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Onyx reviews: Painted Ladies by
Robert B. Parker
When Robert B. Parker died at his desk earlier this year, he left behind two
complete Spenser novels. Painted Ladies is the first. Though Spenser has
been appearing in fiction for nearly 40 years, he hasn't been aging in real
time. He is rarely, if ever, outmatched in a physical confrontation, and
every woman he meets finds him irresistible. His ability to quote poets
and philosophers at will hasn't failed with age, though he does concede a
relative lack of familiarity with computer technology. Readers still
don't know his first name, but he at least admits that he has one in this book,
going so far as to tell it to another character.
Novels featuring this renaissance man are all cut from the same cloth. They
are short and dialog-heavy. Spenser wisecracks and flirts through interviews and
interrogations, fashioning himself to be wittier than anyone else in the room.
There are shootouts and fisticuffs, enough to demonstrate that Spenser is at
risk, but never enough to actually injure him, as a rule. Often he is assisted
in his physical confrontations by his faithful sidekick Hawk, although in Painted
Ladies Hawk is conspicuously absent, supposedly in the Central Asia on a
mission with the CIA, as unlikely as that seems. All the other regulars are
here, though, including Martin Quirk, Frank
Belson, Captain Healy and the sexpot former lawyer Rita Fiore.
When Spenser can't figure out what to do next, he takes a holistic approach,
following anyone vaguely
involved in the case, often producing a lead. When he's off duty, he cooks
gourmet meals and professes his love for long-time partner Susan Silverman,
whose name he invokes whenever one of the aforementioned women attempts to seduce
him. No other characters in fiction spend as much time parsing the depth of
their relationship to each other.
At the beginning of Painted Ladies, Spenser is hired by Dr. Ashton
Prince, an art forgery expert, to accompany him during a ransom payment for a
Dutch painting stolen from a local gallery. It should be easy work, but the drop-off goes south and Spenser, true to
form, takes on the burden and the responsibility of putting matters right. He returns his paycheck from the gallery because he most definitely did not hold up his part of
the bargain, returning with neither the painting nor the man he was supposed to
The cops tolerate his meddling in the investigation because Spenser can do things they can't, including
breaking and entering into suspects' houses and barging in on places where he
has no appointment. Prince, an art history teacher at a small college, had a reputation
for inappropriate behavior with his students. One of the coeds he was hitting on was the daughter of an employee of the company insuring the painting. His wife is a flake, a would-be
poet with a fondness for pernod. The lawyers and insurance company associated
with the gallery from which the painting was stolen stonewall him. Someone else is taking
his investigation seriously, though—serious enough
for international hitmen to take a couple of stabs at killing him.
subplot, Spenser's dog Pearl has a romantic encounter with an out-of-town yellow
Lab named Otto. Pearl and Otto have several play dates and, by the oddest of
coincidences, one of the
dog's owners just happens to know someone who can provide vital information
about the case.
Spenser's brute force methods turn up interesting information: The
painting in question, the only surviving work by 17th century artist Franz
Hermenzoon, was stolen by the Nazis during the Holocaust. Its
history after the war was detailed in Prince's doctoral thesis, and it turns out
that the dead man's interest in the painting was more than academic. The puzzle
is complex and the stakes are high. As usual.
Spenser will only ride one more time, in Sixkill, due
out in early 2011.
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