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(This clever analysis is entirely the work of Bob Ames. It was published in 2006, but the equation holds up well for the remainder of the Spenser books - it would put Spenser in his early 50s by Sixkill, the final adventure Parker wrote.)


It's a bitch when your character proves to be so popular that you have to suspend calendar time and work with "novelization time."

Way back in The Godwulf Manuscript, published in 1973, Spenser was 37 years old and learned how to march long distances in the Korean War. If we crunch the numbers we get a birth date in 1936 and in the year 2005 he would have 69 candles on his cake. By now he should be hanging his holster on the side of his walker.

Spenser has gone from a size 48 to a 50, and caffeine became a large problem in his life, but his character (and those who surround him) seemed to have stopped in their late 40s. I approve of this state of affairs. It beats the hell out of some other authors who keep their creations at the same age (and level of enlightenment) over the course of many decades (my favorite example is Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. who retained their same personas and relationships for over forty years.) It took true genius, courage, and a lot of balls for Lawrence Block to throw away his character's chief trademark and sober up Matt Scudder, and then to let him age convincingly. With all due respect, Parker has taken the road most traveled.

The comics section of newspapers struggle with this issue every day. Some strips have kept their characters at the same age for decades (Charles Shultz: Peanuts), while others (Lynn Johnston: For Better or Worse) keep pace as time passes. The Spenser books work on a non-linear scale best described as a flattening curve. The main characters have aged over the years but at a rate not available to the rest of us. I started out much younger than Spenser but he may very well outlive me.

In my latest reading of The Widening Gyre I was struck by one passage. Spenser goes to the office of Joe Broz to talk to him about Gerry, and he notices the Joe has gotten old. "Amazing. And here I was as youthful and vigorous as ever." Sure, he is being sarcastic, but that was published in 1983 and he is still firmly middle-aged.

Dr. Parker commented on this, or shall I say laughed it off, on a local radio talk show soon after Hush Money was published. During the hour he and the host (David Brudnoy) commented on how he was still in his forties and lifted several thousand pounds of weights on a daily basis. At the time the good doctor was half a year past his 68th birthday.

I like to think that by now Spenser is aging physically at about the same rate that that Parker is aging mentally, so there is not much chance that our favorite Private Eye will wind up as the bouncer at a retirement center any time soon.

BTW I seem to have misplaced my copy of "Elements of the Differential and Integral Calculus" but as an exercise for the student you should be able to plot dA/dt for A (the apparent age of Spenser) as a function of N=novel number, D=(delta) the number of years from the publication of The Godwulf Manuscript (using the constant GW=1973.) The fact that Spenser no longer needs reading glasses or is affected by caffeine in the later books may involve the use of imaginary numbers. Please show all of your work.

Addendum: Daniel Israel, a longtime fan and contributor to various web sites wrote in to note that I had overlooked an important variable:

The only problem I have with it is that when referencing their relationship, that seems to follow "normal" time. If Spenser stays in his 40s, he'll soon have met Susan in high school!

You're right, Dan. Left unchecked this will eventually put their first meeting well before the onset of puberty, and Susan might well be wearing Garanimals, or even Huggies Pull-Ups instead of polka-dot undies, and I am hard at work on the equations. My main mistake seems to have been relying on classic Newtonian physics and ignoring the refinements introduced by Dr. Einstein in the early part of the last century. If you take E=MC^2 apart and closely examine each of the variables it might seem that the plot points are approaching the speed of light. Since the publication dates are a constant with a period of one per year it must be the mass which is changing. I've tried to put together some figures of hardcover and paperback editions times page length but as that number approaches infinity all of the other values come into play. The Korean war may have happened less than twenty years ago, and Susan Silverman could have been a guidance counselor at Smithfield about than ten years ago.

Further, given that Cambridge and Boston keep their spatial relationship to each other it is time that must become a variable. The classic example involves a spacecraft traveling at a significant fraction of the speed of light: you as an observer might experience forty or fifty years passing, while the occupants would age by only a few years.

To put it in perspective, I remember a classic exchange on a Usenet site when Fruit-of-the-Loom started printing their briefs with FLT:

"If I'm labeled as Faster-Than-Light it must mean that time slows down and my endurance approaches infinity."
"Sure thing, stud, but remember that as the mass continues to increase its length shrinks toward zero. Be careful what you wish for."

I have left out the Fomalont-Kopeikin experiment on the different speeds of gravity and light as an exercise for the student, and kindly invite some post graduate to clean up the details and/or slap me for the above gibberish :)

Addendum 2: Using a baseline of age 37 in The Godwulf Manuscript I have come up with the following equation to figure out Spenser's age in relation to the passage of time: Y=( ln(X - 1972))^2, where:

    X=Publication date of the book
    ln is the natural logarithmic function, which as we all know is to the power of e, an irrational number that starts 2.7183...
    ΔY=result of natural log squared
    Age in years=37 + ΔY rounded to the nearest quarter year

The following table gives Spenser's age in each book using "the Bullets and Beer equation" ®

Title

X (ln(X-1972)) ΔY=ln^2 Age in years
The Godwulf Manuscript 1973 0 undefined 37
God Save the Child 1974 0.69 0.5 37½
Mortal Stakes 1975 1.10 1.2 38¼
Promised Land 1976 1.39 1.9 39
The Judas Goat 1978 1.61 2.6 39¾
Looking for Rachel Wallace 1979 1.79 3.2 40¼
Early Autumn 1980 2.08 4.3 41¼
A Savage Place 1981 2.20 4.8 41¾
Ceremony 1982 2.30 5.3 42¼
The Widening Gyre 1983 2.40 5.8 42¾
Valediction 1984 2.48 6.2 43¼
A Catskill Eagle 1985 2.56 6.6 43½
Taming a Sea Horse 1986 2.64 7.0 44
Pale Kings and Princes 1987 2.71 7.3 44½
Crimson Joy 1988 2.77 7.7 44¾
Playmates 1989 2.83 8.0 45
Stardust 1990 2.89 8.4 45¼
Pastime 1991 2.94 8.6 45½
Double Deuce 1992 2.99 8.9 46
Paper Doll 1993 3.04 9.2 46¼
Walking Shadow 1994 3.09 9.5 46½
Thin Air 1995 3.13 9.8 46¾
Chance 1996 3.18 10.1 47
Small Vices 1997 3.22 10.4 47¼
Sudden Mischief 1998 3.26 10.6 47½
Hush Money

1999

3.29

10.8

47¾

Hugger Mugger

2000

3.33

11.1

48

Potshot 2001

3.36

11.3

48¼

Widow's Walk 2002

3.40

11.6

48½

Back Story 2003

3.43

11.8

48¾

Bad Business 2004

3.46

12.0

49

Cold Service 2005

3.49

12.2

49¼

School Days 2005

3.49

12.2

49¼

Dream Girl 2006

3.52

12.4

49½

I was born several decades after Dr. Parker but am now quite a few years older than his doppelganger Spenser and In My Humble Experience the numbers on age/fitness/sexual activity do work out.

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