Spenser is Robert B. Parker's premiere
private detective. We know an enormous amount about him, except for his first name.
What's he look like? Most often he's
described as a thug by those closest to him. He's an ex-boxer with scar tissue around his
eyes. My mental picture of him is Michael Nouri, but the mug on the left is as good
approximation of Spenser as we might get.
The Spenser Bio link connects to a
compilation of who and what the detective is, culled from the ongoing series of novels. As
more notes are made, more will be added.
Yes, thank you for asking, I am compulsive.
Coming Soon: All you ever wanted to know
about Spenser and too much more.
The Godwulf Manuscript
The first Spenser novel. Spenser is hired by an urban Boston university to recover a
stolen medieval manuscript being held for ransom. In the course of the investigation he
helps clear a co-ed who was involved in the theft and was charged with murder.
Brenda Loring is introduced. She's a secretary in the university's security division.
Spenser's hobby is wood carving. Joseph Broz is introduced as crime kingpin in Boston.
Spenser has not yet shown any outstanding cooking ability.
Spenser has sex with both the co-ed and her mother, though at
separate times. This seems to be counter to the knight's code of honor, but does conform
to the standards of the hardboiled PI.
The novel seems somewhat over-written compared to Parker's later
and thinner works. He hasn't worked out his economy of language yet. A
reason for this is because we have no backstory about Spenser upon which to rely.
Copyright 1973 by Robert B. Parker; but a portion of the book appeared in the October,
1973, issue of Argosy
God Save the Child
Spenser is hired to find a runaway boy and it seems to develop into a kidnapping. He later
finds that the boy has run away from home to be with a homosexual body-builder. The
family's attorney is found dead in the client's home. Spenser fights the body-builder and
the boy returns to his parents. The body-builder is a sex and drug distributor who killed
the attorney accidently by hitting him.
Susan Silverman is introduced. She is a high-school counselor.
Marty Rabb is a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox and his manager suspects he's throwing
games. Enter Spenser. Turns out Marty is in the tank because he's being blackmailed. Turns
out his wife is an ex-call girl. Spenser gets them out from under with no one the wiser
about Marty's going in the tank.
Spenser sets a trap for his ambushers in this one and while he's justified, it seems
A land developer hires Spenser to find his run-away wife. Spenser finds her in a group or
radical feminists. The wife becomes involved in a bank robbery / murder and the husband is
in debt to a loan shark. Spenser concocts a gun sales deal that gets the husband and wife
out of trouble.
Hawk is introduced as King Powers "muscle." Spenser and Susan admit they love
each other, though it takes Spenser some self-examination to do so.
The Judas Goat
Spenser International Man of Mystery, should be the title for this outing. Spenser
is hired by a Hugh Dixon, wealthy paraplegic, to track down the nine terrorists that
killed his family and paralyzed him. Spenser goes to London, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, and
Montreal tracking the terrorists. The climax comes at the Olympics in Montreal. Sounds
like Robert and Joan took a nice vacation and Robert wrote it off as research.
Spenser and Hawk team up for the first time.
The publisher of radical lesbian feminist Rachel Wallace hires Spenser to protect her
after she receives death threats. Spenser doesn't last long because Wallace is humorless
and Spenser can't resist wisecracks. Later she is kidnapped and Spenser tracks down her
kidnappers to assuage his guilt at not having protected her.
Many long, insightful, paragraphs about Spenser's personal code of honor. At one point,
Susan Silverman, who is taking a class in adolescent male development, tells Spenser his
is the posterboy an undeveloped adolescent.
Spenser is hired by Patty Giacomin to retrieve her son from his father, her former
husband. Spenser gets the kid, Paul, back. Paul is 15 and has been the emotional
shuttlecock between his parents for years. He's unformed and becoming a waste of skin.
Spenser then gets another call from Patty because his father tried to snatch him. Second
and third attempts are made, which Spenser thwarts. Neither parent wants Paul, they just
don't want the other to have him. Spenser eventually takes charge of Paul, teaches him how
to be a man at least according to Spenser's code and gets enough goods on
both of his parents so that they will not try to get him back from Spenser, and will
support Paul's education as a dancer.
Looking back over a chasm of 22 years and all of the seamy revelations about Roman
Catholic priests and altar boys, Spenser's relationship with Paul Giacomin takes on a
nature that was unintended by Parker.
Although there is no homosexuality implied, the relationship between Spenser and Paul
seems a bit odd, looking back at it from our politically-correct viewpoint back toward
1981. For those looking for such things:
Susan Silverman expresses a lot of jealousy about the time Spenser
spends with Paul.
When visiting New York City, Spenser stays in the room with Paul
rather than the adjoining room with Susan.
Spenser describes Paul's physique several times as they lift weights
or work out together.
Granted, Spenser does express his hetero nature toward Susan every chance he gets, but
this novel could be interpretted as having as much homosexual subtext for instance, as
Melville's Billy Budd.
On a completely different note, Brenda Loring is written out of Spenser's life [well, maybe not completely]
when he gets an invitation to her wedding. Such a pity, I've always like her better than
Susan. I'll miss those thighs.
Spenser's '68 Chevy convertible is replaced with a two-seat MG he purchases from Susan.
Hawk makes his appearance in helping Spenser. At first, for pay, then for "good
A Savage Place
L.A. Spenser. Maybe he and Elvis Cole passed each other at Hollywood and Vine. Spenser is
hired by a Los Angeles television station to bodyguard investigative reporter Candy
[Candy? At least it's not with "ie" at the end] Sloan who is investigating
payoffs in the film business. Spenser was hired on the recommendation of Rachel Wallace.
