Friday, July 22, 2011
Forgotten Books: SEVEN SAMURAI (aka Potshot) by Robert B. Parker
Having seen this story played out in so many films and TV shows (the silliest I can remember was Message From Space), it’s become an archetype or a fable. Still, when I read this ten years ago - and again now - I was surprised to see Parker having fun with it. And he did have a hell of a lot of fun.
The set-up is this: Spenser visits the small desert resort town of Potshot to investigate a murder, and the most likely suspects are a gang of forty outlaws who live out in the hills and prey on the town. It ain’t long before the town fathers ask him to hire a gang of mercenaries and do away with the bad guys.
The homage is most obvious when someone mentions there are seven members in Spenser’s crew, as in the following exchange:
“We’ll protect you,” I said.
“Seven of you.”
“Not all of us at once,” I said. “We try to be fair.”
But the real clincher is the way Parker manipulates the plot to include the obligatory “journey.” Instead of making phone calls to his friends and asking them to come on down, Spenser, as sensei, travels the country to personally assemble the gang. For no other reason, he returns to Boston to recruit Hawk and Vinnie Morris. Then, with Susan in tow, flies to Georgia to invite Tedy Sapp, to Las Vegas for Bernard J. Fortunato, and to L.A. for Chollo and Bobby Horse. While in L.A. he does do some investigating that later proves necessary to solving the case, but it seems more a byproduct than a reason for the trip.
In the end of most versions of the story, at least one of the heroes has to die - just to show us (wink, wink) that this is serious business and not heroic fantasy. In this case, the short straw falls to Bobby Horse. While he doesn’t die, he takes a crippling shot to the knee, which for a professional tough guy seems even worse.
For more Forgotten Books, round up your six best friends and bop on over to pattinase.