Spenser: The Godwulf Manuscript (1973), God Save the Child (1974), Mortal Stakes (1975), Promised Land (1976), The Judas Goat (1978), Looking for Rachel Wallace (1980), A Savage Place (1981), Early Autumn (1981), Ceremony (1982), The Widening Gyre (1983), Valediction (1984), A Catskill Eagle (1985), Taming a Seahorse (1986), Pale Kings and Princes (1987), Crimson Joy (1988), Playmates (1989), Stardust (1990), Pastime (1991), Double Deuce (1992), Paper Doll (1993), Walking Shadow (1994), Thin Air (1995), Chance (1996), Small Vices (1997), Sudden Mischief (1998), Hush Money (1999), Hugger Mugger (2001), Backstory (2002), Potshot (2002), Widow's Walk (2003), Bad Business (2004), Cold Service (2005), School Days (2005), Hundred Dollar Baby (2006), Now and Then (2007), Rough Weather (2008), The Professional (2009), Painted Ladies (2010), Sixkill (2011),
Spenser mysteries are set in Boston Massachusetts, and Spenser is one of those literate tough guys you wish really existed.
What I found interesting as I re-read these books, is that I typically remembered not the plots, but bits of dialogue and random lines. Not that I dislike the plots, but it's the dialogue that I love. The books are fun to read, and sound like they were fun to write, which is why I suppose he keeps writing them.
Regarding the characters, I love Hawk. But that should come as no surprise, as many of my other favorite characters from other books are bad guys as well. I like the fact that he's not any one thing--although he is a thug, Robert B. Parker makes him much more than that, with occasional reminders that he does, in fact, often work on the other side of the law.
I find Susan irritating, although not from the start. I think the thing that grates on my nerves the most is that the way he describes her eating habits--she sounds like an anorexic (or a bulimic I suppose with all the exercise) and that really bothers me. If she works out as much as he says, then she shouldn't so fastidious about her eating habits.
"Never knew somebody knew more stuff that didn't matter."
I highly recommend the Bullets and Beer site. It contains a synopsis, as well as information about recurring characters, what Spenser ate and drank, favorite quotes, and literary allusions.
The Godwulf Manuscript (1973)
God Save the Child (1974)
Mortal Stakes (1975)
Promised Land (1976)
We see that Spenser's priorities are to do what he believes is right rather than what is legally correct.
The Judas Goat (1978)
Spenser is a bit more aggressive and violent than in other books. Hiring on as a bounty hunter doesn't seem quite in character if you started with some of the more recent books, and I don't believe he would have taken on such a case later.
Added bonus: He gets to spend lots of time with Hawk.
Looking for Rachel Wallace (1980)
Unlike some of the other unlikable characters that Spenser works for later on, Rachel Wallace does have many redeeming characteristics, although it's hard to see that at first. This is the first of two cases that will deeply affect Spenser.
A Savage Place (1981)
A Savage Place is the second case that will come to deeply affect Spenser, and is very important to the story line. There will be frequent references to this case as the time-line continues. You'll also see characters from this book appearing from time to time.
Early Autumn (1981)
Paul Giacomin makes his first appearance. I liked this book because it tells you quite a bit about Spenser, and his ideas about the world. I also like the changes in Paul, and Spenser's ideas about child rearing.
The Widening Gyre (1983)
I found The Widening Gyre interesting for several reasons. First, ultra-Conservatives are still an important issue today, so it's interesting to see how they were addressed in 1983. Second, we have yet another case of Spenser doing what he thinks is right over what is legal. Third, what happens with Joe Borz will have repercussions for years to come.
This is also the book where we get the first hint that things are not as they seem with Susan.
"The next time I woke up Linda was gone and so was Belson. Hawk was there and Paul. As I came out of the sleep I heard Paul's voice, softly.
'No, like this, shuffle, ball, change. You see, shuffle, ball, change.' I heard his feet move lightly on the hospital floor. 'How can a man with your heritage not be able to tap-dance.'
