A penny saved is ridiculous.

A penny saved is ridiculous.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Spenser's back

The late Robert B. Parker's Painted Ladies delivers another fun ride as we watch the author's stalwart detective hero Spenser both punch out the bad guys and appreciate the nuances of famous paintings of the "low country realist" school. Hey, what's not to like?

Right out of the box, the book impresses. The opening chapter of this next-to-last Spenser adventure is a master class in concise writing. In about five pages, Spenser meets his client, accepts a job to guard him during a ransom exchange involving a stolen painting, and in short order sees the client get blown up by a bomb during that exchange. Five pages! Other writers would take up to five chapters to cover that same ground. But Mr. Parker gets the job done quickly, without sketchiness or coming off as self-consciously clipped, and moves on with the rest of the story. God, I'll miss this guy's writing.

The bulk of the book, also written concisely (though maybe not in so precise a manner as the opening) nicely builds on the dramatic start as we watch a guilty Spenser try to make amends for allowing his client to die on his watch. Memorable scenes include two scary attempts on Spenser's life, a romance for Spenser and Susan's dog Pearl, a cool fistfight with the main villain's giant henchman, and several instances of Spenser taking down pretentious academics in the art world. What's fun about that last point is that, throughout the book, Spenser himself quotes obscure poetry and displays doctorate-level knowledge about poetry, art, and literature! He just does it with modesty, I smiled to myself.

I do think Mr. Parker showed a little more enthusiasm for the book's set up and characters than for the case's ultimate resolution, but that's a quibble, as the story's plot is resolved in a perfectly satisfying manner. I just would have liked a little more exploration of the driving forces behind the book's primary antagonist. After all, one doesn't often run across someone who (slight spoiler here, though the book ultimately isn't a whodunit) is devoted to things as diverse as seeking revenge for the Holocaust and making a living via art heists.

Published posthumously, readers shouldn't fear that this was a half-finished book that someone else knitted together and filled out to get in shape for publication. Painted Ladies is a polished, entertaining effort that is Robert B. Parker through and through. Here's hoping this will also be the case with Sixkill, the author's final Spenser adventure, to be released in a few months.

Painted Ladies is available on Kindle for $12.99.

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