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I suspect that part of me thinks that I could be Spenser if I buffed up.

Book Review: Small Vices by Robert Parker

During an 18-month period about four years ago I read all of Robert Parker’s Spenser books, numbering more than 30. I then took a break from reading him.

And then a year later I picked up this book and, although I was having a bad day, I was soon smiling and laughing. Spenser was back and I was sure enjoying his company.

I have tried before to determine exactly why I love this series so much, since the basic concept is so clichéd: Spenser is a tough, strong private eye, but with a heart of gold, who usually gets the bad guy.

He’s very ethical and serious at times, like Lawrence Block’s Matthew Scudder character, but he is also quite funny at times, a la Donald Westlake. Mostly, though, he is witty, sharp and smart. I suspect that part of me thinks that I could be Spenser if I buffed up and learned how to throw a punch. Oh and I’d have to stop being a pacifist.

The writing is always tight in Parker’s books. During one conversation, for example, Spenser tells the reader simply, “I had nothing to add to that,” whereas other writers would elaborate on that thought.

There is also a racial element to the series, with Spenser’s buddy, Hawk, a black tough guy who acts dumber than he is and plays to the racial stereotype but is actually quite intelligent and uses people’s expectation of him to his advantage.

All of this results in great dialogue. At one point in this book, for example, Spenser is injured. “I don’t need that much help,” Spenser said. “He ain’t heavy,” Hawk said. “He’s my brother.”

In this book, Spenser is hired by a law firm concerned that a black man convicted of murdering a white girl in an almost all-white college may actually be innocent of that crime. The suspect is guilty, though, of raping other women, so few go out of their way to help Spenser unravel the truth. Spenser also encounters great deal of racism.

Soon some tough guys tell Spenser to quit his investigation and throw him some muscle to scare him away. Spenser pretty much ignores the threats until he starts getting followed by a guy who prefers to let his bullets do the talking. And then things get really interesting.

I do not want to say more about the plot for it will take away some of the fun of reading the book.

This is not Parker’s best book, but even an average Parker book is better than most novels being released these days.

About Scott Butki

Scott Butki was a newspaper reporter for more than 10 years before making a career change into education... then into special education. He has been doing special education work for about five years He lives in Austin. He reads at least 50 books a year and has about 15 author interviews each year and, yes, unlike tv hosts he actually reads each one. He is an in-house media critic, a recovering Tetris addict and a proud uncle. He has written articles on practically all topics from zoos to apples and almost everything in between.

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