Spenser does a poor job bodyguarding Candy. The first night he's there, she goes out to
meet a "source" and get worked over. She has an acquaintance who put her onto
the payoffs he has short-man syndrome who eventually gets killed. It looks
like the corruption goes up the chain from director, to producer, to head of the studio,
to president of the studio's holding company, essentially the head of Sony U.S. Candy and
Spenser confront the head of the holding company who throws them out. Later, he contacts
her to "mend fences," and she uses her sexuality to get into the president's
confidences. It turns out they are using each other. In the biggest bonehead move in the
series, the president changes his routine in dating Candy and takes her out to an old oil
field outside of L.A. Spenser is following and gets lost. He leaves his car and tries to
find them on foot. He stumbles around until he hears some shots. He finally finds Candy
and the bagman that they've been tailing. They've been executed. Spenser then becomes the
Incredible Hulk: he goes to the president's office and becomes an unstoppable force for
truth, justice, and the American Way by beating up the president and his mob-assigned
bodyguard and getting the president to read a confession to the news director and his film
crew of Candy's station. Yeah, confession under physical coertion. That'll get an
Pretty lame performance by Spenser. The break in routine by the president of the studio
holding company should have rung bells, sounded whistles, and raised red flags. Spenser
pretty much ignores them. Then, when they go to a deserted field outside of L.A., Spenser
doesn't follow them closely. Of course, we knew Candy had to die she and Spenser
had sex. Spenser who is intensely jealous of Susan Silverman's attentions to other
men rationalizes his night of carnal delight with Candy by telling the newsbim that
it was just a body thing, his heart still belongs to Susan. Bet that makes Candy feel real
good. He also says he will tell Susan see Sue? It really you I love, it
was only base, reflexive sex with her. Bet that makes Susan feel real good, too.
Even Ann Landers tells people not to admit affairs.
Spenser is hired, at Susan Silverman's prompting, by the Kyle family to find their
daughter April. The father saw her soliciting a man in Boston's infamous Combat Zone.
Spenser always seems one step behind in tracking down April until he learns that she is
part of a scheme by an influential state guidance counselor to recruit prostitutes from
the disaffected youth of the school districts. This plan is sponsored by Tony Marcus, an
African-American Boston crime kingpin. Spenser finally works out a deal with Marcus
to send the corrupt counselor to jail and leave Marcus alone. He, Hawk, and Susan rescue
April. Spenser sets her up with Patricia Utley [see Mortal Stakes] since April likes
being a prostitute. Kids today, whatcha gonna do?
Probably the best-written novel of the series thus far. The dialog is crisp and Spenser's
ironic wit shines. Hawk is still working with Spenser for pay, though they joke about
Spenser's fee $1 in the novel. This is probably the best example of Spenser
as the knight errant. He rescues April Kyle, the somewhat soiled Fair Maid, from the
dragon-like grasp of pimps and suborners. In the climax of the book, he and Hawk fight the
Forces of Evil [participants in an orgy] to rescue April. Susan is beginning to show her
pickieness in eating and drinking that is manifest in later novels.
The story it is really a short story published in an independent
volume deals with the abuse of Brenda Loring by her impotent husband. The husband
hires a thug to rape Brenda . . . twice. Brenda calls Spenser for help. Much more I cannot
relate since I haven't read the story. Having said that, I think it's kind of a trashy way
to use an ex-girlfriend.
This is a strange bird. "Surrogate" began as a short story
solicited from Parker by Playboy. He submitted it and they rejected it. Very odd.
It next appeared as a very limited edition book published by Lord John Press 300
imprints and 50 deluxe imprints. It next turned up in Gallery, a men's erotic
magazinein the May, 1984, issue. It was later included in collection of detective fiction.
It's not impossible to get, but the limited-run volumes run into the three- and
four-figure price range. The volume of collected stories can be had at a more reasonable
price for those who can't live without every word Parker wrote. For more information about
"Surrogate" and a ton more of Parker's works, flip over to the Spenserium,
but be warned, there's an undercurrent of drooling-fanboy about the site. Yeah, even worse
than me. It's where I learned that Parker's nickname is "Ace."
The Widening Gyre
Spenser is hired as head of security for a religious-right US senatorial candidate. Soon
the candidate tells Spenser he is being blackmailed to drop out of the race. The blackmail
consists of a videotape of the candidates wife having sex with a younger man.
Spenser investigates and finds that Joe Broz son, Gerry, who is attending Georgetown
in D.C., has set up a cocaine and blackmail ring without his fathers knowledge, but
with the help of his fathers right-hand-man Vinnie Morris. Spenser gets the goods on
Gerry and goes to Joe to get Gerry to back off and surrender the tape. Joe tries to have
Spenser hit but Spenser prevails and Joe agrees to Spensers terms.
This is the continuing saga of Susan Silvermans search for independence and its
effect on Spenser. She has taken an internship in D.C. and is away from Spenser. Always a
beer drinker, Spenser has begun drinking whiskey to dull the pain of Susans leaving.
She needs to be "fulfilled." Very 80s self-actualization. Spenser, who was
autonomous until he let Susan into his life now pays the price for opening up. This is the
introduction of Vinnie Morris. On the Spenser toughness scale there are Hawk, Spenser,
Martin Quirk, and Vinnie Morris.
Paul Giacomin, Spensers protégé and only straight professional dancer in New York
City, introduces Spenser to choreographer Tommy Banks. Banks wants Spenser to
"rescue" his girlfriend, Sally Spellman, from the Bullies a
fundamentalist militant Christian sect. Tommy tells Spenser that they kidnapped Sally.
