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Book Review: School Days by Robert B. Parker

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The latest title in Parker's long running Spenser series has reached the paperback rack. This time Spenser has been hired by the wealthy grandmother of a teenaged boy accused of Columbine-style multiple murder at a Boston-area prep school. The murder itself is not a mystery – the mystery is why

Spenser solves this one himself, without aid from his usual supporting cast. He can't go undercover, but Parker finds a way to let him talk to teens and get into their world of drugs and fantasy. He cracks wise, he cracks heads, he cracks the case.

Parker takes the Columbine story and he get under the stereotypes. The kids are obnoxious, self-righteous in their rationalization for their violent moment. The parents, after the fact, are living with shame and grief, and with the condemnation of a society that blames parents for teen failure. Parker makes it look easy, which is a tribute to his experience and craftsmanship.

As in the last several Spenser titles, Parker speaks as a social critic through Spenser's voice, and his voice is powerful but nuanced. Spenser interviews the single mother and grandfather of one of the shooters. The mother is a New Age type who had a kid because it was her right, and because she hoped to raise a sensitive feminist male child; she gave up on her son when he turned out to be a rambunctious male child.

Mom, in a tangled web of self-deception, points fingers elsewhere, mostly at her father for taking him to football games and such. Granddad, whose grip on reality seems to be sound, has issues with an absent wife who raised the daughter as an artistic girly girl turned narcissistic hippie – who in turn, then, blames him for the fact that her son has become a homicidal punk.

What does this have to do with murder? Everything and nothing. Parker rejects the popular theory that parents are the root of all evil. He turns it on its head: if that supposition is true, how many generations back does the blame run? He writes of interesting characters in conflict — including intriguing secondary individuals — and leaves the reader enough room to evaluate the story and work out the lessons.

Parker in past books has used Spenser's relationship with therapist Susan Silverman to explore and expose the fallacies of modern therapy. In this book, Silverman is absent, giving lectures in the Carolinas, and only comes on stage at the end.

That's enough literary leeway for Parker to make the point that some human issues are beyond talk and good intentions. Sometimes it takes a hard man to crack heads and confront people with their own compulsions and misdeeds.

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About Brave Kelso

  • http://philobiblon.co.uk Natalie Bennett

    This article has been selected for syndication to Advance.net, which is affiliated with newspapers around the United States. Nice work!

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