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CAVEAT: if you are looking for a mystery laden straightforward detective story filled with surprising twists, in all likelihood this will be only a two star story for you. Furthermore, if you have not previously read some of Robert Parker's books, don't start with this one. While sufficient background information is interwoven into the story to make it work as a standalone novel, any potential reader has the advantage that despite Parker's approximately fifty books in print, this is only the fourth book in the recently created Sunny (Sonya) Randall series. Thus, given the fact that all Parker's books are incredibly fast reads, it makes sense to start with FAMILY HONOR and meet Sunny's friends, family, and bull terrier Rosie as her cases and the complications of her life unfold. New readers will miss some of the crossover references to the Spenser series in this book, but even many longtime Spenser fans such as myself, the task of reading all the early books in that series (which is responsible for the legion of readers that he has today) is still incomplete. But for me, this is the most enjoyable Sunny Randall book to date.
The plot is simplicity itself, Sarah Markham (a college student) is referred to Sunny because Sarah has become increasingly convinced that the couple who have raised her are not her parents. (While they are adamant that she is her daughter they refuse to submit to a DNA test for "religious reasons" and out of privacy concerns.) Sonny has just been notified by Ritchie, her ex-husband, that given Sonny's reluctance to remarry (anyone -she still loves him) and have children, he is about to marry another woman. Thus, Sarah's case provides a possible distraction for Sunny as she attempts to sort out why she is still so psychologically conflicted about her personal relationships at thirty seven years of age. As soon as Sunny starts detecting (no more an unusual word than Sunny's use of the adjective the griefy or describing her therapy as shrinkage), she realizes what an emotional cripple Sarah is and how totally weird her parents are. Thus, the stage is set. Repairing Sarah's life will be juxtaposed with Sunny's attempt to repair her own. (The plot is simple but the storyline complex.)
Of course, violence soon erupts, and the case becomes the standard Parker detective procedural, heavy on the character relationships rather than the plot. But even for Parker, this plot is thin and the question is how the story will be resolved, not the mystery of Sarah's parentage. Of course, there are the usual few homicides, just to up the stakes and inject an element of physical danger as well as mystery and psychological stress. In addition to Ritchie's brief appearance but central importance both to the story and also to Sunny's future, Spike is once again an important supporting actor and Tony Marcus makes a cameo appearance. During one of Sunny's visits to NYC, series newcomer Detective Sal Corsetti suddenly assumes a key role in the case, and wonderfully plays his character of a surprisingly (to the bad guys) clever cop willing to take on anyone who gets in his way. We even get to meet Lolly Drake, one of the multitude of talk radio icons with whom by now we are all passingly familiar. Most importantly, however, Sunny's attempt to solve Sarah's case combined with her own personal identity crisis helps her to connect with her father (an ex-cop) and provides previously lacking insight concerning his relationship with her mother.
And now the final element of the story that will capture the interest of long time Parker readers and Spenser fans. Sunny's personal crisis finally leads her to seek professional help in an attempt to move on with her life, and who is recommended as a therapist - none other than Dr. Susan Silverman. Sunny's reaction to their initial meetings and subsequent visits is fascinating, as we suddenly see Susan from the viewpoint of a woman with Spenser's powers of observation but with an objectivity which he lacks and with the remoteness which is often the case early in the therapist - patient relationship. Never have I seen Parker spend so much time on detailed descriptions of someone who is many ways a secondary character to the story, but of course it is because of the fact that Sunny's perception of Susan's competence and their developing relationship is crucial to her future. She comes to realize that Susan cannot provide the answers either to her case or to her future.
There are many wonderful moments in this book, but most of them are only peripherally about the case. Rather, they are about the impact of the case on everyone around Sarah and Sunny, along with a few moments of pure fun with Rosie for all dog lovers. And while the case is eventually closed, there are plenty of loose ends to be picked up in future stories. What will be Ritchie's role in Sunny's life? Will Sarah's bond with Sunny somehow continue in other stories, similar to the reappearance of Paul Giacomin in the Spenser series? Will Sunny find out that Dr. Silverman's partner is also a private detective (her father obviously knows this fact but she doesn't have a clue) and how will this change their relationship? And finally, of course, the ultimate fantasy, will Sunny and Spenser's pursuit of their careers somehow cause them to be thrown into contact and collaborate on a case? We'll have to await future stories for the answers to these questions, and given the author's writing methodology he may not yet know himself. Meanwhile, I wholeheartedly recommend this book subject to the caveat at the beginning of this review.