Spenser investigates and finds the church is a front for a heroin operation and that the
head of the religion and Sally are neck deep in drugs and murder. Tommy, Sally, the head
of the religion, and a dope processor are all killed in the process. Spenser takes two .38
bullets in the chest from Sally before he breaks her neck with his bare hands. That'll
This is probably the most complex Spenser plot to date. It involves people fooling
Spenser, a double money laundering operation, and Spenser double-crossing the dope
processor. Spenser is mostly a walking corpse throughout the book because Susan has taken
a job in San Francisco and is having an affair with a married man in order to define
herself. Hawk is acting more as a friend than as a hired gun who helps Spenser. Vinnie
Morris comes on stage to help Spenser, albeit through his own self-interest and that of
his boss Joe Broz. Spenser falls in love with the "art director across the
street" who has a window across from his: Linda Thomas. Shes a more likable
character than Silverman and is much more emotionally expressive. Analytically, Linda is a
woman who defines herself more by the men in her life than Silverman, but Linda seems more
like a real woman than the walking container of self-analysis that is Silverman. Also
introduced is Rita Fiore, a state prosecutor who smokes Tarryton 100s. Paul Giacoma is
back and is dating another college student whose name is Paige. In the end, when Spenser
eats the slugs that Sally is dishing out, there's an undertone of his almost-willingness
to face a deadly situation. It's not a suicidal feeling as much as it is a way to end his
tired life without Susan. Gee, I wonder if she was as depressed while balling the married
guy in San Francisco?
A Catskill Eagle
Spenser as an introspective Mack Bolan. This is probably the most atypical Spenser novel
thus far in the series. Spenser gets a cryptic letter from Susan: Hawks in jail in
Mill River, CA, and she needs help. Come quick. It turns out that Susan is in love
no, in thrall to the son of one of the richest and most evil man in America. We
know daddy's evil 'cause he rich, and we know he got evil getting rich, and he's richly
evil cause he's evilly rich and we . . . aw forget it. Sonny's not exactly holding her
prisoner, she just hasnt got the will to break away sort of like when you're
eating potato chips and you know you should stop, I guess. She called Hawk for help and
got him bushwhacked and held for murder. Spenser goes to California and breaks Hawk out of
jail. They go to the rich mans house his name is Jerry Costigan and
find that Susan isnt there. Many laws are broken and Spenser and Hawk are wanted
men. Spenser and Hawk must kill about 20 people between them, some in cold blood from
Spensers point of view. The CIA, FBI, and Boston cops get involved. All will be
forgiven if Spenser kills Costigan for them because he's evil, EVIL I tells yah! The
justification on their part is that hes a bad man who sells arms around the world
and isnt above fostering conflicts to make a profit. If that's justified, Spenser's
next assignment would be to kill France. Spensers rationale is that Costigan has a
contract out on him for his effort to save Susan. In the end Spenser kills Costigan, gets
Susan back [shes psychologically-damaged goods, well, at least more so, now], and
gets all charges dropped against Hawk and himself.
Theres a quote from Melville at the beginning of the novel thats the basis for
the title of the book: an eagle flying down into the gorges of the Catskills, still flies
higher than the birds of the plains. Thus, Spenser doing very bad things gunning
down a pimp in cold blood to protect a couple of hookers he and Hawk compromised is
still morally superior to the rest of us in our small little lives. Moral relativism is
you ask me. Spenser will do anything to save Susan, even though all she has to do to save
herself is to walk away from Russell "Rusty" Costigan. Shes not worth it.
Its old home week for Spenser. We have Rachel Wallace [Looking for Rachel
Wallace] and Hugh Dixon [The Judas Goat] making appearances in A
Catskill Eagle. Spenser himself travels the country in search of Susan: California,
Connecticut, Idaho, Massachusetts, and Washington. Its nice that Parker can take a
tax write-off for his vacations. Curiously, this brings up a point I missed in The
Judas Goat. In that novel, Spenser tells Hawk that he and Brenda Loring visited
London and he and Susan had been to the Netherlands. Thats at least two European
vacations for a PI who, by his own admission, sometimes gets letters from the electric
company threatening to turn off the power to his office. Also, Spenser lives in an
apartment with a fireplace; another luxury for a guy who might be lucky to make $30K per
year. Where does Spenser find the funds to have expensive apartments and travel
internationally for fun? Hawk is now Spensers partner in all but name. Rachel
Wallace essentially calls him a sidekick and gets rebuffed by both for thinking that Hawk
is somehow subservient to Spenser. Lots of psychoanalytical musings in this one. Spenser
even visits Susans psychotherapist and has a "session" with her. One would
think that with all this introspection that Susans character would be more
developed, but its as if Parker is trying to breathe life into one of those full-sized
photos of stars that are mounted on cardboard. Susan looks good and nearly lifelike, but
as a character, shes still flat. A mass of psychological ideosychricies does not
make a character, merely a diagnosis.
Taming a Sea-Horse
It's the return of April Kyle. April, who Spenser sent off to be a prostitute for Patricia
Utley in Ceremony,
has dispappeared. Utley called in Spenser to find her because we all know pimps have such
high regard for their employees, but before Spenser arrives, Utley finds her working an a
lower-class brothel that will probably lead to a downward spiral in the prostitution food
chain. Spenser meets with April and she says she's in love with a man who is her new pimp.
Spenser leaves well enough alone, but decides to see April one last time. That's where the
fun begins: he can't find April again. When he goes to her pimp, he finds the man beaten
and frightened. In the course of looking for April, he befriends a streetwalker named
Ginger Buckey who works for the same pimp. Buckey tells Spenser her life story. Spenser
gives her one of his cards. A week later, he's informed she's been killed. Spenser uses
the information Ginger gave him about her life to backtrack April. Hawk helps Spenser get
information from Tony Marcus a crook who runs the prostitution business in Boston
about a Playboy-club like organization that fosters prostitution. Spenser tracks
down this angle and finds the Larry Flynt-like character who is running these "Crown
Prince" clubs tied in with a national crime organization headed by a "Mr."
