Once again, we are fortunate enough to have two novels by Robert Parker published in one year, for the second year in a row. HUGGER MUGGER, Parker's fine and latest Spenser novel, was published about six months ago. And now, it's Sunny Randall's second turn, in a novel entitled PERISH TWICE.
Now I'm going to rant for a minute here. If you're a Spenser fan, and you're boycotting the Sunny Randall books in hopes that Parker will quit writing them, shame on you. He's still writing one Spenser book a year, bless him, and has publicly said he'll continue doing so as long as people want him to. So we'll still get a Spenser book, regardless. But if you're skipping Sunny Randall for that reason --- or for any reason --- you are, with all respect, making a mistake. Parker, in the space of just two novels, has made Ms. Randall a real contender, a protagonist who is not to be missed.
PERISH TWICE has Ms. Randall juggling two cases. The first involves Sunny's older sister, Elizabeth, who comes to Sunny and asks her to investigate whether Hal, Elizabeth's husband, is cheating on her. This assignment is completed easily enough, though it leads to a secondary complication that resonates throughout the book and serves quite nicely as a vehicle for giving the reader additional bits and pieces of Sunny's personality. Sunny's primary assignment in PERISH TWICE, however, concerns a piece of work named Mary Lou Goddard. Ms. Goddard, a radical feminist of the most extreme stripe, is being stalked --- and she hires Sunny to find out who is doing it. This, again, is quite easily accomplished. The stalker, an aging hippie named Lawrence Reeves, is warned off. When a research assistant in Ms. Goddard's office is found murdered, and Reeves is found dead with a suicide note confessing the deed, it would appear that the book should be over since everything is resolved. Isn't it? No, not at all. PERISH TWICE is only just beginning.
Parker is an absolute master of creating a fairly complex plot and presenting it without confusing the reader or letting it hijack the story away from his characters, who are some of the most interesting in modern detective fiction. And Sunny Randall is no exception. She is funny, smart and believably vulnerable; what she is not is Spenser in a skirt. And that's good. Considering the promise displayed in PERISH TWICE and FAMILY HONOR, the first Sunny Randall novel, there is an extremely real possibility that future Randall novels will be as highly anticipated as Spenser novels are now.
Oh yes; one more thing. Sunny Randall, like Spenser, resides in Boston. Did you read FAMILY HONOR and wonder how many degrees of separation there were between Spenser and Sunny? PERISH TWICE provides an answer. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on October 2, 2000