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The last couple of Spenser novels written by Robert B. Parker focus on old issues that the private eye and author have stepped around for years. Now both are getting enmeshed in events that bring those old troubles and insecurities to the forefront so that Spenser finally has to lay them to rest.
Last year's Hundred Dollar Baby is the final tale in the April Kyle saga. She was the young prostitute Spenser saved, sort of, in the series' ninth book, Ceremony. Fans, especially women readers, got split over the resolution in that novel.
This year's offering, Now & Then, is going to unite all the fans and leave them waiting with baited breath for next year's entry. Ah, but the good Dr. Parker has learned how to unleash the power of the soap opera endings. He's doing the same in the Sunny Randall and Jesse Stone series as well.
In the opening pages of Now & Then, Spenser is approached by, and eventually hired by, Dennis Doherty. Doherty is a cagy customer and doesn't act like he really wants to know if his wife is cheating on him. Before he knows it, Spenser finds himself relating to Doherty because of the breakup he had with Susan Silverman all those years ago (Valediction and A Catskill Eagle for series purists).
It takes Spenser little time at all to confirm that Doherty's wife is indeed cheating. Spenser enlists the help of Hawk, his darker side, to track down the answer. Hawk is the first to advance the notion that Spenser is getting too personally involved. It's this interplay of these two characters that I've come to love so much. Getting to peer inside of male bonding at work is awesome, and no one does it better than Parker.
Spenser struggles over how much to tell Doherty. While dealing with that, he talks with Susan and it dredges up all the old hurts he'd covered over after she left him. He finally says that telling Doherty is the right thing to do. By that time, he's also figured out that Doherty is an FBI agent, which is going to cause even more problems for his client.
Old readers are going to feel the resonance of this case to the pain Spenser was going through when Susan left him. We can see what bothers Spenser so much, and it's great. I hadn't thought of Parker dealing with this unresolved issue, but - all of a sudden - here it is.
After he tells Doherty and gives the client a copy of the tape that reveals Jordan Richmond's affair, Jordan shows up in Spenser's office. At first the blusters and threatens, then she offers sex in exchange for the copy of the tape that he has. Spenser says no.
Bothered by the woman's desperation, especially since her husband already knows her husband is aware of her infidelity, Spenser has Vinnie Morris (a longtime character in the series) and Hawk stay on the straying wife and her lover. In short time, Doherty announces that he's thrown Jordan out. That night, a man ambushes Jordan and kills her. Vinnie, being Vinnie, kills the killer.
Spenser knows someone has raised the stakes, but he doesn't know who. Doherty has gone missing and the police suspect he killed his wife. Spenser doesn't. He knows from personal experience that you don't kill those you really love - no matter how badly they hurt you.
That's just one of the lessons I've paid attention to as I've read the Spenser books. Parker is a keen observer of the human condition and how people's minds and motivations work.
Susan Silverman usually splits the audience for these books as well. She's modeled on Parker's real-life wife, Joan. Most of the time I can't stand Susan because she always seems to have the answers, while at the same time exhibiting neuroses that drive me - and a great many other readers - crazy. In this book, though, she really comes across as a great person and a great character.
Then Doherty turns up dead. When his body washes up in the river, people think he killed himself. Spenser doesn't buy that for a moment, pointing out several inconsistencies to the homicide people as well as an FBI liaison he's working with.
In order to lay to rest his own demons from the breakup all those years ago, Spenser has to figure out what really happened to these two people. And fans get one of the best Spenser novels we've had in a long time.
In addition to Hawk and Vinnie, we also get to see more of Chollo, the L. A. gunner Spenser has crossed paths with and aligned himself with on other cases. This book sparkles with deep emotions, witty dialogue, and an insight into the best private eye to hit fiction in decades. This is a must-read for long-time fans, and a good place to start for those who haven't read Parker before.