Milo and ramrodded by Jackie "Wax" Weatherwax. All sorts of intimidation and
posturing ensue and Spenser strikes a deal not to reveal that Mr. Milo's organization owns
the president of the 18th biggest bank in the U.S. through prostitutes if April Kyle is
brought back. The deal holds up and the novel ends with April back in Spenser's office,
where, no doubt, she will follow her true calling and become a nun and help Sister Theresa
bath elderly indigent Indian lepers.
Spenser doesn't kill anyone in this novel. In fact, there are references to his feeling
bad about all of the killing that took place in A Catskill Eagle. A relatively
weak novel. The proposed premise is that he is searching for April Kyle, but he doesn't
follow up normal leads. The ending, with Jackie Wax letting Spenser explain what is going
on, has the feel of and English Tea Cozy mystery where everyone sits around tea and the
detective explains why Col. Mustard was killed in the library with the lead pipe.
Pale Kings and Princes
A newspaper reporter investigating a small New England town as the center of the cocaine
trade in the northeastern US is murdered. His newspaper hires Spenser to find out what
happened and bring the murderer to justice since the local police aren't investigating the
case. Spenser goes into town and spends most of the novel sitting around annoying people.
He annoys the chief of police, the chief's wife, and the head Colombian cartelista in
town. Soon, the chief gets killed and Spenser and everyone else is still at a loss at
getting a handle on the bad guys. In typical Spenserian fashion, he decides to follow the
chief's son who works for the legitimate business of the Colombian. It turns out the kid
is the cocaine mule. Spenser hijacks a 300 kilo shipment of coke and the real action of
the book starts to take place. Eventually, a mistake by Spenser gets the son killed. The
book ends with a confrontation with Spenser, Hawk, and a state trooper on one side and the
Colombians and the town cops on the other. Guess who wins.
Parker wrote this one in his sleep. It's the continuation of the trend of his novels to
have bigger type and larger leading [the space between lines] to pad out a novella to book
thickness for which they could charge $4.50 for a paperback in 1987 dollars. Two-thirds of
the novel is Spenser just milling around, living in a cheesy motel and making fun of
people and places that serve salmon loaf in their restaurants. Spenser, having survived
his resurrection in A
Catskill Eagle, has mutated beyond the wisecracking PI. He is becoming
an unstoppable force for good. It's no longer enough that he solve the case, he must heal
the mentally injured and "make things right." Even to the point of helping
crooked cops reform, getting people into therapy, and forgiving a witness who threw red
herrings into his path every chance she got.
There's a serial killer haunting Boston and police Lt. Martin Quirk asks Spenser to help
solve the case because the killer claims to be a police officer. As with many of the
previous novels, nothing happens for about the first two-thirds. Through a too-convenient
coincidence, the killer turns out to be one of Susan Silverman's patients. Once again,
Spenser and Susan have a go-round about his love of her and her autonomy. It almost seems
as if the personal relationship between Spenser and Susan is the focus of the book rather
than Spenser's solving the case.
Parker's attempt at Silence of the Lambs. He tries to get into the mind of a
serial killer with interchapter vignettes of the killer's thoughts. Instead of giving the
reader chills, we get the impression that the killer is a sissy [in non-homosexual terms].
Parker is obviously fascinated by the psychological forces driving characters, but he's
delving too deeply into what makes Spenser and his critical component, Susan
Silverman tick. Spenser is best left as a 19th Century Mystery Clock: we don't know
how it works and that's what makes it attractive. When we see the gears, springs, and
mechanisms driving it, we lose interest. Oddly enough, this is one of the few Spenser
novels where the bad guy is not a physical manifistation of his moral failure. Usually
Spenser's protagonists are fat or somehow out of shape. In this novel, the serial killer
manages to not only outrun Spenser, but also hurdle a fence which trips Spenser. There is
a chapter in this novel in which five racists confront Spenser in his office. The lead
tough has the well-developed physique of a weight lifter. Spenser beat the man unconcious
using only one hand at a time. The other hand is holding Spenser's pistol to keep the
other four toughs in line. Why was this chapter in here? It does nothing to advance the
plot, unless it reason is to make Spenser even more formidable than he has become. Right
now, Spenser is more powerful than The Flash and only a little less powerful than
Superman. Besides, what's Parker got against body builders? This is the second one Spenser
has pummelled. Remember God
Save the Child? For Dog's sake, Parker wrote a book on weightlifting.
Perhaps that it. The bodybuilders have perverted the Power Of The Weights.
Spenser's back in the university milieu, this time he's been hired to find out if the
hints at rumors of point-shaving on the university's basketball team are true. And, once
again, Spenser finds out more than he's been hired to find. It turns out that star
basketball player Dwayne Woodcock who refers to himself in third person has
not only been shaving points, but he can't read either. Through typical Spenser muddling
around, it turns out that Woodcock's academic advisor is linked with the Mob. The mobster
became Woodcock's "friend" and induced him into a point shaving scam with
another one of Woodcock's teammates. Of course there are attempts on Spenser's life that
he easily foils, along with the offstage murder of the throw-away character of the
teammate. Spenser takes it upon himself to "save" Woodcock. Woodcock is
completely unsympathetic, but Spenser takes on the quest for Woodcock's girlfriend, whom
he finds to be a "true" person after talking with her for five minutes. The case
resolves with Woodcock skating after he learns that the mobster who turns informant
to save his skin is not really his friend at all. Quelle suprise.
