Saturday, 20 November 2010


I.T. is back in Boston, more hommage to my contributions to Maxim Jakubowski's Following The Detectives, for by coincidence I followed the twenty-year old re-read of George V Higgins with the 39th of Robert B Parker's Spenser novels. Painted Ladies is the first to be published after the untimely death of Robert B Parker, and there is a lot that is familiar about it. Starting with the moment Spenser is hired, by the somewhat pompous art professor, Dr Ashton Pierce, to protect him as he delivers the ransom for a stolen painting, one of the eponymous females of the title. I'm still wondering who the other painted ones were. Now, apart from Spenser's having a bit of fun deflating his pomposity, which by now is a trope for the detective, the set-up is straight out of Raymond Chandler, though none the worse for that. The buy goes wrong, of course, and having failed his client, Spenser sets off to get some justice for him, and to redeem himself.

From there, the tale proceeds along equally familiar Spenserian lines, including an ambush escape that Spenser foils, once Pearl II has sniffed it out, using the same strategy he once used in another book, something Parker himself tells us before the Spenser anoraks out there flood the internet, or now indeed the afterworld, with complaints. He also avoids another killing through sheer chance, which seems to be stretching things. Spenser again gets to visit a college campus, to prove he's still attractive to coeds as much as anything else.

The story also relies on a few coincidences that ring false. Would one character's daughter would be having a class with another character's partner in fraud? Would dog-owners met randomly in the park really just happen to know the best art expert in the same field Spenser is investigating? I was so convinced that must be a set-up I was shocked when Susan Silverman got through the book without being kidnapped! It sometimes bends itself in service of its wisecrackings dialogue (would a Middlesex DA really be unaware that Spenser had killed two would-be assassins?). There is a very interesting villain, who sadly doesn't get enough of a part in the story, especially because his role becomes obvious fairly quickly. There are nice bits for the cops Healy, Quirk and Belson, who would have deserved a novel of their own one day.

What really makes this seem like by-the-numbers Spenser, however, are the dual romances. Yes, Pearl's Public Gardens flirtation with Otto from Central Park is nothing more than another Parker lesson in love. I know people often say 'love me, love my dog', and I might even be willing to do that. But when they tell each other that 'maybe we are the two most interesting people in the world' or 'you and I have something few people in the world are able to get,' you want to shout 'maybe you're not, and maybe more people in the world aren't so damn smug! So I really do hope that Spenser's last word really does not turn out to be 'Otto!'

Painted Ladies by Robert B Parker
Quercus £18.99 ISBN 9781849131312

Note: a slightly different version of this review will appear at Crime Time:

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