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Bookends: Spenser examines the nature of Love November 13, 2011

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends.
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Bookends: Spenser examines the nature of Love

By Dan Davidson

November 8, 2011

Star, Nov. 10/11

– 811 words –

The Professional: A Spenser novel

By Robert B. Parker, Penguin, 352 pages, $12.50

audio book from Random House Audio

Read by Joe Mantegna

Random House Audio; Unabridged edition, $37.00

The 37th installment of the late Robert B. Parker’s long running Spenser mystery series ruffled a few feathers among the readers who post comments at various websites, including Amazon.com, when it first appeared. There wasn’t enough action in the book they said, and there was no Hawk.

Murder and mayhem have never been entirely the stock and trade of the Spenser series. Quite often the theme of a story has turned on the quality of the relationships in the plot, and the series’ longest running analysis has been of the relationship between Spenser and Susan Silverman. Theirs is a very solid relationship, which has only had one serious bump in all the years they have been together (ok, it lasted for a couple of books). They don’t live together but they are very much in each other’s hearts and minds all the time.

What about relationships that don’t work so well? This novel focuses on those, several of them, actually.

It begins in classic style, with a potential client knocking on the office door. Lawyer Elizabeth Shaw has several wealthy women friends who have all been having affairs with the same man, Gary Eisenhower. It was all fun and games until Gary started asking for money over and above the gifts and expenses they were already lavishing on him. Spenser is hired to make the blackmailer back off.

It seems a simple enough case in the beginning. The women don’t want their older, wealthy husbands to know they have been straying. They actually have some affection for the men over and above the benefits of being married to money. Not that this means they won’t have affairs ever again; they just don’t want to rub their noses in it.

Eisenhower is a fascinating character in his own right and hard to track down, since that name is only one of several he uses. He is not an evil man, but appears to be totally amoral about his actions. He likes sex; he enjoys seduction; he likes to live well. He has a long-term relationship with a woman who doesn’t mind sharing him. Every woman he has ever been with says that he makes her happy and is a great lover.

All of this oddness prompts Spenser to consult with Susan on the case. He often does this, but not to the extent of having her sit in on interviews. Meeting Eisenhower prompts a great deal of discussion between them on the subjects of love and character development. Further investigation reveals enough of Eisenhower’s background to provide some explanation for the kind of person he has become.

By understanding more about this professional lover (hence the book’s title) Spenser manages to persuade Eisenhower to cease his blackmail scheme, though it seems that all the women are quite happy to continue seeing him in rotation for other reasons.

Then the bodies start to pile up and nearly everyone connected to the case seems to be at risk. By this time Spenser no longer has a client, but he feels obligated to figure out what the heck is going on, and the police are more than slightly inclined to let him play along, because this is the damndest mess anyone has ever heard of, and Spenser seems to be the only person with any kind of a handle on it.

It’s a bonus in a mystery novel when the clients are the sort of people you can root for. You won’t find this here. The four women are shallow individuals out for little more than their own pleasure and comfort. Eisenhower is interesting, but you do wonder why he hasn’t come to a sorry end years ago. He sees himself as a benefactor to his conquests, providing them with the spice their lives lack.

All of these relationships are contrasted with the one we’ve been watching Spenser and Susan build since 1974’s God Save the Child (the second book in the series) and I found their reactions to the lives they were observing to be just as interesting as the details of the case itself.

Parker produced two more Spenser novels before his death in January 2010 at the age of 77. I’m not sure if I’m relieved or distressed to learn that the publisher and the estate have agreed on the hiring of a new writer, Ace Atkins, to continue the series. But then, the Spenser books have long been a staple seller in the mystery genre market and, to alter one to the most common taglines in all the novels, they’d “be fools not to” give it a try. After all, Parker wrote two sequels to the works of Raymond Chandler, so he probably wouldn’t mind.

-30-

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