Another of the morality plays in which Spenser involves himself. Spenser is becoming less
active and more reactive with each novel. Investigating means hanging around and waiting
for things to happen after he makes his presence known to those involved. Also, the
content is getting thinner fewer words but the books are getting
larger larger type, greater leading, thicker paper. I guess the publisher has to
justify to the customer the increasing cost and glamour of the book. The March, 1990,
Berkley paperback had an embossed double cover with foil and cost $4.95. Other padding
elements included several pages of raves at the beginning. More and more of the novels are
discussions of the psychology of the people involved by Spenser and Susan. Most of it is
pop-psych stuff, covering Parker's lack of depth of psychological knowledge [or perhaps
his unwillingness to submit the reader to deeper psychological examination than we
or the characters really need] with Susan saying that she really can't do an
in-depth analysis of a person second-hand. It's a wonder how Philip Marlowe got along
without a psychologist on his staff.
Showbiz Spenser is back, but this time mostly in Boston. Susan Silverman is the technical
advisor to the television series "Fifty Minutes." No, it has nothing to do with
"Sixty Minutes." "Fifty Minutes" is a show about a crime-busting
psychologist and stars American's honey, Jill Joyce. Someone's been harassing Joyce, who
is a caricature of the spoiled star. Spenser gets hired, through Susan's "in,"
to both guard Jill and stop the harassment. Jill is a drug-using, alcoholic, nymphomaniac
[a poor term, but one I'll have to use]. Spenser travels the globe again, visiting the
West Coast and other New England states to find Jill's history. Jill's stunt double gets
killed in the process. It turns out that Jill has a checkered past, having been married
and never divorced, having lied about her parent's history, and having been a bimbo for a
Latino mobster in California. Jill bolts after a mysterious encounter with someone on the
series set and Spenser finds that her supposedly dead father is alive and trying to leach
off Jill. Jill ends up back with the mobster and a tea-cozy mystery "set piece"
occurs with Spenser, Jill, the mobster, and the mobster's gunman all together. Jill's Dad
turns out to have molested her as a child, Jill regresses, Dad pulls out a hogleg, and the
Mobster's gunman Chollo, who will show up in later novels shoots Dad dead,
stone-cold dead, mackeral dead, really-o for-truly-o dead. He's dead, Jim. Too bad it
wasn't in Reno, just so's we could watch him die. All the time Spenser is just watching
things unfold. Dad had contacted Jill to scrounge some cash off of her and she refused
him. He came out to get revenge on the ungrateful daughter and killed the stunt double
thinking it was Jill. Jill goes into analysis and the story ends, as it should: psychology
solves all the world's ills.
Probably the seed of the book is based on Parker's experiences with TV through the series
"Spenser For Hire." He hasn't much good to say about TV production. Jill
is too much an example of all that is wrong with the star system and comes off
unbelievable. Sadly, one of the most moving characters Jill's abandoned husband
living as hermit in northern New England commits suicide offstage. Spenser has
become the upscale detective. He no longer drives a beater and his taste in wine with
Susan runs to high-end champaign. His culinary arts also have moved from homemade
cornbread to more exotic ingredients.
Paul Giacomin the only straight male ballet dancer in New York City is back
and about to be married. But, he wants to talk with his mother and she's gone. Nary a
trace. He and Spenser set out to find her, and it isn't too hard for Spenser's power of
detection. She's taken up with a Mob bagman who absconded with with more than a million
bucks in payoff money that was to go to various Boston cops. Joe and Jerry Broz are behind
the payoffs. The Broz Gang finds out that Spenser's on the case and at first have truce
with Spenser: if he finds the two, he notifies the Brozes and Paul's mom is left alone.
Spenser soon changes his mind because Mom really, really, really, loves this swindler.
Spenser sets out to save them both, but first tries to tell Momma what her true love is
like. As he's doing this, a group of Broz men, headed by Jerry, attack the love shack
where Momma and the swindler are residing. Spenser gets Momma, Paul, and the bagman out,
but takes a bullet in the leg during the attack. Spenser then leads the remaining mobsters
through a merry chase in the woods for a couple of days. He is finally tracked down, but
grabs Jerry and tells the other mobsters to take a powder. Spenser hustles Jerry along
with him until he gets to a highway where Hawk's been trolling for him. Joe and Jerry
later visit Spenser in his office and Joe tells Jerry he's got to snuff Spenser to be a
man. Later, Jerry makes a fumbled attempt and Spenser shoots and wounds him. Joe and Jerry
exit the scene. Vinnie Morris, Joe's ramrod gets fed up with Jerry's ineptitude and leaves
the gang. Vinnie's departure and Jerry's incompetence spell the inevitable end of the Broz
crime dynasty. Oh, and Paul? He talks with his mother and finds out how shallow she is and
postpones his marriage, fearing it will turn out like his parent's, not because he doesn't
The introduction of the chocolate [German?] short-haired Pointer, Pearl "the wonder
dog." The beginning of a friendship based on mutual respect begins with Vinnie
Just what's wrong with today's kids? Spenser attempts to find out by solving gang violence
in one of Boston's most notorious projects: Double Duece. A young, unwed, teen mother is
gunned down in a driveby shooting. Her infant daughter is killed in the attack. Hawk, as a
favor to the residents of Double Duece, gets Spenser involved in who gunned down the
little girl as she was walking down the street. Hawk and Spenser take on the gang that
runs the housing project and we learn all about the social pressures that generate gang
behavior. Oh, the humanity. Spenser and Hawk finally deduce who ordered the girl killed
and who pulled the trigger. It turns out that the gang members were innocent of those two
murders. It was Tony Marcus, an African-American crime boss who runs drugs and
prostitution in Boston. You may remember him from Valediction and other early
Spenser novels. Tony and his bodyguard the actual triggerman take the fall
because Hawk gets Tony to confess while Hawk is wearing a wire. The reason for the
killing: an object lesson to the gang members who are Tony's minions. She was the
girlfriend of one of a dope peddler in a rival gang who came up short in his take.
