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Bookends: Spenser offers a bit of holiday cheer October 15, 2014

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends.
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Bookends: Spenser offers a bit of holiday cheer

By Dan Davidson

Silent NightJanuary 1, 2014

– 856 words –

 

Silent Night: A Spenser Holiday Novel

By Robert B. Parker and Helen Brann

240 pages

Putnam

$26.50

 

Unabridged audio book read by Joe Mantegna

Random House Audio

$23.20

3 hours and 39 minutes

 

There are over 120 customer reviews of this book on the Amazon and Audible (owned by Amazon) websites. Most are negative and some go on at great length as to why the book didn’t work for them. The positive reviews are generally quite brief.

Some complain that the book is short, but Spenser novels have never been that long, and most of the audio book versions clock in at between four and five hours.

I haven’t sampled either of Ace Atkins’ extensions of the series yet, but seeing them in book stores I noticed they were thicker than those I have at home, and the reading times given at the Audible site show them to be an hour and a half or more longer than Parker’s regular offerings.

Some complain that Hawk’s dialogue is inconsistent, but it always was. It’s usually street talk patois, almost a parody of black tough guy, when he’s just with Spenser, but often formal standard English when he speaks to Susan.

Some complain that the plot is thin. Parker’s plots were often thin, and several of the later books seemed to me to be excuses to have Spenser and Susan chat in between set pieces. I enjoyed them anyway. Sixkill, the last one he finished, was mainly about the relationship between Spenser and the titular character, who he seemed to be grooming as a protégé.

This book is the last one Parker actually worked on and it appears that he had nearly all of a first draft done. They haven’t said exactly how much of it he wrote before he died, but it fell to Helen Brann, his longtime friend and agent, to pick up the pieces and tie up the loose ends. This is an arrangement that Joan Parker (all the books were dedicated to her) agreed to and I don’t have a problem with it. Not all of the Parker novels were brilliant works, but I always enjoyed them. This is a minor effort in the canon, but it apparently contains some things the original author wanted to say about his characters, and I found it road worthy.

There are two connected plots going on here. One has to do with Spenser’s decision to come to the aid of a home for homeless boys called Street Business. Someone is picking on Jackie Alverez’s clientele. Spenser and Hawk (good to see him again) take it on as a charity case during the Advent season.

Jackie has some financial support from his wealthy brother, but the latter’s import/export business seems to be a bit shady from the outset, even though he has ties to a charity that Susan favours and is known for his philanthropy.

He has arm and eye candy, a former star tennis pro who had fallen to drugs and fame but has rebuilt herself with his assistance, only to discover that he is not the nice man she once believed him to be. Learning of Spenser’s work for Jackie, she approaches him to help her and one of Jackie’s young charges, Slider, in whom she has taken a big sisterly interest.

Large chunks of the story are as predictable as episodes of any TV detective show, but this doesn’t really hurt the story that much. After all, Dr. Parker was a devotee of Raymond Chandler, who once admitted that he had no idea who killed the chauffeur in his murder mystery The Big Sleep. Parker wrote his PhD thesis on an analysis of tough guy detective fiction.

It develops that Jackie’s brother is planning to wrap up his Boston operations and flee the country as the feds are nipping around the edges of his enterprise. He has an interesting sense of personal honour and responsibility. He doesn’t like to be seen to be directly connected to anything nasty, so as not to bring dishonour to his mother. That doesn’t stop him from arranging for other people to torpedo his brother’s unlicensed group home and set up the assassination of his former mistress.

Spenser and Hawk have not only to save both individuals but also find a way to do this without causing Street Business to be shut down. A plot is hatched to accomplish these twin goals while taking down the crime lord and his operation. It’s a complicated scheme that requires local, state and federal authorities to cooperate. It works out in the end – but this is a Spenser novel, so you knew that.

This audio book was read by Joe Mantegna, who played the role in three TV movies a decade back before taking up residence as part of the cast of Criminal Minds. He has read about a dozen of the later Spenser novels, and does a good job at them. The earlier books in the series were generally read by Michael Prichard, but others were read by David Dukes and even Burt Reynolds.

 

-30-

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