The Spenser novels of Robert Parker are characterized by witty, sarcastic dialog between the characters. Even when the plot line is weak, the way they speak to each other always delivers a high level of entertainment. In this story, Marlene Crowley hires Spenser to follow her husband to determine if he is cheating on her. His name is Trent Crowley and he is Chief Financial Officer (CFO) at Kinergy, one of the most dynamic companies around. It is an energy trading company and rose from very small beginnings to an apparent powerhouse. Robert Cooper, the CEO of Kinergy and an expert glad-hander, has designs on a run for the U. S. Senate, so he wants to keep his image as clean as possible.
When Trent Crowley is murdered on the Kinergy premises, things change. Furthermore, Spenser finds a veritable daisy chain of wife swapping and private detectives following husbands and wives. As usual, Spenser makes enemies, one of which is Gavin, the chief of security at Kinergy. When Gavin is killed, there seems to be no reason for the murders. However, Spenser eventually determines the identity of the murderers, amid the additional discovery that Kinergy is a house of cards. The higher executives have been gradually selling off their stock in anticipation that it will quickly become nearly worthless. The ending is not a great dramatic one, as there is no shootout, just Spenser punching a man.
This story is taken directly from the events surrounding the collapse of Enron, with the exception of the internal mate-swapping and the murders, you could replace Kinergy with Enron and most of the story would be factual. I don’t consider it one of Parker’s best Spenser novels, but once again the quality of the dialog makes it very entertaining. Hawk and Vinnie Morris appear, but are not heavily involved, which is a disappointment. In my opinion, the conversations between Spenser and Hawk are the best dialog in the Spenser series.
on May 24, 2004
Well, not really. It's called Kinergy in the book, but it's a firm that deals in buying and selling energy, and the executives have been playing fast and loose with the accounts.
Spenser gets involved when the wife of one of the execs asks him to gather evidence that her husband has been playing around with another woman. Spenser follows the husband and finds that this is indeed true; the plot thickens when he discovers another PI has been shadowing the husband's paramour. It seems he's been asked to check up on the woman's activities by >her< husband. Before we're done, yet a third PI will turn up, trailing another female member of this menage-a-many.
It develops that the executives' wives are in the thrall of a TV personality who has convinced them that swapping of mates is the best way to keep their marriages vital and alive. Things get a little messy when the husband that Spenser was hired to follow is shot dead in his office.
There's much more -- a chief of security who's a former CIA agent, a serial killer who keeps a scrapbook of his victims, a second death that's made to look like a suicide, a female executive who fears for her life, as well as a tutorial by Spenser's CPA pal on the intricacies of keeping a company's stock price soaring despite the fact that there's no money coming in.
It all hangs together. In fact, in terms of plot, it's very well constructed . . . but it's not good Spenser. The usual cast of characters is on hand, including Quirk, Hawk, Vinnie Morris and Vinnie's double-barreled shotgun, but they have very little to do. The two murders occur offstage, the cops don't even go through the motions of suspecting Spenser, the threats from the protagonists against Spenser are half-hearted at best, Vinnie's shotgun goes unused, and Hawk gets most of his exercise carrying Susan Silverman's luggage.
There's a good deal of Susan in this one, which may be good or bad news, depending on your feelings about the character. I think she adds a lot to the series in general, but she plays too large a role here. It's Susan, for instance, who ultimately figures out whodunnit, by applying logic to the situation.
This is not a good sign. Spenser's modus operandi has always been to poke his nose in where it's not wanted, ask questions that people don't want to answer, and in general make himself annoying until somebody tries to kill him. Logic has little to do with it, nor should it.
After an unsuccessful interview with one of the suspects, who mouths off and gets away with it, Susan points out that there was a time in the past when Spenser would have popped him one. Spenser says that maybe he's becoming more mellow. Let's hope not.
on May 10, 2004
This book comes close to vintage Spenser. He's based in Boston, not flying off to some desert town in Arizona. He brings back the gang: Hawk, Vinnie, Susan, and more.