Spenser and Hawk spend a lot of time sitting around the housing project in Hawk's Jaguar,
unmolested by the gang. The reason for this atypical and unbelievable behavior: the gang
leader's admiration for Hawk and his desire to see how Hawk acts. Yeah, right a
gang bloodthirsty enough to shoot people on the street isn't going to attack a white guy
and a black guy because they're so "cool."
A middle-aged socialite gets her skull crushed by repeated blows from a hammer while
walking across a commons in front of her house one evening and Spenser gets the case. Sure
the Boston cops are on it, but her rich husband wants someone on it fulltime. At first it
looks like a case of an isolated crazy, but as Spenser starts turning over rocks, the
truth outs. It seems that the rich lifestyle of the family is nothing but a sham: the
socialite wife has spent most of her husband's inheritance. And, he's third or fourth
generation rich, so his "job" was to manage the family fortune. Through
investigations down Dixie way, Spenser finds that the socialite is really the daughter of
a rich and dissipated horse breeder, and she's alive and well in Africa after going there
in the Peace Corps and marrying an African arristocrat. Then who got her skull crushed? It
turns out it was one of the horse breeder's illegitimate daughters. Picture a besotted Big
Daddy from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof for the horse breeder. There's a red herring
subplot involving a senator who slept with the pseudo-socialite and is afraid Spenser's
investigation will expose his pecidillo. The senator brings some force to bear on Spenser
and it looks like he's going to undergo a severe beating in a hicktown jail when Martin
Quirk rides in on his charger and saves Spenser's bacon [her you are sir, your metaphor
was thoroughly stirred, not shaken]. But who killed the socialite? It's a case of Driving
Big Daddy. The old black gentleman who takes care of the estate and Big Daddy, aka Jumper
Jack, witnessed the socialite come down South and try to extort money from his boss. That
can't be allowed. He took a bus up to Boston, bounced a framing hammer off her head and
went back home glowing in the satisfaction of a job well done. Spenser gets the majordomo
to confess, and lets the guy go. After all, she wasn't a good woman, so her death should
One of the better Spenser novels in the recent series. A short one, but the characters are
well-rounded, even though Jumper Jack is something of a cliché. It's also one where
Spenser uses his noggin more than most.
Spenser takes on another pro bono case for Susan. She's on the board of directors
of a community acting company in a small Massachusetts town. It seems the head of the
community playhouse is being stalked, shadowed. Spenser takes on the case, and before even
he can cause confusion, a male member of the troupe is shot while performing. Spenser
interviews another board member and through her gets involved in the Chinese community in
the little town. Then it's Spenser vs. the Tong. A secondary story develops where the head
of the troupe is no longer being stalked, but one of the female members says she's being
stalked by the same shadow. Things continue to be confused and the head of the local PD, a
former state cop named DeSpain is peripherally involved. It finally comes to a head when
the a videotape is delivered to Spenser showing the actress kidnapped. It all turns out to
be a big mistake: The actress is actually nuts and has kidnapped herself after stalking
the head of the acting troupe. The state cop thinks the local tong leader kidnapped her
and beats the tong leader to death because he's got a thing for the actress whom he knew
years earlier and caused his downfall from the state cops. Spenser uncovers an illegal
Chinese immigration scheme through the small town and comes up with truce with the head of
Tong in Boston to move the illegal immigration operation. So, the crazy actress gets the
actor killed, the local tong leader killed, DeSpain arrested for murder, and she pretty
much gets away with it.
The title works on two levels: the stalker, who follows the people on foot is a walking
"shadow," and the tongs are known in Chinese as the Walking Shadow because they
are a shadow society behind normal Chinese society. Once again, we've got a crazy woman
behind all of the problems. Just one of a number of novels in the series where a woman who
isn't complete without a man is cause of grief. Vinnie Morris works with Spenser and we
find he likes listening to Swing music. Pearl, the dog, is out and about throughout the
novel. Even though she's really Susan's from her ex she seems to spend as
much time with Spenser as she does with Susan. She's not the kind of dog you want in your
house: she jumps on you, begs from the table because she's rewarded with people food, and
thinks nothing of jumping on the table and eating food. Makes my dogs seem like they were
trained by Emily Post. Here's a possible homage from Parker to Dashiell
Hammett. The bad-guy cop in this is named DeSpain. In Hammett's The
Glass Key, a bookie that the novel's protagonist, Ned Beaumont, chases down for the
winnings on a bet is named Despain.
Frank Belson's second wife, Lisa, disappears. Did she scoot or was she nabbed? Frank talks
to Spenser about it, but doesn't ask for help -- the Manly Code prevents such things. That
is until Frank is gunned down on this doorstep. Don't worry, even through he takes three,
nine-millimeter slugs in the back, he eventually recovers. With no clues about where Lisa
went, Spenser tries to backtrack her through her history and finds that her personal
history is only a little longer than her short marriage to Belson. With further
investigation, Spenser finds that Lisa is formerly Angela and was a hooker. Gee, it had to
be that. It turns out she's been abducted by the leader of a splinter criminal gang in a
down-and-out Massachusetts town. Using our old friend Chollo, from Stardust, as a translator,
Spenser finally tracks down where Lisa is being held. The reason? The gang leader is an
old boyfriend of Angela's who's not playing with a full deck. Through a ruse and an
agreement with another local crime boss, Spenser rescues Lisa.
