Making it onto the best-seller lists is such a tough achievement that once writers hit it big in a certain genre, it’s rare that they ever try to cross over into another. (You won’t catch Tom Clancy penning a bodice ripper, or Danielle Steel lovingly describing military hardware.) The risk of alienating your core readership is high, but the results can be creatively and commercially rewarding, as John Grisham and Stephen King learned with their recent changes of pace, A Painted House and On Writing respectively. Now, three new books find Robert B. Parker, the late Louis L’Amour, and Larry McMurtry venturing into unfamiliar literary territory with varying degrees of success.
With Gunman’s Rhapsody, Robert B. Parker moves a long way from Boston, the home turf of private detective Spenser, the protagonist of 28 of his novels. The setting is Tombstone, Ariz., in 1879, when Wyatt Earp rides into town. The famed gunslinger has left the bloody streets of Dodge City, Kan., looking for a little peace and quiet, but after he steals the local sheriff’s fiancée, showgirl Josie Marcus, the shooting starts up again.
Parker’s taciturn dialogue (”Next time I see you I’m going to kill you.” ”Maybe”) and no-nonsense descriptions (”his face was indoor pale”) easily make the trip West. In fact, Earp’s mature, passionate romance with Marcus may remind fans of Spenser’s longtime relationship with shrink Susan Silverman. Despite the occasional clunky phrase (”the bullets seem to surge from his deepest self”), the book rings true. ”That’s the dime novel guff,” Earp scoffs of his quick-draw reputation. ”Fast ain’t anywhere near as important as steady.” ”Gunman’s Rhapsody” is both fast and steady.