Reading Bad Business means visiting these old friends. Like many of Parker's readers, they've become middle-aged and settled. (In a much earlier book, Spenser reluctantly dons reading glasses!) As a result, there's less room for character growth. Susan's a successful shrink, significant other and non-cook...just as she was in the last ten or so books. Hawk continues to be larger-than-life. Where can they go from here? Author Parker needs to give them some tough challenges to reveal new layers.
The plot of this novel has been amply described in editorial reviews as well as other customer reviews. I agree with those who question the financial elements of the plot, where Spenser is out of his element. He's much better when he can mete out his own version of justice.
However, Parker has managed to capture subtle aspects of corporate life with his usual wit, one beat away from satire. I've met CEO's just like Bob Cooper. Although they headed smaller companies, they put on a good show, demonstrated boundless enthusiasm even when they'd rather be eating mud, and kept their hands clean.
Even so, I wish Parker had focused more on the "growth seminars" and their aftermath. And I wish the villains had been more evil and less weasly. Nobody worth shooting here!
In my opinion, Early Autumn was Parker's all-time best book. You could read Early Autumn as a textbook of child and adolescent psychology. Other books showed Spenser's biting wit as he cut through conventions and pretentious displays. Plots were tighter and held more surprises.
Everybody's mellowed. Inevitable but Bad Business still held my attention more than most mysteries I read these days. And I'll be waiting for the next.
on May 6, 2004
As his legions of fans know, author Robert B. Parker does not provide novels with deep complicated characters or byzantine plots. What he does provide, especially in the Spenser series novels, are books where good is clearly good, bad is very bad and gray simply, for the most part, does not exist. The characters are shallow, the women are usually attracted to Spenser but he will resist mightily their advances because of his love for Susan, and Hawk will be there with style to provide needed muscle on occasion. In short, it is a formula that has worked for years and his latest novel, Bad Business, follows the formula making it another lightweight though entertaining read.
This time around the initial beautiful woman near tears in Spenser's office is Marlene Cowley. She wants to hire Spenser to investigate her husband, Trent Cowley. She is convinced he is cheating on her and wants proof that will humiliate and destroy him in open court. Spenser reluctantly agrees as he does not care for this type of cases and such proof isn't required in the courts of today.
Before long, Spenser discovers that his client has a tail of her own. Apparently Trent shares the same concerns and has hired another investigator to tail her. The two investigators as a matter of professional courtesy acknowledge each other's case but neither can explain why there soon appears to be yet another investigator involved. Spenser begins looking at that angle and before he can get very far, the deaths begin. The two investigators soon vanish and Spenser is left working a case that grows stranger by the day.
The reader is left with a shallow but entertaining read as Spenser delves into the world of corporate finance. Hawk is his usual self, Susan is beautiful and offers insightful advice when needed as always, and Pearl the wonder dog is always around and the subject of many asides. In short, this is the usual Spenser with no surprises and no new ground is covered. The novel at 310 pages is a fast read and by the end, all is right with the world once again. Who could ask for more?
on April 21, 2004
I have not read all of the Spencer series of novels. In fact, I think I have only read one or two, so I have no comment from a historical perspective on the qualities of this one. I found the book to be an easy and fun read. Mr. Parker has mastered the art of making a book look larger than it really is, but his use of dialogue and his sense of humor appeal to me.
Things start out easily enough when Spencer is hired by a suspicious wife to tail her cheating husband. As it turns out the lady he is seeing is also being tailed by another PI and so is the lady that hired him. It seems that all of the principals are involved with one very up and coming company called, Kinergy and further investigation discovers that there is some musical bedrooms being played by the principals, all under the encouragement of a local radio personality who believes that marriage should not limit one's ability to show love for another.
This is starting to look like a bedroom farce until one of the players is shot dead in his office. The deceased is the husband whom Spencer had been hired to tail. The cheese gets more binding when the chief of security at Kinergy also turns up dead in an apparent suicide, which is more apparently another murder.
In his trademark fashion, Parker takes Spencer through the hoops along with the other characters that populate these novels and in the end, justice is done in a rather entertaining fashion.
I enjoyed it.
on April 20, 2004
I have every single Spenser book. Unfortunately, I confess I now buy them out of some twisted feeling of obligation. There is also a vestige of hope that the new books will somehow recapture the feelings I experienced when reading the earlier books. I am sad to say it, but this book is just boring. Of course it is formulaic as so many of these types of books are -- but the formula used to be exciting book after book after book. The new books are tedious, the dialogue bordering on obnoxious, and the plot lines are so predictable they are, frankly, silly.