Another variation of the first-person, third-person alternating chapter approach Parker
used in Crimson Joy,
except in this case it is from the victim POV. Why is it that whenever a woman has a
hidden past, it's because she was a hooker. Parker played this card long ago in his third
novel, Mortal Stakes.
Parker gives Hawk a vacation; he's in Burma, probably getting a shave. Instead, we have
Chollo, the Latino Vinnie Morris. Chollo doesn't play with stereotypes as much as Hawk.
Lots of psychoanalysis of good guys and bad guys. It's a wonder how Spenser ever solved a
case before he had Susan's psychological expertise on which to rely. Susan is still Susan.
She lives on a half-carrot a day and exercises like a demon. She still remains
two-dimensional. The pedestal upon which Spenser's placed her has grown to stratospheric
heights and I tire of her. Pearl the Wonder Dog has the worst canine manner imaginable and
they are reinforced by both Spenser and Susan. They have been calling her "the
baby" in several novels thus far. If they were raising a real child, it would make
Jerry Broz look like a wonder of discipline and manners. Spenser's power of detection have
grown dimmer and dimmer. He mostly learns things now by asking friends and acquaintances
to do the footwork for him. Most of his clues come from stubbing his toe on the obvious.
He's a far cry from the active detective he was in Promised Land. Of course,
getting older possibly in his 60s he's getting more sedentary.
Julius Ventura [not Jesse], one of the leading crime figures in Boston, hires Spenser to
find his son-in-law Anthony Meeker. Seems that Anthony departed with some of Ventura's
money to "break the bank" in Vegas. To say the least, Anthony is a loser with a
capital L. Of course, he's married to Julius' emotionally-crippled daughter. During the
investigation, a hood named Marty Anaheim shows up and becomes a key player. Kind of odd
that two Boston hoods are named after locations in California. Be that as it may, the
novel is as much about the power struggle to fill the Joe Broz power vacuum as it is
finding Meeker. Besides Ventura and Anaheim, a third player is Gino Fish. Spenser
eventually finds Meeker in Vegas, shacked up with Anaheim's abused wife. Meeker's wife
comes to Vegas, but gets killed almost as soon as she hits the ground. The plot resolves
in a complicated troika between Meeker, Anaheim, and Meeker's wife. Spenser gets the goods
on bad-guy Anaheim who killed Meeker's wife by strangling her after beating and raping
her. Spenser, of course, isn't satisfied with just catching the guy, he has to beat him
for his abuse of his wife and the killing of Meeker's wife.
The book pretty much ends about a third of the way though. Spenser accomplishes the job
for which he was hired and things are settled, except for Spenser's unsatisfied curiosity.
Parker leads us through the rest of the book searching for people we're just as happy to
let disappear. This is the low-point of the Spenser series.
The death and ressurection of Spenser. Rita DeFiore, having left the DA's office, is now a
partner is a big-time law firm. And, she's having buyer's remorse. It seems she landed
with both prosecutorial feet on a African-American two-time loser for the murder of a
white co-ed. The loser is serving life. Rita hires Spenser to find out if the man
convicted of the crime really did it. The more Spenser investigates, the more apparent it
becomes that the man in prison was framed. In the process of the investigation, Spenser
also finds that the murdered girl had an African-American preppy boyfriend. It turns out
the Afro-Preppy is the adopted son of the Rich and Powerful. As Spenser twists noses, he
finds he's being threated to drop the case by a "Gray Man." This gentle wears
gray clothes and has a gray complexion. Of course, Spenser can't leave it alone. Uh, oh.
The Gray Man does indeed get the drop on Spenser and plugs him several times. Spenser
throws himself into the Charles River to escape and is found on the bank nearly dead. In
fact, his death is faked by Cpt. Martin Quirk get it? Captain Quirk, get it? get
it?!! and pals to keep Spenser from becoming a target again. Spenser is sorely
hurt. He, Hawk, and Susan along with Pearl the dog head out to California
for a year of rest and rehab. Through manly effort, Spenser comes back to where he was
before he was shot. He all but moves the rock from in front of his tomb. Back in Boston,
he captures the Gray Man and works out a deal. The Gray Man is to rat-out the father of
the Afro-Preppy and in turn, Spenser will not testify against him for attempted murder. It
turns out the Afro-Preppy and the murdered girl liked rough sex and one episode went just
a little too far. To cover up his adopted son's crime, Rich and Powerful Dad gets a state
cop to frame a two-time loser. When confronted with the truth, the Preppy bites the hand
that fed him and confesses all. The guy in prison gets out and goes along his merry way.
Probably straight to a psychologist's office to get his head straight, man.
Hard not to make the obvious comparison between the wonderful life-style of the adopted
African-American and the rotten life of the African-American guy who got framed for the
crime. Both end up on the short end of the stick. I wonder if this assuages Parker's white
guilt: no matter what, being African-American in the US is BAD. To take the year off to
rebuild Spenser, Susan had to sell the farmhouse she and Spenser refurbished. The Arts
& Entertainment Channel made a semi-crummy film of this novel, starring Joseph
Montange [oh yeah, he's Spenser, like I'm Alton Brown] as a stubby, pear-shaped Spenser.
If you hadn't read any of the Spenser novels, it would have been a "B" movie.
Promoting as a Spenser novel-turned-film led to major disappointment.
Susan Silverman's ex-husband, Brad Sterling [neé Silverman, get it? Sterling Silverman,
get it?!, you'd better get it! don't make me stop this web page or I'll give you something
to cry about!], is in dutch. He's being sued for sexual harrassment by a group of woman
who were involved with a charity gala-event that Sterling organized. Susan tells Spenser
that Sterling came to her out of desperation because he's on the brink of financial ruin.
