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Back Story [Hardcover]

Robert Parker
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 11 2003 Spenser Novels
In 1974, a revolutionary group calling itself The Dread Scott Brigade held up the Old Shawmut Bank in Boston's Audubon Circle. Money was stolen. And a woman named Emily Gordon, a visitor in town cashing traveler's checks, was shot and killed. No one saw who shot her. Despite security-camera photos and a letter from the group claiming responsibility, the perpetrators have remained at large for nearly three decades.

Enter Paul Giacomin, the closest thing to a son Spenser has. Twice before, Spenser's come to the young man's assistance; and now Paul is thirty-seven, his troubled past behind him. When Paul's friend Daryl Gordon-daughter of the long-gone Emily-decides she needs closure regarding her mother's death, it's Spenser she turns to. The lack of clues and a missing FBI intelligence report force Spenser to reach out in every direction-to Daryl's estranged, hippie father, to Vinnie Morris and the mob, to the mysterious Ives-testing his resourcefulness and his courage.

Taut, tense, and expertly crafted, this is Robert B. Parker at his storytelling best.

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Product Description

From Amazon

In this 30th entry in one of mystery fiction's longest-running and best-loved series, Spenser--the tough yet sensitive Boston private eye with no first name--takes on an unsolved murder nearly three decades old. The client, an actress, is a friend of Paul Giacomin, Spenser's surrogate son (who first appeared in 1981's Early Autumn). Her mother was slain by leftist radicals at a bank holdup in 1974, and now she wants to know who fired the shot. As Spenser digs into the past, he soon learns that powerful people on both sides of the law want the case left alone--badly enough to kill.

These death threats provide a fine excuse for Hawk, Spenser's extremely scary (yet sensitive) bad-guy pal, to tag along in nearly every scene as bodyguard. The interaction of the two friends is one of this series's familiar pleasures, as is the presence of Susan Silverman, Spenser's longtime love interest. Another pleasure is Parker's stripped-down prose, a marvel of craftsmanship as smooth as 18-year-old Scotch. (Plus we get the first meeting between Spenser and Jesse Stone, hero of another Parker series.) Alas, the whole enterprise feels a little tired. The plot never generates much sustained suspense, and the author's adoration for his central characters renders them at times almost cartoonesque. Still, Back Story is excellently prepared comfort food, even if it isn't five-star cuisine. --Nicholas H. Allison

