I’ve been reading Robert B. Parker’s Spenser novels since I was in junior high. And I’m more than a little sad this is the last one I’ll ever read. Although Ace Atkins has been hired by Parker’s estate to continue the saga of these characters I’ve come to know and love over the years, this was the last original Spenser novel completed before the writer’s death in 2010.
I was first introduced to the character of Spenser through the three seasons of Spenser: For Hire on ABC during the mid-to-late 80’s. The show starred Robert Urich as the former boxer turned Boston private detective with a smart aleck wit and a code of ethics all his own.
A couple of years later my father introduced me to the novels the show was based on, and I was immediately hooked. Today my collection of Parker’s books takes more than one full shelf of a bookcase.
Unlike many serialized whodunits Spenser aged along with the other characters in his world. New character would be introduced, old friends and enemies would reappear, some would come and go, and others would become fixtures in the detective’s life such as Dr. Susan Silverman (the love of his life), Paul Giacomin (the son he never had), Martin Quirk (the world’s toughest homicide cop), and Hawk (the deadliest, and most loyal, of best friends).
With this final novel Parker introduces yet another new character for Spenser to take under his wing and yet another frustrated client who fires him long before the case is solved. Like always, this doesn’t stop the detective from finding the truth.
The mystery involves the death of a young women found in the bed of a large sleezeball of a Hollywood star named Jumbo Nelson. Like most of Spenser’s cases, the novel is more about the journey than the mystery. And this journey includes the rehabilitation of Nelson’s former bodyguard Zebulon Sixkill, a failed college football star turned hired muscle.
Although referenced neither Hawk nor Vinnie Morris appear in this mystery, although longtime characters Tony Marcus, Ty-Bop and Junior all make an appearance. Of course we do get Spenser with Susan, as well as a few short scenes with Quirk, but the main focus of this novel is the unlikely friendship between Spenser and Sixkill (which starts with the detective knocking him unconscious and getting him fired).
This isn’t the best Spenser novel, but it’s still very good and an interesting read. It’s also the last novel the original author of the character wrote. Over the years Parker’s chapters have gotten shorter, but the man had a knack for understanding how to frame a scene and get right to what needed to be on the page. He also knew how to make this pain in the ass private detective who can quote poetry and philosophy, keep the love of a good woman, and be as hard as he needed to be to get the job done, as charming as any you’re likely to find.
Spenser was one of a kind, as was Parker. The mix of humor, danger, and the overall message of self-reliance and a personal code of ethics made for a fascinating character. Given the breadth of his work (40 Spenser novels, plus many others) I can only assume the same was true of his creator. They’ll both be missed.