I heard Hawk's gliding chuckle. 'My ancestors busy eating missionaries, boy. We didn't have no time for no fucking shuffle ball change.'
'Well, you wanted me to show you.'
'That's before I knew you was going to do it better than me,' Hawk said."
A Catskill Eagle (1985)
This is the book where I really dislike Susan. She comes across as shallow and neurotic. She's chosen to date some psychopath, knows he's bad news, but won't walk away. Ugh. You may have to read this book to really understand Spenser, but I don't particularly have to like it.
Its only redeeming quality is that Spenser spends lots of time with Hawk.
Taming a Seahorse (1986)
The five o'clock news ended. The six o'clock news began. The guys who read the news at six had deeper voices. Authoritative. If that trend continued, the guys who read the eleven o'clock news would sound like Paul Robeson.
For some reason, that makes me smile every time I read it.
Pale Kings and Princes (1987)
Crimson Joy (1988)
A good book, but I'm not sure that I buy the tie to Susan. Sure it's fun to see Quirk working with Hawk, but there I'm just not sure I accept the premise. But that, of course, doesn't mean it couldn't be that way.
Double Deuce (1992)
Paper Doll (1993)
Walking Shadow (1994)
Thin Air (1995)
Small Vices (1997)
Small Vices was my introduction to Spenser. It is also the reason I have some small affection for Burt Reynolds.
Back when I worked in a lab, audio books were the only thing that salvaged my sanity when doing endless hours of cell culture, so I'd listen to almost anything as long as it was unabridged. Thus I ended up with a copy of Robert B. Parker's Small Vices (Spenser Mysteries (Audio)) read by Burt Reynolds. I was shocked by how good the book was and by what a great job Burt Reynolds did with the reading.
And so I completely fell in love with the Spenser books.
If you're going to enter the Spenser series in the middle, this would probably be one of the best places to do it, because although the book mentions past history, nothing is dependent upon knowing that past history, and the story if very good.
However what I like best about this book is the fact that Spenser isn't infallible, and the fact that when Spenser gets hurt, the recovery is real. There's no instant recovery from a life threatening wound, but instead a long time in the hospital, followed by an even longer recovery. And it's hard. He describes how walking is a struggle, how he can barely use his arm, and how much WORK he has to do to come back from there. I though the whole thing was both well done, and necessary, because too many books and movies gloss over the injuries the hero takes, and make the recovery nearly non-existent.
For this Robert B. Parker has made my top ten favorite authors list.
If you like Spenser books, this is really a must read book. If you have not read a Spenser book, this would be a pretty good place to jump into the series. And if you like audio books, I also recommend the Burt Reynolds unabridged version.
Sudden Mischief (1998)
Another book that I'm not particularly fond of; as Spenser helps Susan's ex-husband we get to spend a lot of time dealing with Susan's neuroses. I know that it's supposed to give her more depth, but I find it frustrating instead.
Hush Money (1999)
Spenser again helps Hawk, and we learn a (tiny) bit more about Hawk. I thought the scene with Lee Farrell was a bit forced; we already know that Spenser could care less what anyone's sexual preference is.
Hugger Mugger (2001)
I liked this book, but I honestly thought it was going to be the last Spenser book. Why else would he gather almost everyone Spenser has ever worked with, together in one place? But it wasn't the last book, and it really a lot of fun.
Widow's Walk (2003)
Bad Business (2004)
The danger in reading a Spenser book is that I then want to go back and reread all the other Spenser books. All 28 of them.
But as I reread them just a year ago, I'll try to restrain myself.
Spenser takes what seems to be a simple divorce case, where he tails a cheating husband, until he finds out that someone else is tailing the woman involved with the adulterous spouse. And things get more complicated from there.
I really liked the idea of two different detectives tailing the different members of a cheating couple, then trading business cards. One has to think that such an occurrence has to have happened before, but I don't remember reading anything like that before.
Because of the inevitable murder, we get a brief appearance by Healey, and another appearance by Quirk and Belson, but they were short parts, more for information than the interaction between Spenser and the cops. And we also get a brief spot by Rita Fiore who seems to be as good looking as ever.
