Spenser has been solving people’s problems for them for a long time — as long as I’ve been alive, in fact; The Godwulf Manuscript, his first case, was published in 1973. Ever since then, he’s been making the streets of Boston safer (or, on rare occasion, more dangerous) for the rest of us, finding the bad guys and wrapping up the crimes according to his own unorthodox but ethical style.
And Rough Weather is no exception. Spenser is present at the kidnapping of a society bride, and is compelled by his own helplessness to look further into the circumstances. Will he discover complexities, old history, the dark parts of human nature? Will he need the smarts of his gorgeous girlfriend Susan and the help of his old friend Hawk? Does the Pope speak German?
Don’t get me wrong. I love Spenser. I was introduced to these books eight or nine years ago by a friend, and I was hooked by the very first sentence of the first novel: “The office of the university president looked like the front parlor of a successful Victorian whorehouse.” I’ve seen too many university administrative offices not to know just what he means. I howled. His writing is wonderful: sharp, lean, and funny. It’s not misogynist and it’s not racist and it’s not homophobic. Spenser takes people as he finds them, mostly. But after 35 years or more, these days, he’s phoning it in a bit. I still enjoy the books, but Rough Weather doesn’t quite have the same edge: it’s not as well written or as well edited as it should be, and it’s formulaic in a way the earlier ones weren’t. I could write the next one:
Beautiful Woman: Help me with my problem, Spenser.
Spenser: Okay, but Susan’s coming, too.
Beautiful Woman: [tells pack of lies]
Spenser: [admires Susan, interviews suspects, cooks magnificent meal, gets shot at] Uh-oh, I’d better call in Hawk.
Hawk: I’m black, and I’m extremely independent.
Spenser: Here’s the answer. Now to resolve the issue in an unorthodox, yet ethical way.
Police: We have a love-hate relationship with you, Spenser.
Sigh. You see what I mean? The earlier ones were better: less predictable, and even when they were predictable, they were funnier and sharper. Parker still occasionally hits one out of the park these days, but it’s getting rarer. Give Spenser a go — he’s marvelous — but start at the beginning. That way, by the time you get thirty novels into the series, you may be hooked enough to read Rough Weather.