I look forward to fall these days because it means the weather will finally cool down again – and there will be a new Robert B. Parker Spenser novel on the shelves. This year’s offering is The Professional, and I instantly fell in love with the cover when it finally popped up on various websites.
I bought the book on a Tuesday and knew I wanted to save it for a time when I could sit back and read it in a single sitting or two. Thanks to a dental appointment the following Thursday, I didn't have to wait for the weekend. I kicked back in a chair in the waiting room, flipped open the book, and didn't notice at all when dental emergencies ahead of me put my appointment an hour and a half behind. I was with my favorite Boston sleuth and we were hot on the case from page one.
The novel concentrates on the vagaries of relationships between men and women, which seems to be a large part of Dr. Parker’s themes these days. Although the subject matter is interesting, I’d really like to take a break from it in his books.
The Professional focuses on a small group of women married to rich, older men. These women have been romanced and later blackmailed by a conniving Lothario named Gary Eisenhower. Spenser’s job is to back the blackmailer off without tipping off the husbands to their wives’ inconvenient trysts.
Fortunately for the reader, none of Spenser’s cases turn out to be easy, and this one starts getting wrinkled from the start. One of the husbands has suspicions about his young wife and Eisenhower, and he’s connected to mob muscle that comes calling on Spenser, instantly upping the ante. Another wrinkle is that some of the women are loath to go cold turkey on Eisenhower’s charms. Even more complicated is the fact that Spenser kind of understands and likes Eisenhower, who’s something of a victim himself. Before long, Spenser ends up trying to keep Eisenhower alive.
This book actually turns out to be more of a mystery than many of Spenser’s previous cases, which were more noir and violent, and which I enjoyed immensely. The mystery is rooted in social structures and psychological drama, and that’s fairly intriguing, but I really missed the shootouts, fights, and threats that usually sail through the Spenser novels. Spenser isn’t really fighting for anyone or anything in this one. He’s just working out his own curiosity and trying to keep the bloodshed to a minimum.
There’s an obvious ode to John Steinbeck’s Of Mice And Men in the novel that telegraphed a lot of the plot to me and took some of the edge off. As always, though, Dr. Parker lays down snappy dialogue, terse narrative, and close to the bone plotting that carries his readers through the novel in a well-oiled rush.
Fans will settle in and be comfortable, but I’d recommend Early Autumn or Looking For Rachel Wallace or Mortal Stakes for newcomers to the series.