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Onyx reviews: Widow's Walk by Robert B. Parker

It's hard to believe anyone alive is as obtuse as Mary Smith, Spenser's client in Widow's Walk. A recent widow, she is accused of killing her wealthy, older husband, Nathan. Mary is the obvious suspect: the doors were locked for the night, the alarm was set, and no one else was in the house at the time.

Rita Fiore is defending Mary against the murder charges, but she harbors suspicions that Mary is guilty. Believing the amazingly dense woman deserves the best defense she can provide, she asks Spenser to look into the woman's background to see if he can identify some additional suspects.

Mary is of little help. Simple questions alarm and confuse her. She refuses to be interviewed without her publicist being present. That someone is willing to testify she once asked him to kill her husband won't look good at trial, nor is the fact that the couple reportedly had a very public fight hours before her husband was found shot to death in his bed.

Spenser is very good at what he does: he blunders around annoying people until something interesting happens. This time, however, the reaction is extreme. A woman he questioned at Nathan Smith's bank is dismissed soon after their meeting and, shortly thereafter, found dead. Spenser knows he's being followed, so he enlists the help of his regular associate, Hawk, to watch his back.

It becomes clear to Spenser that someone takes his investigation seriously when more people start dying. He suspects a larger conspiracy is at play in Nathan Smith's death, but the few clues he is able to stir up don't point him in any particular direction. It's difficult to shake loose the pall of guilt hanging over Smith's widow, enhanced by her odd and suspicious behavior. Spenser also finds indications that she was regularly unfaithful to her husband.

As he digs deeper into Nathan Smith's background, though, the puzzle becomes more complex and someone decides it's time to put an end to his intrusive, abrasive questions.

Spenser books are little more than novellas, padded out to novel length with thick paper, wide margins, large fonts and generous spacing. The books are a quick read, easily handled in an evening or on a day at the beach. Parker's witty and erudite dialog is what carries the books along at such a high pace. Descriptive narration is kept to the bare minimum and entire chapters are often comprised of little more than dialog.

Widow's Walk is the twenty-ninth book in the Spenser series and it is a moderately successful entry. The ending is needlessly complicated to the point that it's not clear who really did kill Nathan Smith. Regular series characters Susan Silverberg—Spenser's long-time romantic partner—and Hawk get cursory treatment that lends only a little development to their characters.

But Spenser remains ageless. Given his history, he would have to be at least seventy years old, but only his dog, Pearl, seems to be showing any signs of aging. He is still able to roll with the punches and deliver beatings with the best of them. Women—Rita Fiore for example—continue to fawn all over him. It's becoming formulaic. Even the banter is beginning to sound stale and familiar. Parker has tried to add some interesting elements in recent books by sending Spenser away from Boston, but the best solution to add new life to this series would be to age his detective realistically and throw curves at him that are more personal.

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