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Paper Doll

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Paper Doll (1993) Robert B Parker

Spenser is hired to look into the murder of the wife of Louden Tripp, who is presented as an ideal wife and mother–a pillar of society without a blemish. Except that she was brutally murdered. So Quill recommends Spenser to look into it. And we meet Lee Farrell for the first time, who I very much like.

Farrell emptied his shot glass, and drank the remainder of his beer. He nodded toward the bartender, who refilled him. There was a flush on Farrell’s cheeks, and his eyes seemed bright.

“How many people in this room you figure are gay?” he said.

I glanced around the room. It was full of men. I swallowed a little more beer. I looked at Farrell and shrugged. “Everybody but me,” I said.

“Pretty sure you can tell by just looking?”

“It’s a gay bar,” I said. “I know you’re gay. Quirk told me.”

“I don’t care,” I said. “I don’t care if you are as good as I am or not. I don’t care if you’re tough or not, or smart or not. I don’t care if you are gay or straight or both or neither. I care about finding out who killed that broad with a framing hammer, and so far you’re not helping me worth shit.”

Farrell sat for a while staring at me, with the dead-eyed cop that all of them perfect, then he nodded as if to himself. He picked up the whiskey and sipped a little and put the glass down.

“You know,” he said, “sometimes if I’m alone, and there’s no one around . . .” He glanced up and down the bar and lowered his voice. “. . . I order a sloe gin fizz,” he said.

“A dead giveaway,” I said. “Now that we’ve established that you’re queer and you’re here, can we talk about the Nelson case?” I said.

That may sound like a ridiculous passage in 2017, but this book was published in 1993, the height of the AIDS crisis, and in the US men like Spenser did not accept men like Farrell. Yet her is Spenser not only not having a problem with a gay policeman, but accepting him.

It’s a small thing, but that may be one of the first times something like that happened in a popular series.

As Spenser looks into her death, it immediately becomes obvious that someone powerful is trying to keep him from looking into the murder.

And let me go off on another tangent. As I write this, it is November 2017, and the news is full of sexual assault and sexual harassment cases. Which made these bits particularly timely. Remember, this was published in 1993.)

Men never laughed quite that way about anything but women in a sexual context. And it was sycophantic laughter, tinged with gratitude that a man of the Senator’s prominence had shared with them not only a salacious remark but a salacious view of life.

“Old enough to bleed,” the Senator said, “old enough to butcher.”

“Why are you interested in Stratton?”

“Some people working for him tried to chase me off the Olivia Nelson case.”

“Probably fucking her, and afraid it’ll get out.”

“Doesn’t sound like the Olivia Nelson I’ve been sold, but say it was, and he was,” I said. “Is it that big a secret?”

“He’s probably going to be in the presidential primaries,” Cosgrove said. “Remember Gary Hart?”

“Okay,” he said. “Here’s the deal. I was, ah . . .” He looked back at his knuckles. “I was . . .” He grinned at me, still sincere, but now a little roguish too. “I was fucking Olivia Nelson.”

“How nice for her,” I said.

“This is off the record, of course,” Stratton said.

“Of course,” I said.

“I got to know her at a few fund-raisers. Her husband’s one of those Beacon Hill old money liberals, and one thing led to another, and we were in the sack.” Stratton winked at me. “You know how those things go,” he said.

“No,” I said. “How?”

Again, this was 1993, and Spenser’s tone here is not what you would expect. Because it was all but expected that prominent politicians would be getting some on the side.

There is more to this, but it comes as part of the bit reveal at the end, so I’ll just say that it seemed appropriate to today.

One of the things I particularly liked about this story was the son, who seems pretty much worthless throughout most of the book.

His stare was full of arrogance. It came with wealth and position. And it came with being a wrestler.

He thought he could toss me on my kiester. If I kept talking to them he was going to try it, and find he had misjudged. It would probably be a good thing for him to learn. But now was probably not the best time for him to learn it.

All through the book he comes across as a worthless, spoiled, jerk. Yet in the end…

Chip looked at his father, who seemed frozen in time, then he went suddenly to his knees beside his sister and put his arms around her and pressed her head against his chest. She let him hold her there.

I love how after seeing this kid as horrible throughout the whole story, suddenly he isn’t.

I do love the bits about food, which take on more prominence as the series continues.

“Those are chicken breasts pounded flat and coated with cornbread crumbs,” I said. “And flavored with rosemary.”

“Will you fry them in lard?” Susan said.

“I will coat a fry pan with corn oil and then pour it out, leaving a thin film in the pan, then I will gently sauté the breast cutlets until golden brown,” I said.

“Exactly,” Susan said.

“And for dessert,” I said, “there’s sour cherry pie.”

I wonder if many people even know what this is anymore:

He nodded, and wrote me out a check in a stately, flowing Palmer-method hand.

I only know that because that is how Grandmom was taught to write.

He’s still admitting to having fought in Korea.

“You fought in Korea. Were you an officer?”

“No.”

Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons

Written by Michelle     Categories: Audio Book, Mystery, Private Eye, Re-Read     Comments (0)    

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