"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"

Monday, April 12, 2004

'Bad Business' a good read

Kevin Wood / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

Bad Business
By Robert B. Parker
G.P. Putnam's Sons, 320 pp, 24.95 dollars

Readers still don't know his first name, but after 29 books we know just about everything else we need to know about Robert B. Parker's private eye hero Spenser.

The latest installment in the Spenser saga, Bad Business, sees the Boston sleuth take on wife-swapping corporate scammers. He is aided, as usual, by his psychologist soul mate Susan Silverman; Hawk, the world's most honorable thug; and the usual cast of trustworthy cops, charming criminal defense lawyers and friendly hit men.

Approached by the annoying Marlene Rowley to get the goods on her cheating executive husband Trent, Spenser keeps tripping over other private eyes tailing everyone connected to the Rowleys and Trent's energy trading firm, Kinergy. When Trent is murdered at his desk, Spenser suspects more than infidelity is involved.

While Parker is very good at painting detailed portraits of even the most minor characters, they tend to be strictly friends or enemies. Those who are Spenser's friends are willing to do almost anything for him and rarely have anything but the most minor of character flaws or weaknesses. The criminal careers of Hawk and hit man Vinnie Morris seem like minor eccentricities, while the vulgar yuppies central to the case seem like the worst people in the world every time they open their mouths.

The humor of Spenser's smart-aleck streak and his banter with Hawk have always helped put the series a cut above the average hard-boiled detective hero, and Parker manages enough levity to keep the story entertaining.

Sadly, after a long run of Spenser books, Parker seems to be doing a lot of this by rote. We have the stock scenes of Spenser with Susan, Spenser being romantic yet manly and Susan drinking her glass of wine a milliliter at a time while delivering a detailed psychological analysis of all the players in the case, including Spenser. After using such set pieces in almost every Spenser novel, they begin to have the ring of formula.

Despite this, Parker continues to demonstrate his gift for creating crackling dialog and believable characters. He captures the archetype of the corporate good-ol'-boy in Kinergy CEO Bob Cooper and the radio talk show host and "corporate pimp" Darrin O'Mara is superbly smarmy and fluent in psychobabble.

While action takes a back seat to investigation this time around, Bad Business is still among the better installments in the series

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