Unfortunately, I suspect I will continue to buy Spenser books. I will still pre-order them as I did this one. Why, I do not know. I only know that I love Spenser and Hawk. I continue to hold out that the vapid banter between Spenser and Susan or between Spenser and his clients or adversaries will give way to sturdy action, plausible story lines, and the old-fashioned wit and pace Parker once so effectively delivered.
I am very disappointed. I am disappointed in myself for continuing to read the series. I sometimes think Parker is playing a joke on us. I sometimes imagine him saying, while I am reading, "Isn't it great? I put this trash together in a week, and they eat it up. Isn't America great?"
As I am sure so many other Spenser lovers will do, if you have all of the Spenser books, like I do, you will continue to order them. If, however you are reading this review and are new to the Spenser series, you really ought not to bother. It will be a terrible disappointment.
The worst thing you can do actually, is to go back and order the older Spenser books. Then you'll get hooked like me and its over. You will then waste your time and money on the last six or seven books which are tedious, boring, and downright unreadable - Worse, you will read every single word scratching your head and asking yourself, "Why do I keep doing this?"
on April 15, 2004
If you are new to Spenser, start with an earlier book, such as "Looking for Rachel Wallace," or what I consider his very best, "Paper Doll." You could also start at the beginning and work your way through all 31, and have a very nice time. But by no means should you begin your Spenser adventure with this book.
The plot is energetic but quite confusing - an Enron-like company pulling fiscal scams, all mixed up with some headache-inspiring spouse-swapping frenzy, huh? - but the real disappointment is, there is no one to care about here. Parker delivers his usual wit and wisdom, and that is what his fans love - the crisp dialogue, the social commentary, the gleeful puncturing of society's various bubbles. It helps to have visits from nearly every character we love (Hawk, Vinnie, Rita, and Susan who sort of grows on you) but this book lacks a crucial something that his earlier works had in abundance: sympathetic people, whether clients or others, whom you could cheer for, and bad people whom you could truly hate. I found myself having difficulty telling one supporting character from another, and by the end - when the only really bad dude is reduced to hissing like a lizard when he's caught - I didn't care how it ended, as long as it ended soon. It was kind of embarrasing, hiss hiss.
Spenser is always, always worth a read, even in a confusing mess like this. But for most people, it's probably a good idea to just take this one out of the library. I've already given my copy away, leaving me one book short of a complete set. I just don't care.
Many books ago, in "Walking Shadow," (which, in my opinion, was the first book where Parker's cracks began to show) Hawk had a wonderful line that went something like, "This is the silliest thing you ever got me involved in." I kept waiting for Hawk to say something like that in this one (pointless sexual tangles, fakes and double-fakes with the stock market, an open-marriage advocate/talk show host in love with a... Well I don't want to spoil it, whatever it is), but he didn't. The plot of "Walking Shadow" was clear and grounded compared to this. Maybe Hawk should walk off and start his own series, and replace the Spenser clones Jesse Stone (young male clone) and Sunny Randall (female clone). Most of us who are die-hard Spenser fans would follow Hawk anywhere.
on April 15, 2004
It seems quite en vogue to take the current dirty laundry in today's white-collar world and use it as a backdrop for a novel or television show. Robert B. Parker (RBP), widely renowned for his Spenser novels, has taken a page from this trend as the setting for his latest Spenser iteration, BAD BUSINESS. And, while the company could be one of many, RBP sure sounds as though he's chiding Enron in this one.
BAD BUSINESS begins with the introduction of a new client, Marlene Rowley. Ms. Rowley is depicted as something of a haughty socialite, one borne of entitlement and very accustomed to having things her way. Veteran readers of Spenser know these types of attitude are fingernails on Spenser's chalkboard. As Ms. Rowley explains her plight, a wayward husband who she desperately wants to catch and "hang," she continues directing Spenser as to what he will do, when he will do it, and how he will do it. Spenser slowly but directly pops Ms. Rowley's balloon of self-importance in typical fashion. After the preliminaries are out of the way, Spenser agrees to follow Mr. Rowley in an attempt to catch him in the act.