On the other side, we get Vinnie. And lots of Hawk. Which is fine with me, because I love reading about Hawk, though I wonder whether I'd like a Spenser book as much if Hawk wasn't in it. There's something about the dialog with Spenser and Hawk that I love reading. Of course I enjoy all Robert B. Parker's dialog, but there's something about the banter between Hawk and Spenser that I just love.
Hawk showed up in my office just before noon with several sandwiches in a bag. he took one out and handed it to me.
"Six grams of fat," he said. "I figure, I eat enough of these and I get to do one of those commercials."
"Hawk," I said. "You were born with two percent body fat, and you've trimmed down since."
"So we lie to them."
"I thought you might want to get in on it," Hawk said.
"I'll eat a couple and see if my belt feels loose."
"How 'bout coffee," Hawk said.
"I made a fresh pot," I said.
"Be fine," Hawk said.
And as always, Robert Parker manages to come up with a bit that I absolutely love, like the bit about the newscasters in Taming a Seahorse. In Bad Business the bit that got me was this:
It was 5:30 in the morning. Healey and I were drinking coffee out of thick white mugs at the counter of a small diner on Route 20. I felt the way you feel when you've been up all night and drunk too much coffee. If I'd still smoked I would have drunk too much coffee and smoked too many cigarettes and felt worse. It wasn't much in the way of consolation. But one makes do.
Perhaps it's because I've spent nights drinking too much coffee and smoking too many cigarettes, but that passage evokes for me precisely that tired, wired, ill feeling better than any other book I can think of.
Cold Service (2005)
I had figured that I was going to have to wait a year, until it came out in paperback, to read the latest Spender book. However, we found a hardback copy at Half Price Books, cheaper than the coming paperback will be, so we got it.
There was a rush to finish our current books, a race that Michael won, and as he got to read it firstI didn't start it until last night. (It was a close race--I only had about three pages left in my book when he grabbed Cold Service.)
Like all Spenser books, it's good. Not my favorite, but still good.
The book starts with Hawk in the hospital, and Spenser sitting by his bedside. Which is only fair, considering the amount of time Hawk has spent sitting in Spenser's hospital rooms. It was interesting, the difference between Hawk's recovery here, and Spenser's in Small Vices. I suppose the difference is that Spenser is the main character, and Hawk is a supporting character, so we see only glimpses of his recovery, although we know that Spenser is around throughout.
Although the story focuses on Hawk's revenge upon those who put him in the hospital, the underlying story and theme are really the subtle differences between Hawk and Spenser. As similar as the two may be, there are differences, and there are things that Hawk is willing to do that Spenser is not. Those things have come up before, but not nearly so much as they do in this book.
Oddly enough, the conflict that Spenser seems to feel does not come across quite as clearly as I expected, which is perhaps why this is only a good book and not a great one. There is little of Spenser's inner life here--instead of seeing the conflict in his thoughts we see it through his discussions with Susan, as well as with Cecile, Hawk's girlfriend. Somehow that made the whole thing slightly less real and less important to me.
I'm thinking that perhaps this book wanted to be longer than it turned out to be, and perhaps that's the difference.
If you have not read a Spenser book before, this is probably not a good place to start. The dialog is, as always, good, but as I said there is far less of Spenser's inner life, and that made it feel as if something was missing. Also, knowing nothing about the Gray Man would definitely reduce the impact of this book, since a brief synopsis of Small Vices is nothing like actually having read the book.
As far as supporting characters: Vinnie is around a good deal, Hawk and Spenser have to deal with Tony Marcus, there a brief visit by Quirk, and again Spenser turns to Ives and Epstein.
If you're a Spenser fan, then you're going to want to read this book. If you've not read Spenser book before, don't start here. The timing is just a little bit off here, and so it feels like Robert B. Parker never quite gets into the rhythm of the story. Which isn't so bad, since Robert B Parker on a bad day still is pretty damn good.
Books by Robert B. Parker: