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Onyx reviews: Family Honor by Robert B. Parker

Robert B. Parker, best known for his Spenser novels, has written his first mystery with a female lead. Sunny Randall is a former police officer who comes from a police family. This caused understandable complications in her marriage: her husband Richie came from an organized crime family. After nine years—an astonishingly long time given this fundamental difference between them—Sunny is divorced and living on her own, accompanied by her miniature bull terrier, Rosie.

Sunny is a private investigator by day and an aspiring artist, slowly working her way toward an MFA degree, by night. She is hired to find a runaway teenager, the daughter of the affluent and influential Betty and Brock Patton. After her first interview with the Pattons, Sonny wonders if they want her to find their daughter because they are concerned for her or because they are afraid of the political implications of having a runaway daughter. Brock Patton has gubernatorial aspirations.

Once on the case, Sunny, like her antecedent Spenser, is a loose cannon. When she finds the missing Millicent, she takes it upon herself to try to dig out the reason why she ran away from home rather than return the girl to her parents. It seems clear to Sunny that Millicent did not have a loving relationship with her mother and father, but she wants to find out if something specific happened to cause her to run away.

Sunny is not the only person looking for the runaway, and the others do not want Millicent to ever return to her parents. After an attempt is made on Sunny's life, she goes into hiding with the girl while she tries to untangle the web of deceit and murder.

Sunny is well known at the Boston police department, where her retired father is fondly remembered. She hooks up with detective Brian Kelly, who is investigating incidents peripheral to Millicent's disappearance. Their relationship is complicated by a growing mutual attraction, tempered by Sunny's unresolved issues with her ex-husband. Even though she couldn't live with Richie any longer, she is far from over him. She also has no qualms about calling on the assistance of his family when she needs help in the Boston underworld.

Parker created the character of Sunny at the request of actress Helen Hunt, who wanted a story with a strong female character to adapt to the screen. Sunny is independent, handy with a gun, and without fear in the face of the enemy. She can trade barbs with the best of them.

Having a female protagonist may be new for Parker, but the novel is certainly not the creative stretch one might expect. A few days at the word processor and this book could be turned back into a Spenser novel with very few material changes. Instead of the inscrutable and lethal Hawk, Sunny has the flamboyant and lethal Spike to help out when the going gets tough. Both Sunny and Spenser have non-traditional romantic relationships. Spenser's dog is a little more macho than Sunny's Rosie in much the same way that Spenser is a little more masculine than Sunny. Sunny's witty repartee, especially when dealing with the recalcitrant runaway or with a steady string of mobsters, could equally well have come from the mouth of Spenser.

Parker is the reigning king of the modern hard-boiled detective thriller. Family Honor fits seamlessly in with his other books, but one might wish that he had decided to make Sunny Randall more distinct from his familiar male lead, Spenser.

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