Can Spenser help? Pwetty pwease? Spenser, always a sucker for a non-paying job decides to
help Sterling. The problem is that Sterling insists he needs no help and he's really
rolling in dough. To make a long, and sometimes meandering story short, Sterling came to
Silverman for a loan and she thought it was a cry for help. To paraphrase Susan in the
novel: Sometimes people will come to me and say they think they're fat and I come up with
a diet and excercise regimen when all they wanted was for me to tell them, "Aw,
you're not fat, you look good." As usual, Spenser gets nowhere except to make people
mad at him. Turns out that the "sexual harrassment" suit was brought as a
defense by a woman who was having an affair with Sterling and was found out by her
husband. It is revealed, however, that the gala event that Sterling organized was just a
way for him to help some gangsters launder money because Sterling was in hock up to his
eyeballs to a loan shark. Of course, it all turns out well in the end . . . from Spenser's
point of view. Sterling kills two people as he's running around. One of the victims was
one of Sterling's former wives. He cut her tongue out after he killed her and sent it down
the disposer. Yecch. Why? Sterling presents some convoluted logic about showing the
gangsters that are after him that he won't talk to the cops about what he did. Sigmund
Spenser does some amateur psychoanalysis of Susan throughout the novel since Susie is
conflicted big-time about what's going on between Spenser and Sterling.
Well, we get some backstory about Susan's life as she grew up and got married. Sounds like
a whiney episode of Thirty Somthing. "What about my needs? I just
can't stay home and be a housemaker!" Yeah, Susan needs to be fulfilled by taking on
a career listening to other people complain about how bad they feel. Did anyone ever go to
a psychotherapist because they felt just too, damn good? I'm being a bit too harsh in my
analysis. These aren't real people, they're puppets that Parker makes dance for our
enjoyment. I suppose there are a majority of people out there living lives of quiet
desparation, but if I'm going to read a novel, I want life writ large. I want people doing
things and suffering events that will engage me, not sound like the life of the moke on
the other side of my cubical wall at work.
Another freebie case of for Spenser, this time for Hawk. Robinson Nevins, the son of
Hawk's mentor, is denied tenure and he wants to find out why. Rumor is it was because he
jilted his homosexual lover who then defenstrated himself from despair. It's another
academic quagmire for Spenser. It turns out that the dead man ran a magazine/newsletter
that "outed" gay people who did not want it generally known they were gay. The
case soon revolves around a "radical" gay African-American activist at the
university. Spenser and Hawk put together enough clues to find that the activist is having
a clandestine affair with a white supremacist. The activist gets the supremacist's
henchmen to kill the young man because the guy found out about the weird affair. Why was
Hawk's acquaintance denied tenure? Because the activist didn't like him and thought he'd
use the killing as a two-for. Once Spenser barges in on the activist in bed with the
supremacist, all eventually goes well and Hawk's guy gets tenure.
Parker is still ameliorating his dislike of the university environment. Parker taught
college courses until the Spenser books took off. He's quoted as saying he hated it. It
shows. This is one of a number of Spenser novels that takes place in a university setting
or is affiliated with a university. Alternatively, we get a glimpse into the factors that
created Hawk. We see that it's through the clean physical exertion of boxing and athletics
that Hawk goes from being a lowlife mugger to the exalted position of hired killer. But,
perhaps I'm judging things too harshly. You have to remember though, that when Hawk was
first introduced, he was a leg-breaker and a gunman for hire who worked for whichever mob
boss that would hire him. Now he's an independent contractor. It's a wonderment that the
Small Business Administration isn't knocking on his door with a basketful of grants.
Spenser meets Faulkner . . . again. Spenser is hired to
Back in the late 1980s, Parker and wife Joan followed the career of a race horse. It was
chronicled in A Year at the Races, copyright 1990. Much of what Parker learned
during that time shows up in Hugger Mugger. Interestingly, Parker makes the
surroundings of a southern horse farm more interesting than his Boston of late. The scenes
in the coffee shop near the track are so vivid that you can smell the bacon grease in the
air with the aroma of fresh joe. Sadly, the main characters aren't as well defined. Some
even border on the stereotypes of the Southern Family: the willowy daughter, the
sexually-aggresive daughter, the Silverback husband, the drunken husband brimming with
ironic wit. You get the picture. They're pail shadows of folks defined by Tennessee
Williams and William Faulkner. It's not like I'm expecting personalities as deep as the
Grand Canyon, but I'd like people who play against type rather than presented as
Spenser as Yul Brenner in The Magnificent Seven. Spenser is hired by the former
nearly-ghostown of Potshot, AZ, to rid the town of gang that is extorting it. Seems the
well-heeled have discovered the bliss of living in a land better suited to gila monsters.
The urbanites have come into the sleepy little town, bought up properties, and pushed it
way, way upscale. A gang of scraggly bikers, led by a strange, charismatic leader is now
demanding protection money to leave the town alone. Spenser rides in towing every tough
guy he never killed: Vinnie Morris, Chollo, Hawk, and other characters. They clean up the
town and Robert Vaughn doesn't even get killed.
A friend of mine, Bill Devol, who is a devotee of Parker and Spenser said that Parker
phoned this one in. I'm not quite that critical, but it's not one of Parker's better
efforts. There's some fun in seeing all of these hard-boiled characters together, so I
won't carp too much. I've got this one on hardback, but if you boil down the thick paper,
the huge typeface, and the leading, you'd end up with something about the size of half of
an old Ace Double. Yes, Spenser is a year gold mine that Parker taps, but the folks that
are buying his books deserve something more substantial.