From Publishers Weekly

Spenser's respectable 30th outing (he debuted 30 years ago in The Godwulf Manuscript) finds the veteran Boston PI teaming briefly with Jesse Stone, the cop hero of a newer Parker series (Death in Paradise, etc.). The move works because Parker plays it low-key, presenting Stone as just one of many characters who cross Spenser's path as the PI-hired by a friend of his adoptive son, Paul, for the princely sum of six Krispy Kremes-digs into the 28-year-old murder of a woman during a bank robbery; the friend is the slain woman's daughter and wants closure. Before Spenser bumps into Stone, the top cop in Paradise, Mass., he connects the killing to the daughter of big time Boston mobster Sonny Karnofsky, an old foe. When Spenser won't back off, Karnofsky threatens Spenser's girlfriend, Susan, then orders a hit on the PI. Enter as protection longtime sidekick Hawk; other series vets make appearances too on Spenser's behalf, including cops Belsen and Quirk and shooter Vinnie Morris. An interesting new character, a Jewish FBI agent, also helps out. The repartee between Spenser and Hawk is fast and funny; the sentiment between Spenser and Susan and the musings about Spenser's code are only occasionally cloying; and there's a scattering of remarkable action scenes including a tense shootout in Harvard Stadium. Series fans will enjoy this mix of old and new, but the title kind of says it all: this series, probably the finest and most influential PI series since Chandler, could use some forward momentum.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Tired setup, but still some sparks July 10 2004
Format:Mass Market Paperback
You know a series is in a rut when the author can't even introduce a new dog into the mix! The trio of Spenser, Hawk and Susan is so overly familar at this point that a different kind of mutt would have been most welcome. And sad to say, Parker can't be bothered to pause in his encomiums to Susan's perfection and Lucky Magazine-like riffs on Hawk's natty duds to make any attempt to develop the characters in this outing. Credulity is a bit strained as well--five bloody shooting deaths in a week and no heat on Spenser? Come on.
Dialogue is still crisp and settings are vivid, however, so even second-rate Parker is a cut above most of the stuff out there.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Parker improves with age May 7 2004
Format:Mass Market Paperback
At this point it's kind of academic, telling people that Spenser novels are fun to read. They're so easy to follow, quick to digest, and fun to enjoy, that it's almost a shame when the book proves to only be 280 pages or so long. The dialog's snappy, the characters interesting, and of course the plot winds up being almost irrelevant, just a vehicle for Spenser, Hawk, Vinnie, Capt. Quirk, and the gang to sit and talk for a while, and then shoot some bad guys.
This time around, Paul Giacomin (Spenser's adoptive son, first seen in one of the best Spenser novels, Early Autumn) brings Spenser a client, a young actress he knows whose mother was murdered in a bank robbery almost thirty years ago. She wants Spenser to find who shot her mother, and, Spenser being Spenser, when it turns out that she brought half a dozen Krispy Kreme donuts for him, he impulsively takes the case. I guess Spenser hasn't been caught up in the low-carb diet craze.
Instead, he soon finds himself mired in a decades-old murder case where all of the principles seem to have been Simbionese-Liberation-Army-type lunatics who waved guns around and shot people randomly, and just caught this young woman in the crossfire. Things are not what they seem, however, and everyone from the FBI to the CIA to the local mafia gets involved, trying to tell Spenser to leave the case alone and find something else to do. This, of course, only provokes Spenser, and makes him more curious about what's happening.
I enjoy Parker's writing immensely, and as I said, the plot's secondary to the characters, the dialog, and the writing. Parker by now has become the closest we're going to have (I think) to Raymond Chandler, and he's a great deal more prolific, thankfully. This was a reasonable addition to what's just about the longest-running series in American detective fiction, and what's certainly the most popular.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Parker's Back May 7 2004
By A Customer
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Parker has really made an effort here, and it shows. Recent books were getting thinner and more off-hand, and the last in the Spenser series, "Widow's Walk" read like Parker wrote it while he was watching a ball game. But in "Back Story," Parker has done it for us again. It's not the "Godwulf Manuscript" and it's certainly not "Looking for Rachel Wallace," but it has depth and heft, and a fresh plot that involves us in some very satisfying intricacy as it works itself out. Spenser shows more of himself, and our understanding of him deepens. Here it isn't an appealing client needing real help that is the reason he keeps going; it is his own choice to finish what he started, even at considerable cost. He is "peerless," as Susan Silverman says, a man of integrity, humanity and power, whose choices, like this one, come always from a place of honor. And he still is as funny as he always was, with the same discerning eye, seeing everyone, from aging hippies to aging mobsters, right through any pretension or fascade, seeing the good in the bad guys and the bad in the good guys, seeing things as they are.
There are signs here that Parker is making some acknowledgement to the fact that if Spenser fought in Korea, he can't really be 42 years old anymore. Now he does weightlifting for repetition, rather than for weight, he does measured runs, with walk breaks, on Harvard's track, rather than pounding for miles along the Charles River. He decides to have one English muffin because the second one he wants isn't good for him. The women he says look pretty good are in their fifties, and both he and Hawk say sadly "Too young" when teenagers walk by in bikinis.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Got Two Hours to Kill? April 22 2004
Format:Hardcover
I don't know what compels me to keep reading Robert B. Parker's "Spenser" series. The plotting has become almost nonexistent, the dialog is recycled from book to book, the books are getting shorter and shorter and Parker mainly seems to amuse himself by seeing how many characters from previous books he can pack into the current one, so it obviously isn't for the fresh, original take on the private eye genre.
But it's still fun, dammit. Somehow, Parker always manages to engage my attention. The interaction between Hawk and Spenser still amuses, Spenser's twisted honor code still thrills and Susan's soppy shrinkiness still annoys.
In this outing, we are on the hunt for the perpetrator of a killing 30 years in the past. The actual plot is incidental, as Parker seems to be making things up as he goes. The characters are, as usualy, thinly written and heavily dependent on stereotypes. But Spenser gamely travels from Boston to New Hampshire to California and back, giving us all our two hour's worth of lively description and jaunty heroism.
If you are already a fan of the series, you've already bought this one and don't need my review. But if you are not already a fan, don't start here. Go back to the fabulous days of Ceremony, A Catskill Eagle, The Judas Goat and you will become a fan, ready to read and grouse over each new entry in the Parker oeuvre.
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Most recent customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Summertime Read
Remember, summertime is coming and this is a good pool or beach book in the classic Robert Parker style. Easy to pick up and put down - it is a relaxing, non-stressful read.
Published on April 13 2004
2.0 out of 5 stars annoying repartee
This was the first Parker book I ever read. I picked it up in an airport out of desperation when I had nothing left to read. Read more
Published on March 10 2004 by Bob Neubauer
1.0 out of 5 stars Don't bother
If I could have given this story zero stars I would have. The story wasn't interesting and the characters were flat. Read more
Published on March 9 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars What's not to like!!!
Robert Parker continues to keep Spenser fresh, energetic and fun to read.
Thirtysome novels into the series, "Back Story" finds Spenser and Hawk looking into a twenty-eight... Read more
Published on Jan. 11 2004 by nobizinfla
4.0 out of 5 stars A Formidable Duo
Sometimes it's lucky to be a "Johnny-Come-Lately." My reason for saying this is that I am not encumbered by the history of something like 30 previous Spenser novels. Read more
Published on Dec 19 2003 by Loren D. Morrison
4.0 out of 5 stars Better Than Usual
When one picks up a Spenser novel one used to expect clever dialogue, likeable characters and a good story line. Read more
Published on Dec 2 2003 by Richard A. Mitchell
5.0 out of 5 stars This made me laugh out loud!
When a book makes me laugh loudly to the point that I can't control it...it is definitely worth a look! Read more
Published on Nov. 23 2003 by Traffic Goddess
2.0 out of 5 stars typical parker
I was a big fan of this series for a long time but I find it to be a little stale. It's not that back story is bad, it's just not anything new. Read more
Published on Oct. 29 2003 by candy peterson
2.0 out of 5 stars Not even close.
Spenser needs to retire. For those who haven't bothered to notice: it you would compare the physical descriptions of Spenser with the pictures of Parker on the back of the dust... Read more
Published on Oct. 28 2003
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