CAPSULE BOOK REVIEW: Walking Shadow By Robert B Parker – We’ve been reading Spenser novels for a very long time, and we would’ve sworn we had read all of them, so it was a treat when we picked this one up at the freebie bin at the local library. After the first couple of pages none of it rang a bell so we took it, presumably one final Spenser novel by Parker, because Parker died several years ago.
(We have not read any of the Spenser novels written by Ace Atkins, nor do we intend to. We’ve run into this over the years, mainly by writers who’ve collaborated with their kids in their old age. We do not approve of this, the biggest crime being they are different – not bad, merely different – than what we’ve come to know and love. The new Spenser novels may well be brilliant. It should also be noted we don’t like other franchises by our fave writers. We did not particular like other Parker novels, just like we only have use for The Corp and Brotherhood of War series by WEB Griffin.)
Know in advance Spenser mysteries aren’t the most technically brilliant mysteries you will ever read. Either you pick up on the not-too-subtle clues Parker offers or you do not. We do about half the time, depending on how much work we happen to feel like putting in. Spenser novels are funny and thoughtful, but from a strictly whodunit standpoint, they’re certainly not on the level of Nero Wolfe or Sherlock Holmes or even Lew Archer.
The general MO is Spenser takes a case, more often than not for no fee in his later years, and dives in. He generally has no idea what is going on, so he starts asking questions and annoying people until someone tries to kill him. Spenser then calls in a broad based coalition of friends, law enforcement and thugs (Hawk, Lee Farrell, Healy and Vinnie Morris in this one) to protect him and help him solve the case. Eventually Spenser finds out what in the hell is actually going on and his solution may or may not involve the authorities. There were times towards the end when Spenser was nothing more than a vigilante dispensing whatever justice he saw fit.
It never changes. Over the years Parker has done this really well and other times he has mailed it in.
Parker offers a great lesson for a novelist: characters, characters, characters. You don’t read Spenser for the who-dunnit, you read Spenser because you never get tired of visiting with Spenser and Susan and Hawk and whatever other regulars are making appearances in this one. Like me, you may very well find yourself reading selected faves again as the years pass.
The Gaylon Rating System:
Final Ranking: Good. Not the seminal work in the series, but far from the tripe he foisted on us during the period where his books seemed more like he was fulfilling a contract than writing anything from the heart.