Review

The Professional: A Spenser Novel

by Robert B. Parker

The 37th installment of Robert B. Parker’s series
featuring the detective with no first name opens with Spenser in
familiar surroundings. He’s alone in his Boston office when a
woman shows up in need of his services. This may seem familiar to
fans of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, who introduced us to
their famous fictional detectives, Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe,
respectively, in a similar manner. But while the opening seems the
same, Parker has taken the PI novel much further than his renowned
predecessors ever did as he reinvigorates the somewhat stilted
genre.

Longtime fans will find much to enjoy in THE PROFESSIONAL. The
case appears straightforward: the woman who arrives in his office
is a lawyer representing four rich married women who are all having
affairs with the same man, Gary Eisenhower. Their husbands are
older men in prominent positions. Eisenhower blackmails them with
audio and video evidence of their trysts. Spenser starts
investigating the case right away. He states, “But there was
something wrong with the whole setup. Everything kept turning out
not quite what it started out seeming to be.” Something is
awry, a staple of detective fiction, but Parker brings everything
to a new level with his latest Spenser story,

One of the things that throws a curveball into the case is that
not only is Eisenhower not afraid of the cops, but none of the
alleged victims of the crime are willing to press charges. And at
least one woman sees no reason not to keep sleeping with
Eisenhower! Since Spenser does not take money to rough up people or
bump them off, the case is apparently at a dead end. He wishes the
women good luck and leaves. But as fans know, Spenser just cannot
let go as he tells the reader, “Nobody was paying me to do
anything. On the other hand, nobody was paying me to do nothing,
either. Business was slow. I was nosy. And I had kind of a bad
feeling about this long running mess that I’d wandered into
and hadn’t done a lot to improve.” And soon, dead
bodies start popping up in true hard-boiled fashion, and
Spenser’s choice to stay involved is cemented.

Due to Parker’s adept writing, the reader can’t turn
away, either. Parker is called the dean of crime fiction, a title
he richly deserves. He is a true master. Each Spenser book offers a
clinic on how to write a fast-moving, entertaining novel. The
chapters are short, the scenes are cinematic, the dialogue is
crisp, and the writing is something both Hammett and Chandler would
have tipped their hats to. Consider this:

“I sat at the bar and ordered a beer. The bartender was a
red-haired woman with an angular face and skin you could strike a
match on.”

It does not get much better than that. Parker possesses the
great writer’s knack that he actually makes writing look
simple when it’s really not. This series has taken the
detective novel into a new millennium. His plots could have been
ripped from the headlines: powerful people caught in webs of sexual
intrigue. But his real contribution to the genre is that the
Spenser novels in recent years have recognized that it is no longer
just about good guys and bad guys. Today, we live in a world with
all sorts of shades of gray and the real bad guys are often
insulated in corporate and financial towers. Parker does not just
give us paint-by-numbers genre books but novels in which he layers
complications upon complications. And sometimes justice is
imperfect, and our hero has to do the best he can and move on.

THE PROFESSIONAL is the perfect book with which to spend a cool
fall weekend. May Robert B. Parker continue to give us our yearly
visit from Spenser for many years to come. We could not ask for
more.

Reviewed by Tom Callahan on January 23, 2011

The Professional: A Spenser Novel
by Robert B. Parker

  • Publication Date: September 7, 2010
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Berkley
  • ISBN-10: 0425236307
  • ISBN-13: 9780425236307