Robert B. Parker, creator of the acclaimed Spenser detective
series, decided about a decade ago to introduce two new mystery
series, it probably caused some consternation among longtime fans
who feared that Parker was tiring of Spenser. We need not have
worried. The Spenser franchise is still as strong as ever.
And now, instead of doing one great book a year, Parker has been
doing three. The author has been giving each of his series
characters a novel per year. In addition to Spenser, there is
female private eye Sunny Randall and Massachusetts chief of police
Jesse Stone. Parker also recently completed his first book for
young adults, EDENVILLE OWLS. He is indeed prolific.
SPARE CHANGE is the sixth Sunny Randall book. As far as we
know, Sunny has never met Spenser. She is certainly not a female
Spenser. Parker has demonstrated convincingly that he can write
from a woman’s point of view.
Like Spenser, Sunny used to be a cop before she went private. Her
father, Phil Randall, was a captain in the Boston police, now
SPARE CHANGE is not just a mystery. It is a psychological study of
the impact of the buried past upon the present. Phil is hired by
the cops to be a consultant when they think that a serial killer
who has been inactive for 20 years may have returned. He was in
charge of the initial investigation and never caught the
The killer was nicknamed Spare Change due to his tendency to leave
three coins beside his victims for unknown reasons. His only other
characteristic was a tendency to taunt Phil by sending him notes,
as the real-life Son of Sam killer, David Berkowitz, did with
newspaper reporter Jimmy Breslin.
Now bodies with coins next to them begin appearing again in Boston
parks and pathways. Phil Randall hires his daughter, Sunny, to work
with him on the case.
Sunny is delighted to be working with the man she calls
“Daddy.” She has competed all her life with, in her
words, her “unpleasant mother” and “annoying
sister” for her father’s attention. The pathology of
the Randall family runs a little deeper than that. In fact, the
mother is an out-of-control drunk and the sister a pretentious fool
who uses men to get her father’s attention. And it has taken
a toll on Sunny.
Sunny has problems of her own. Parker did the unique trick of
putting both his non-Spenser protagonists in each other’s
books last year. But not this time. Sunny’s love affair with
Jesse Stone has hit the rocks, and her ex-husband Ritchie, who she
has always loved, is ready to give up his current wife and try
again with Sunny. Sunny desperately wants that, but she can’t
be married again or even live with anybody and doesn’t know
why. So she goes to Spenser’s love, Doctor Susan Silverman,
for psychological help twice a week.
When the Boston police decide to trample upon the Constitution of
the United States by detaining and questioning everybody in the
vicinity of the killer’s most recent victim, and Sunny then
decides to stretch the legal code by doing a little breaking and
entering, a suspect quickly emerges.
Sure enough, the killer starts sending