don’t mess with Hawk.

One of the things I like about Spenser is the way he describes travel. I’m a travel writer, and I’m often appalled at the bland, boring, and achingly stiff stories I read in the Sunday travel sections, notably, the New York Times.

Here’s how Spenser describes a Copenhagen hotel: "The Sheraton looked like Sheratons I’d seen in New York, Boston and Chicago. Newer maybe than New York and Chicago. More like Boston. It looked as Danish as Bond bread." The Marriott in Amsterdam: "The Marriott was part of the American chain, a big new hotel, modern and color-coordinated, and filled with the continental charm of a Mobil Station." Of a Mobil Station! When was the last time you read that in the Times?

This is Jules Older in Albany, Vermont, the Soul of the Kingdom.

Jules Older is the author of more than 20 books for children and adults, and is a passionate outdoors enthusiast.

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