When the leaves start to change color and the mornings are crisp and cool, you know it’s time for the eagerly awaited new Spenser novel by Robert B. Parker. For the last few years, the Spenser novels have gotten shifted from March to October, which has been great. The books are meant to be read on an evening when it’s too dark or too cold or too wet to go outside. With the rapid pacing, blistering dialogue, and casual, linear storytelling, a Spenser book almost reads itself.
In Rough Weather, fans are treated to a few new things in the long-running series. As typical, Spenser gets hired in the first chapter, but this time his client is Heidi Bradshaw, a professional gold digger who’s left a trail of broken and financial bereft husbands in her wake. Instead of wanting Spenser to find someone or protect her from someone, she just wants him to join her at her daughter’s wedding. The request, as Spenser notes, is curious.
After a brief conversation with Susan, Spenser’s significant other, Spenser agrees that the job is incredibly fishy, and it’s that mystery that pulls Spenser to Tashtego Island. That question also yanks the reader along suitably as well. I know. I kept flipping pages myself.
Things take a decided turn for the worse when Spenser bumps into his chief rival at the wedding. Rugar, the Gray Man, has crossed paths with Spenser twice before. The first time, the Gray Man almost killed the tough private eye. The second time their conflict was sidelined for a larger threat. However, Spenser readily admits that the Gray Man – stone-cold killer and ex-CIA hitman – is the most dangerous man he’s ever encountered.
Things go wrong fast at the wedding. The Gray Man steals the bride away and kills several people while getting off the island. For a few chapters, we get to see Spenser in action as he frees himself and works to get Susan out of harm’s way. I was glued to the pages during these brief encounter because we haven’t gotten to see Spenser up against such desperate odds in a while. I really hoped the book would continue offering that level of action, especially with the Gray Man in the mix, but that ended too soon and moved into one of Spenser’s normal investigations.
I read Parker’s books as comfort food rather than for new experiences. After thirty years of reading his novels, I don’t expect surprises from Parker, but I do expect the excellent pacing, dialogue, and bits of psychology, male-bonding, and action that he delivers without fail. Rough Weather has all that, but I had the final twist figured out long before I got there.
There are a lot of detractors of Susan Silverman out there, and I’ll admit that I’ve been one of them. But in this book she really complements Spenser in a way that readers have seldom seen. Not only that but Hawk spends Thanksgiving with Spenser and Susan (and she even cooked!). That was something readers were told not to expect back in book six of the series: Looking For Rachel Wallace. It’s a little scary seeing all of this togetherness, almost like Parker is preparing his characters for eventual retirement.
However, I was let down by the ending somewhat. I’d expected it to end like a house on fire since the Gray Man was involved in such an adversarial role. The ending still satisfied, but I’d just wanted more. I read the book from cover to cover because I just couldn’t walk away from a favorite acquaintance telling another intriguing story. I think most of the fans will feel the same way.