Robert B. Parker has authored one of the classic PI series of all
time involving his ageless Boston sleuth, Spenser. After 32 novels
stretching back three decades, we still don't know Spenser's first
name, but who cares? Mystery fans know Spenser well and eagerly
await their annual visit with him, his faithful sidekick Hawk, and
his shrink girlfriend Susan.
And COLD SERVICE, the latest Spenser novel, will not disappoint
them. Instead of getting tired or redundant, the series is as
vibrant and fresh now as it was 30 years ago. This book will rank
high among the best in the series.
This is really a Hawk story, which will please those longtime fans
who complain when Hawk doesn't play a big enough role in Spenser's
complex cases. Over the years, we have come to know Hawk as a
mirror image of Spenser: tough, ruthless when necessary, loyal and
indestructible. But Hawk often makes his living on the wrong side
of the law.
COLD SERVICE begins with a Hawk we have never seen before; he is
lying in the hospital, near death, after being shot in the back
three times during a job protecting a small-time bookie who ended
up dead. And Spenser is at his bedside. "I had known Hawk all my
adult life, and this was the first time, even in repose, that he
didn't look dangerous," he says.
Of course, Hawk must get revenge, and Spenser will help him wage
war against the Ukrainian mob responsible for the hit. The plot
involves possible crosses and double crosses and shifting deadly
alliances among killers and thieves whose loyalty can never be
fully ascertained. And the CIA even makes an appearance.
But it is the deeper issues stirring beneath the surface that make
this an extraordinary entry in the series. This is not just an
action thriller. The issues of mortality, vulnerability and the
bonds of friendship dominate. We hear Spenser talking about his own
fear of dying. Of course, Spenser must help his friend, but murder
and assassination are not something he engages in lightly.
And then there is Hawk, unwilling to let his girlfriend see him
hurt, struggling to hide and overcome his weakness. He will gladly
pay a high price to do that and never compromise. He can't
compromise and be Hawk.
The genius of Parker in this series is that he has brought the
ethos of the old western to the modern-day mystery novel. Spenser
and Hawk live by their own code of honor and behavior, even if it
puts them outside of the law and convention. But they are not
amoral; indeed, they are true "knight-errants" obliged to fight for
justice. While exacting bloody revenge, Hawk makes sure that there
is a trust fund for the child of the man he was hired to protect.
Hawk knows he didn't do his job, so he is obliged now to protect
the child. And if he can't do it, then Spenser will.
Of course, this book contains all the familiar elements longtime
fans expect. There is the wonderful, witty banter between Spenser
and everybody. We see our favorite tough guy reading books on the
human genome and drinking white wine and cooking apple fritters for
Susan, the woman he loves. Susan, as always, uses her intelligence
and strength to force Spenser to look inwards at his own life and
see how it differs from Hawk.
Parker is a master craftsman. The dialogue is crisp and
underwritten. The writing is hard-boiled. Consider: "I sipped some
scotch. Rain ran down the window, the streets gleamed. The scotch
was excellent." Parker writes at another point that a character's
smile "was as substantial as a wisp of fog on a windy night."
Raymond Chandler could not have written it better. Robert B. Parker
is one of the greatest American mystery writers. Read this book and
Our fictional hero, Spenser, might admit his fear of dying. But he
will live forever in the pantheon of literary characters. We're
lucky enough to be reading his stories while he is still at the
height of his powers.
Reviewed by Tom Callahan on December 28, 2010