When I found out Robert B. Parker’s new novel for young adults was going to be about his iconic detective hero Spenser, I was really excited. I’ve been reading the Spenser novels since I was 20, not much more than a kid myself. During the course of the series, readers have been tantalized with bits and pieces of Spenser’s backstory, but we’ve never gotten the whole bit.
Chasing The Bear satisfies a whole lot of those questions about Spenser’s youth and upbringing, but the book doesn’t really feel like a novel. It’s a quilt, a collection of Spenser-centric stories told at different points of his young life, but it doesn’t stick with just one story. Rather, it skips around to different problems that young Spenser dealt with while growing up.
The episodic feel of the narrative will probably keep young readers turning pages, and fans of the series will be especially forgiving. Longtime readers will know many of the stories that are revealed, at least the bones of those stories from the novel Pastime.
One of the detractions for young readers is that the stories are framed by current day conversations between Spenser and Susan Silverman, his significant other and love of his life. Not only are young readers jarred by the sudden intrusion into adult life, but there is a lot of psychology-based conversation going on as well.
I want to read this book to my 11 year-old son, but I hesitate because of the breaks in the story as well as some of the sexual innuendo and relationship-specific conversation that he may find boring. The adventure parts will certainly reel him in. And I realize that this book is written for a slightly older young adult market than my son. But I don’t know if he would enjoy it even later without prior knowledge of Spenser and his adult adventures.
I read the book from cover to cover and enjoyed it quite a lot. Parker’s writing, as always, is intense and pared to the bone. He discusses a lot of male ideology that I enjoy and believe in even though many people may feel it is too simplistic. Personally, I believe life can be lived that simply. It’s other stuff that makes living hard.
I enjoyed the battles that Spenser found himself in as well as the moral dilemmas created by those situations. Of course, our young hero had access to more resources than most kids today have when making these decisions. But that didn't take away from the enjoyment and intensity of those scenes.
Spenser fans are going to enjoy this book, aside from the usual quibbles they may have about the adult series. Younger readers may struggle with some of the storytelling and shifts between young Spenser and adult Spenser, but there is entertaining writing, lots of dialogue, and an easily understood hero.