Monday, June 13, 2011
The last couple of weekends I've been re-reading some of Robert B. Parker's Spenser novels. This weekend it was Small Vices, a solid entry from 1997. This was one of the later Spensers that I liked enough to get Parker to sign it when I met him in 2000. I remember him looking at me when I went to get it signed, because he said, "You're tall. I hate tall." (Odd that both Spillane and Parker should comment on my height. I'm 6'-2", not super tall but then both writers were short.) Reportedly Parker had said this exact same thing to Tom Selleck when he met the actor, so I didn't feel too bad.
Anyway, in Small Vices, tough guy PI Spenser finally runs into somebody who's as dangerous as he is and almost gets killed. He is shot three times and spends close to a year recovering, a year in which everyone except a couple of his cop buddies, his pal Hawk, and his object of affection Susan Silverman think Spenser is dead.
Things start out, as they do in most private eye novels, a lot simpler, with Spenser looking into a case where a young, black man may have been framed for a murder. Spenser sets out to find the truth and that makes him the target of some dangerous people who would just as soon the truth not be known. he gets word that someone is looking to have him killed. Being Spenser he's not easy to kill, so someone hires a heavy hitter, a professional assassin who Spenser knows only as the Gray Man. (He has a grayish complexion, gray hair, and he dresses all in gray.) The Gray Man warns Spenser off the case, and when the PI won't back off, the Gray Man almost makes good on his contract.
When Spenser returns from the dead, he wants to kill the Gray Man, but it is in the best interests of his client to let the assassin live. Still he gets to rough the Gray Man up good when he captures him. It will have to do.
As I was re-reading Small Vices I recalled that it was right after that one when I thought the series started to go downhill. There were still some good Spenser books to come, but too many mediocre books as well. Small Vices was a good one, though, with plenty of action and some classic Spenser one-liners that made me smile. Well worth a re-read.