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Book Review: Painted Ladies by Robert B. Parker

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Painted Ladies starts off with a bang – literally. The art professor Spenser agrees to bodyguard during a buyback from art thieves gets blown to smithereens in Robert B. Parker’s latest (and, sadly, one of his last) novels. Of course, Spenser being Spenser, the detective needs to do something to square the balance. He sets off to figure out who killed Ashton Prince, and that’s going to require finding out why and what the stakes are.

The novel doesn’t really introduce anything new into Spenser’s world, or into the reading experience of a long-time reader. There are a lot of good one-liners, but fans have come to expect them. There are the relationship discussions with Susan, and fans have come to expect those as well.

Spenser does his sleuthing in a round-about fashion, something the series has become known for, and gradually steps on the toes of the menacing killer waiting in the wings. There’s even some gunplay, which is over entirely too quickly for my tastes, and a boxing sequence that is well done.

I enjoyed seeing series regulars Quirk and Belson, seeing how Spenser shared points of view with both men, and I enjoyed seeing Rita Fiore again, though the comparison Susan did with Rita was a bit off-putting. I don’t know where that came from and it went on too long and lingered more than it probably should have.

Parker introduces a lot of material in the book regarding painting and the Holocaust, though I’d thought that bit of dark history a bit too far back. He does a good enough job with it, but the exposure is mostly cursory and only tooled to serve the plot.

I sat and read the book in a single sitting, which is what happens when I usually sit down with a Spenser novel, and I was aware of how quickly the pages turned. I wasn’t let down by the reading experience, but I was grimly aware that there will be no more Parker novels in the very near future.

As of this writing, I know that Sixkill is coming next year. If something isn’t done, if some long-buried Spenser novel isn’t uncovered, the fortieth book in the long-running series is destined to be the last.

I lament, but Philip Marlowe didn’t have the literary run that Spenser did. Neither did Travis McGee or Lew Archer or Sam Spade. But I’m going to miss new Spenser books. They’ve been a part of my life since I found my first one in 1978.

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