Robert Parker is from the old school of crime writing, but he is still a master, and with his latest book, Cold Service, he seems to return to the top of his game.
While reading this, I came across several interesting sites relating to Parker. Between those sites and reviews from friends, Amazon and other reviews, there is definitely a feeling that Parker's books about Spenser have gone downhill in recent years.
It's almost—at times—like he just pulls out the old characters with their interesting yet familiar baggage, and sets them in a new scenario and sees what happens. His earlier books are definitely better.
In Cold Service he does something different—he puts Hawk, Spenser's tough black companion, at center stage. As the book starts Hawk has been shot while doing a protection job, and as Hawk—with the help of Spenser and Susan—regains his strength, two interesting things start happening. First, through conversations between Hawk's girlfriend and Spenser, Spenser articulates—with Hawk's permission—who and what he is. Hawk, for example, is not the kind of guy who can easily love, or admit when he's weak. Hawk is just not that kind of guy. This is something Spenser understands, but Hawk's girlfriend struggles with.
The whole coming back from poor health to (of course) kick some butt in revenge reminds readers of an earlier Spenser book, Small Vices, in which Spenser is the one who has to recover from a shooting. With some authors such self-referential writing gets annoying and distracting, but here it works, because it is demonstrating that just as Spenser has grown and evolved over the years, so has Hawk.
The book's plot involves getting the bad guys who have not only hurt Hawk but have taken over a whole town.
Hawk, Spenser and others ride to the rescue. But Parker, like all good crime writers, knows that it would be too easy and unrealistic to paint everyone and everything as black or white, good or bad. Instead much focus is spent on the gray areas. Is it OK to shoot someone because they shot you? What about shooting someone because you expect they will shoot others? And so on.
This is an excellent book and a fast read. I give it a 9.
Other book reviews by me, as well as a current discussion of the Harry Potter book, are at my blog.
ed: JH Edited: PC