Robert B. Parker’s sixth Sunny Randall mystery novel is one of his most introspective yet. The hook is very well set, opening up with Sunny and her retired father going over a cold case that he never quite solved while he was with the Boston Police Department. Phil, her father, was troubled by the case for several years before he retired. Nicknamed the Spare Change Killer because he left spare change – usually a nickel, dime, and quarter – at each murder scene, Spare Change hasn’t struck in almost twenty years.
No one knows what has brought Spare Change out of retirement, or why he or she started killing all those years ago. As lead homicide investigator from the initial investigation, Phil Randall is brought back on to consult. Martin Quirk, longtime permanent fixture of Robert B. Parker’s Spenser series, holds down a serious cameo role in the book and once again shows that Parker’s world is not as divergent as readers might believe.
The theme of this novel, and several of Parker’s books do have themes that are often repeated with different twists, centers on family relationships and how those family relationships affect and change the individuals within them. Susan Silverman returns as Sunny’s counselor and often serves as a foil for both Sunny’s personal growth.
The pace of the story is quick and eventful. Bodies fall quickly, and the police react almost hopelessly. In a round-up at one of the latest murder scenes, Quirk and his people get a list of names of people who happen to be in the neighborhood passing by at the time the body was discovered. Then they begin a painstaking and grueling interview process that Sunny and Phil take part in.
Almost immediately Sunny identifies a man she believes is the culprit. His name is Bob Johnson and he’s an innocuous man who has no prior convictions or seemingly any reason for killing anyone. Yet he stands out to Sunny because he is flirtatious, chatty, and too arrogant while taking part in the interview. Quirk and her father aren’t as quick about making that decision. They want more information.
Sunny gets more information by breaking into Bob Johnson’s home. This is Parker’s tried-and-true detective method that is repeated in several of his novels. The mystery of the killer’s identity isn’t as mysterious or involving as it could be. Instead, Parker works his magic around his characters.
I loved the candid shots of Sunny’s family at home and at dinner. If these people didn’t dine at your house, you at least knew people like them. Longtime readers of the series get more insight into why Sunny wasn’t able to remain married to Ritchie, her ex-husband. It isn’t all that revealing to see this in action, but it is heartfelt and real.
This introspective analysis of Sunny plays largely into the history of Spare Change. Family and the sense of belonging within the family resonate within the story. Ultimately family issues are the reasons why everything is done by everyone involved. Sunny sees that in her father and comes to realize how much that dynamic is a part of her life and world as well.
As always, Parker delivers the kind of story he sets out to tell. Over the years he’s built a large and faithful audience for all of his characters. I pick up the books every time they come out just for the chance to sit down with an old friend and see how he or she has been. The books aren’t cutting edge or even really surprising these days, but they are dependable and offer some insight into life in the world at large. That doesn’t mean I agree with everything Parker has to offer, but I do enjoy his characters and storytelling.
Spare Change is a great Bete read or a book for one of those lazy rainy afternoons. If you’re a fan, you can curl right up with this one and be at home within minutes.