Spenser has a very easy time finding, following, and ascertaining that Mr. Rowley is indeed seeing another woman. However, while bird-dogging Rowley, he spies someone shadowing Mr. Rowley's paramour. After confronting this private cop, Spenser further discovers that Ms. Rowley is also being tailed by yet another private cop. Oh, how the plot thickens. This plays directly into the Spenser psyche as he begins moving his investigation into areas peripheral to the primary investigation...and what juicy nuggets he finds! And, as he does so often, Spenser enlists the help of Hawk, the dark anti-hero, who all Spenserians have come to love. While Hawk does not flex his muscles in BAD BUSINESS, he and Spenser do engage in their give-and-take dialogue that is, as always, fabulous.
As RBP delves into white-collar criminal elements, the reader is introduced to a new character, Marty Siegel, a self-proclaimed "best accountant in the world," to read the tea leaves, as it were, given that Spenser and Hawk are clueless when it comes to financial reports. Although one would think the dialogue between Spenser and a "bean counter" would be somewhat prosaic, leave it to RBP to cast an accountant with an attitude.
RBP has recreated the drama present in so many earlier Spenser novels and has managed to weave the backdrop of current events into this offering, which, from this reviewer's perspective, gives BAD BUSINESS tangible credibility. While I love the physical barbarity of Hawk and Spenser against the "bad guys," BAD BUSINESS manages to hold the same spell with very little "B" violence.
Four and one-half stars. A great read.
Robert Parker's remarkable characters, stunning dialogue and his quixotic focus on seeking the impossible dream are present in all of the Spenser books. In recent years, the plots have been getting thinner and thinner, however . . . and even the repartee seems mostly for show rather than to build naturally on a great story. But in Bad Business, the original Parker genius reappears for a time. As in the best of the early books in the series, Bad Business has a fascinating and often surprising plot involving the twin sins of adultery and greed.
The opening of the book has some of the best plot development I have ever read, filled with clever misdirection that plays on our assumptions from having read too many boiler-plate mystery novels.
In fact, if the book had concluded after 125 pages, I would have described this as one of the very best Spenser novels.
Unfortunately, the book bogs down in solving the mystery. Although the slow pace was probably intended to maintain an intriguing suspense, the pace just seems to drag instead to an inevitable conclusion. I think the mistake was to base part of the plot a little too closely to a recent corporate collapse. That connection telegraphed part of the ending too soon.
I won't attempt to describe the situation of the book, for I will risk spoiling the book for you. Instead, let me advise you to read carefully and keep an open mind as you do.
As I finished this book, I realized that part of the appeal of popular novels is that they take us places where we would never go on our own. When done well, they pique and satisfy our curiosity in harmless ways. I look forward to taking future such excursions with Mr. Parker and Spenser in the future.
on April 2, 2004
I don't like to give Spenser novels a bad review, because I love the characters (except Susan) and the series, and have gotten hours of enjoyment out of them. But in this novel Parker seems to have basically been on autopilot and I did not find it very well done at all.
Here we have Spenser hired by one Marlene Rowley to follow her husband Trent because she thinks he's been cheating on her. Sure enough, Spenser follows good ol' Trent to a hotel where he is doing whatever it is he does with an attractive blonde. There, Spenser bumps into another PI following the blonde. Interesting, huh? And so it goes-Trent is the CFO for a company called Kinergy, an energy broker, and winds up dead in the corporate officers. Spenser unravels a [...] fraudulent scheme going on, as well as a sex ring among the major players at Kinergy. And of course, Spenser doggedly gets it all unraveled in the end.
The key problem here is that the story reads like a cookie cutter Spenser novel. Many Spenser novels in the past few years have been trending in that direction, but they usually offer at least some small insight, interesting plotline, or some tidbit that hooks you. We have none of that here. The plot is not that interesting, the dialogue is not that interesting, even Hawk and Vinnie are not that interesting! (Plus, there were typos throughout the book, which were distracting and annoying).
A disappointing effort. But as a Spenser junkie, I can't wait for the next one!